Kate Koenig, Arts Editor
The Steven Spielberg directed “War Horse” leaves one wondering why it’s in the Oscar ring for Best Picture, though the Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction nominations make perfect sense.
The plot centers around the horse’s journey through Europe after he is forcefully taken by the army, and how through his adventures he “touches the hearts” of the English soldier who rides him into battle, the young recruits who use him to escape their military responsibilities, and a young French girl who discovers the starring horse (dubbed “Joey”) and his Black-Beauty-esque horse-fellow abandoned in her grandfather’s windmill, among others. The other central focus is the love between Joey and his first owner Albert (played by Jeremy Irvine), which draws them together after years of being apart, despite them being pulled in separate directions by the war.
A search for deeper meaning leaves you with some hackneyed symbolism of world peace brought on by the horse when a German soldier and an English soldier unite on the battlefield to free Joey when he becomes haphazardly entangled in coils of barbed wire after frantically galloping through the debris-strewn wasteland in a somewhat comical escape from the army. The escape scene is accompanied prominently by the theme from John Williams’ score, which ends up falling flat (no pun intended), or at least short of its apparent purpose to instill some sense of grandeur. There’s also the long-awaited reunion scene between Joey and Albert near the end, where Albert clairvoyantly senses Joey nearby after their years of separation, despite his temporary blindness due to an encounter with mustard gas.
The most notable highlight of the film is how nearly every scene shot puts you in awe at its beautiful visual composition. Between resembling landscape paintings from the 1800s and fanning some hidden desire to move to England to live in an enchanting stone-made house, every aspect of the cinematography keeps the viewer captivated. The World War I battle scenes are glorious, and a picturesque windmill and manmade forest in the English countryside encourage you to soak up all the stills, backdrops and imagery the director wants to feed you.
But Best Picture? Despite the movie’s highly professional production quality, it ends up coming across as a high budget children’s story, made especially for kids who want ponies for Christmas. There’s even a scene borrowed from “Air Bud,” where the horse runs back to Albert when a secondhand owner tries to adopt him against Albert’s will. Come to think of it, it probably would’ve been a classic as an animated Disney movie, although the real-world settings would be missed.
Ultimately, “War Horse” is not more than a charming tale of a boy and his horse, with some lovely bucolic scenery. I heard the play was good.