War Horse: 4 Disc Value Pack (Blu-ray) (2011)

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Released 2-May-2012

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Bonus Episode-DVD
Bonus Episode-Digital Copy
Featurette-A Filmmaking Journey
Featurette-Making Of-Editing and Scoring
Featurette-Making Of-The Sounds of War Horse
Featurette-Making Of-Through the Producers Lens
Featurette-Making Of-War Horse: The Journey Home
Featurette-Making Of-An Extras Point of View
Featurette-Making Of-War Horse : The Look
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2011
Running Time 147:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (4)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Steven Spielberg
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Jeremy Irvine
Peter Mullan
Emily Watson
Niels Arestrup
David Thewlis
Tom Hiddleston
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 7.1
French dts 7.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Finnish
Danish
Dutch
Icelandic
Norwegian
Swedish
Arabic
Bulgarian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     War Horse is the perfect example of the varied work of American director Steven Spielberg. It combines both his love for tales of adventure that appeal to audiences young and old and also his more serious side, the side that brought us Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List, the filmmaker despairing at the horror of war. Though it is perhaps not as universally successful as his best films it is nevertheless an entertaining film and one which should experience a happy transition to home theatre.

     War Horse is based on the 1982 children's novel of the same name written by Michael Morpurgo. The novel itself was highly revered but in recent times most people would know the story from the very successful stage adaptation. Using puppets to convey mighty horses sounds like a ridiculous idea but the British stage production was an almighty hit later transferring to Broadway were it won the Tony Award for best play.

     Spielberg, using a screenplay by experienced British writers Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, tells his story in a very direct way that will appeal to younger audiences as well as those with memories that stretch back to the great horse movies of the past including Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka. Actress Emily Watson described the film as "Black Beauty goes to war" which is a fairly fitting description.

     In a small town in Devon in 1912 teenage Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) is entranced by the birth of a thoroughbred foal. He watches it, proud and prancing, in a field. His mother Rose (Emily Watson) has sent his father Ted (Peter Mullan) off the market to buy a plough horse for their tiny rundown farm. He comes back with magic beans instead - in a bit of drunken defiance he gets into a bidding war with his landlord Mr Lyons (David Thewlis) and winds up winning but at a high cost. He has paid an enormous amount of money for the thoroughbred. Of course everyone realises it is not suited to pulling a plough. Albert is overjoyed that his father has bought the horse and undertakes to train at. When Mr Lyons comes to the house demanding his rent or else it is up to Albert to train his beloved horse, which he calls Joey, to pull the plough.

     When the war begins it is not only the men who are taken off to fight. The army comes to town to buy horses and, facing financial ruin, Ted has no option but to sell the horse to captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston). The captain sympathises with Albert's loss and promises to take care of Joey. So begins a freewheeling odyssey of Joey the horse passing through the First World War and affecting many lives. He is taken into care by many people and when tragedy intervenes he moves on. Borders and sides are meaningless as Joey is a cavalry horse for the British, a pet for a French girl and a work horse pulling German artillery. Throughout we see how the lives of these people are affected by the simple bond between human and horse.

     As said previously, Spielberg plays the film out as a Boy's Own Adventure set against a background of war. It features an international cast including a host of British stalwarts including Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Marsan, the great Scandinavian/French actor Niels Arestrup and an enormous cast of extras. The script tells the story in a direct way and perhaps errs on the side of simplicity. The performances are functional though a bit stereotypical. The farmers are full of "arr's" and the British cavalry officers "toodle pip's" but the film is not really about the acting, it is really a paean to the horse. Apparently eight horses were used for Joey as an adult!

     Interestingly, I enjoyed the film even more in reflection after watching the extras. The amount of serious effort that went into controlling this huge production and the skill with which scenes, such as the fateful cavalry charge, was executed makes you realise how much Spielberg is a master of his craft. True he has a difficulty knowing how to trim his movies (this one is 2 and a half hours) but the thought and detail that went into the film is inspiring.

     War Horse would seem on its face to have universal appeal. It is surprising then that in box office terms it is one of Spielberg's less successful efforts. Nevertheless it should be taken for what it is: an epic family film.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     War Horse was shot by Spielberg's favourite cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. He specialises in wide-open vistas and grand scales and this film is no exception. It was shot on film at a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. That aspect ratio has been preserved for this Blu-ray release.

     The film features an almost flawless presentation. The cinematography shows off the rolling hills of Devon just as well as the barbed wire hell of "no man's land". There was extensive location shooting involved although, it must be said, the scenes on the Narracott farm early in the movie look very much like a set.

     The colours are strong and vibrant with no evidence of colour bleeding. This four disc Blu-ray edition contains a complete Blu-ray of special features. This means that the film has a Blu-ray almost to itself. The effect is the absence of any compression artefacts.

     There is a light grain structure to the film which gives it a pleasing cinema quality.

     There is a veritable United Nations of subtitles including: English, French, Arabic, Bulgarian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, and English for the hearing impaired.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     War Horse contains that holy grail of sound transfers - a 7.1 surround track. Despite the ability of Blu-ray discs to hold a wealth of information, including sonic information, there is a paucity of titles on the market which contain a 7.1 surround track. The track is a DTS HD Master Audio however for French speakers there is also a 7.1 DTS French track. Finally, there is an English audio descriptive track available for those who are visually impaired.

     The benefits of the 7.1 track become apparent immediately as nature sounds appear from the side of the room to give an overall ambience to the farm scenes. Of course, where the extra channels come to the fore is in the battle scenes, particularly those towards the end of the movie where the English and German troops face up against each other at the Battle of the Somme. The combination of the thump from the sub-woofer and the fall of dirt from the explosions is powerful and all enveloping.

     The dialogue is clear and easy to understand throughout although the international cast are speaking in their second language.

     The score is by Spielberg favourite John Williams. There is nothing in here to rival his greatest works and most memorable themes however it is a score which combines plaintive melodies and soaring themes with his usual aplomb.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     The copy of War Horse kindly provided by Walt Disney for review is the "4 Disc Value Pack". It attains this value by being close to the standard price point but containing sizeable extras, most particularly a DVD copy and a digital copy. The extras, per disc are detailed below.

DISC 1 (Blu-ray)

War Horse: The Journey Home(19:35)

     This is a roundtable discussion hosted by Steven Spielberg and producer Kathleen Kennedy. The feature is split between two groups - actors and crew. Firstly, cast members Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston and Toby Kebbell pop in for a discussion about the ideas behind the film. Secondly, the production team members cinematographer Janusz Kaminski , production designer Rick Carter,costume designer Joanna Johnston , co-screenplay adaptor Richard Curtis and editor Michael Kahn drop by to provide their input. An interesting discussion.

An Extras Point of View (3:06)

     Martin Dew, who played a number of small roles and had a blast doing it, takes us through the film from the perspective of a bit player.

DISC 2 (Blu-ray)

A Filmmaking Journey (1:04:13)

     I was initially disappointed to think that this extra Blu-ray only contained one substantial featurette. It turns out to be a cracker. Every possible aspect of the production gets a look-in with Spielberg as the guide of sorts. From book to script, from pre-visualization to filming, from make-up (horse make-up indeed!) to working with animals, this is a quality feature that avoids all the pitfalls of back-slapping and extended use of snippets from the film. One of the few entertaining Making of features I have seen in some time.

Editing Scoring (8:53)

     Film editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams are separately interviewed about their thoughts on the film and their association with Spielberg which, in both cases, goes back over 30 years.

The Sounds of War Horse (7:13)

     Sound designer Gary Rydstorm gives us an insight on how he created the complex sounds for the film. No wonder it was nominated for an Oscar for sound design. This short feature shines a light on an essential but often overlooked aspect of filmmaking. Just hearing about the effort put into getting the right horse sounds (none of which were live) inspires awe in the craft of these individuals.

Through the Producers Lens (4:04)

     Long-time Spielberg producer Kathleen Kennedy sharing photos she took while they were filming. She tells how, after seeing the play, she told Spielberg he had to see it sparking his determination to make the film.

DISC 3 (DVD)

DVD of War Horse

     The film on DVD for viewing on PC, at a friends or on the road.

War Horse: The Look (6:30)

     A brief documentary on the look of the film. Interesting but as far as I could see all the material also appears on the extended making of feature.

DISC 4 (DVD-ROM)

     Those who want to be able to watch the film on their iPad or PC can do so with this digital copy provided on a separate disc.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

  This is Region A, B and C Blu-ray. Apart from minor subtitle differences the editions are the same.

Summary

     I know all the horse fans will disagree but making the protagonist of an adventure/war movie a horse is a risky move which could have failed badly in lesser hands than a master like Steven Spielberg. Yes it is sentimental at its core but this is an entertaining well-made film that will find pride of place on many a shelf.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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