Steven Spielberg, Tony Kushner and Daniel Day Lewis‘s Lincoln will be a sad story, an Oscar-worthy collaboration, a possibly legendary performance…who knows? But it will be primarily be about Kushner’s screenplay and capturing something very familiar. Words, dialogue, history…one of those films that owes a certain allegiance to what has already been imagined by millions. So it will be, in a sense, constrained by this. But Spielberg‘s War Horse, which will open on 12.26, could be another matter. Maybe.

I haven’t read Lee Hall and Richard Curtis‘s War Horse screenplay or seen the B’way play, but my vision (which I feel is wise) has always been that it’s Au Hasard Balthazar surrounded by World War I — the story of an innocent creature made to suffer by selfish, warring, myopic men. And given the simple tone and spareness of the story, it follows that War Horse will probably be the last chance that Spielberg, who’s a lot closer to the end than the beginning, will have to make a piece of poetic, possibly wondrous arty-farty cinema for a mainstream audience.

Spielberg can get away with arts gratia artis because he’s Spielberg, and the Academy will love him for it, I believe, if he tries. Robert Bresson led the way; Spielberg has only to follow. But if he shoots the play — an integrated, multi-character drama in which the horse is central but only one of many characters — in typical manipulative Spielbergian fashion, then we will truly be finished in the minds of person like myself. He will have had his chance to make a largely non-verbal masterpiece, told from the POV of a horse, and blown it. I’m not hoping for this. I’m hoping that Spielberg lives up to the potential. But we all know his tendencies, don’t we?

This question can be answered now, of course, by anyone who’s read the script. Well?