The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

I’m going to get some crap for this review

with 19 comments

Judging from the reactions of the Swedish film blogging community, War Horse is not going to be a hit here. Everyone seems to hate it and I’m not talking about some halfhearted disliking. They hate it with passion.

Fiffi, for instance, describes in her usual entertaining style (unfortunately not easily translatable to English with Google Translate) how sick she felt after watching it, claiming that she would rather had spent 146 minutes at a painful dentist appointment or standing on glowing charcoal than seeing this.

Sometimes Fiffi and I are like imagined twin sisters, loving and hating the same movies. But on some occasions the sisters disagree vehemently and this is one of those.

I hesitate to say it aloud since I expect to get a lot of crap for it, at least from my fellow Swedes, but I actually liked War Horse quite a bit.

What worked for me
I think there were a few things that made it work for me where it didn’t work for Fiffi.

  1. Fiffi compares it to the classic Little House on the Prairie series that we both grew up with. The comparison is absolutely relevant, but while she seems to do it in a rather pejorative way, I do it in an appreciating way. War Horse is just as sentimental, celebrating American ideals of sticking together and never giving up, no matter how hard the circumstances are. It’s a brew that I as a grumpy, realistic, down-to-Earth Swede only can stomach in small portions. It would be unbearable to live in a world where all movies were like this. But once in a while it’s wonderful to get a bit of Little-House-ness.
  2. Fiffi apparently doesn’t like horses. I do. I read the books about The Black Stallion repeatedly as a child and I could see a bit of a connection. They’re both stories about the magic bond between a horse and his owner, a bond that will make them overcome all sorts of obstacles and hardships. They’re both stories about a horse that keep surpassing people’s expectations.
  3.  I was in a terrible shape when I watched the movie due to a stubborn cold that had deprived me of sleep for days and didn’t seem to go away anytime soon. When you feel that way – feeling sorry for yourself, in desperate need for someone to parent and take care of you – you regress mentally, in my case to about the age of a 12-year-old. And since the movie apparently is intended for that age, it couldn’t really have been much better. All my shields were down.

My hang-ups
I won’t deny that there are a couple of things about War Horse that feel a little bit odd to me.

  1. First there was this score by John Williams (who shockingly enough seems to be alive and still going strong). It felt rather invasive. Whenever something happened on the screen there was a response in the music. Field in the sunset with galloping horses? Get on with the violins! More violins! Yet more! Someone does something that is supposed to be a little bit funny? Enter a funny clarinet tune! It didn’t break the movie for me but it took me a little while to get used to.
  2. With the exception of some really harsh battle scenes from the muddy fields where soldiers are dying left and write and the horses struggle until they fall down dead on the spot, there was something slightly artificial about the look of the film. It made me think of the illustrations in the publications that some Christian groups spread trying to make you join. Everyone has sparkling eyes and perfect skin and teeth. This is probably intended. If it looked like a gritty, realistic European movie, you couldn’t bring your kids to watch it.
  3. Finally I couldn’t fully embrace that French and German people spoke English between each other. Once again – if you’re going for a young audience, it might be the way it had to be, as long as they’re not used to subtitles like we are where I live. So I forgive it, though I don’t like it.

A boy and his horse
In the end War Horse isn’t intended to be a documentary. I think it can bring a bit of insight to young people about the horrors of war and the nastiness of WWI, which I think is fairly unknown to most 12 year olds of today. And that’s good.

But most of all it’s a fairy tale about a boy and his horse. It’s told in an oldfashiond manner, which is a nice change to all the fractured, non-linear and ambiguous storytelling we usually see in modern films.

Does Spielberg “manipulate” the viewer, pulling strings to get emotional responses? Hell, yeah! But there’s nothing wrong with that. I was entertained and I got tears in my eyes once in a while and as the movie ended and the auditorium took up a spontaneous applause I was close to joining them.

I’m a little bit nervous about the next meet-up with the Swedish movie blogging community though. I’ll be alone in a land of haters, that’s for sure – pretty much like Joey the horse in the battle field. I can only hope I’ll do as fine as he did. Wish me luck!

War Horse (Steven Spielberg, US, 2011) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

February 16, 2012 at 1:01 am

Posted in War Horse

19 Responses

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  1. Lucks!

    I didn’t care for it meself, mainlies ’cause I get fussy about historical accuracy, which were kinda lacking. But mom liked it, and I can understands what thems what be in the mood fer a Spielbergian fairy tale would like it. So, go you!

    Ratshag

    February 16, 2012 at 3:07 am

  2. I haven’t seen War Horse. Doesn’t appeal to me at all. But you make a very good case!!

    Scott Lawlor

    February 16, 2012 at 10:03 am

    • You need to be in the right mood for it. Save it for one of those days. When you feel like being 12 years old and watch a spielbergesque fairy tale.

      Jessica

      February 16, 2012 at 10:08 am

  3. Personally I didn’t hate it, but wasn’t crazy for it either. It has some nice cinematography, but in general felt a bit too maninpulated by it. It probably would have been better if the horse talked and had given the goose a bigger role ;)

    If you want to have a laugh you should pay this site a visit, it’s the most original review I’ve ever seen:

    http://thehairpin.com/2012/01/war-horse-an-illustrated-review

    Nostra

    February 16, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    • Oh wasn’t the horse wonderful? I totally adored the scene where he stepped in for a buddy! :)

      Thanks for linking to that review. Best ever! I wish I had that talent.

      Jessica

      February 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm

  4. Oooh, you gave it a four after all. Hihi. I don´t understand why but that´s okej, I don´t have to ;)

    Fiffi

    February 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    • I guess I*ll have to answer for it next time we meet…

      Jessica

      February 16, 2012 at 11:10 pm

  5. I learnt a long time ago that Spielberg and me are very hit and (often) miss. Can’t quite work out why, but you know when you on the whole just don’t click with a director or actor that everyone else adores? That’s me and Spielberg (outside of Schindler).

    Lewis Maskell

    February 18, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    • That’s sad but again: there are ever so many other directors out there. You don’t need to love all. There are other movies and directors that others praise left and right which I don’t click with either. Cinmeatic chemistry you know.

      Jessica

      February 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm

  6. You and I can both get crap for liking this (well, I loved it). I thought it was a wonderful film, which may not be perfect, but it was perfect for me. Mainly because it is such a personal film, and I connected it more than anyone else probably would. But yeah, the score was pretty annoying! Nice write-up, though.

    Stevee

    February 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    • Thanks Stevee! And yes, we’re pretty much on the same page you and I as we also learned doing the LAMBcast :)

      Jessica

      February 19, 2012 at 11:34 pm

  7. Personally, I was not a big fan of this film. I just didn’t see past the schmaltzy corniness and the film’s fake manipulation. Most times I can but the film’s first 30 minutes did not win me over. I enjoyed the film when it finally got to the war, and there were some beautiful vignettes, the young girl and her grandfather, and the horrifying scene when Joey had to pull the tank – but overall, I found it to be frustrating. And the score was ridiculously overbearing. But, you argue your opinion fantastically, as always. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    Also, I recently made the decision (a bad one) to change my url. It is now http://thefilmemporium.blogspot.com. If you followed me in a Reader, you will have to re-follow, and if you could change the link to my site in your BRoll that would be fantastic. Thanks so much Jessica!

    Andy Buckle

    February 20, 2012 at 2:22 am

    • Thank you for the heads-up! Of course I’ve re-followed and changed the link address in the blogroll. I think I had seen somewhere you were changing but missed to update and now I was missing you. But not anymore!

      Jessica

      February 20, 2012 at 7:38 am

  8. I can understand the emotional state you were in while watching this movie but even though I’m an old “horse girl” myself I’m not sure I would appreciate a moving version of one of Wahlströms “red back”-books. Heavy sentimentality is very rarely my bag.

    Sofia

    February 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    • It sounds as if you haven’t seen it? Well, maybe you don’t need to rush off to watch it in a cinema, but I’d suggest you to give it a chance on DVD.

      Jessica

      February 21, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      • I will certainly keep it on the back burner for the next time I get sick and doesn’t have to work ;)

        Sofia

        February 22, 2012 at 9:33 am

  9. [...] Jess at The Velvet Cafe was moved to tears! “Does Spielberg “manipulate” the viewer, pulling strings to get emotional responses? Hell,… [...]

  10. [...] War Horse – like a prolonged episode of The Little House on the Prairie, with some added war scenes. Too sentimental for most viewers, but not for me, who had grabbed a cold and was in the perfect mood for something comforting. [...]


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