Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse was indeed “out of the bag” as of 4 pm earlier today, as Deadline‘s Pete Hammond noted at 3:43 pm Pacific. Press/guild screenings were held in LA and New York around the same time today (1 pm on this coast) and lots more are happening tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday (including some public sneaks).
Which means, as I understand it, that it’s now permissible to write about it but not to formally review it. Got it.
Hammond’s headline asked if Spielberg “Can Win Another Oscar?” Yeah, he could. Definitely. Not for this film but he could down the road. Never underestimate the future of an obviously talented director. Spielberg could wake up some day next week or next year and turn his career around like that.
Hammond is more politically correct than yours truly so allow me to stay within the boundaries of the piece he posted earlier today. Hammond talks, I comment….good enough? A robust chit-chat between friends.
Hammond: “What Spielberg has wrought is a stunning looking and highly emotional epic that is Hollywood moviemaking at its best, and seems likely to be the filmmaker’s most Academy-friendly work since his Oscar winners, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.”
Wells comment: Let me put it this way. I sat next to a significant headliner in the Oscar-blogging community during today’s War Horse screening, and after it ended (roughly around 3:25 pm) we both said, almost in unison, “Hammond is crazy…there’s no way this thing wins the Best Picture Oscar.” Okay? No offense. Due respect. Just our opinion. We could be wrong.
Hammond: “Is War Horse old-fashioned? You bet, but in this fast-moving techno culture that may be a welcome thing. Even though some of the Academy’s more recent Best Picture choices, notably No Country For Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire and The Hurt Locker among others, indicate a different sensibility than the kind of once-traditional ‘bigger’, more craft-laden film the Academy once favored, and a category into which War Horse definitely falls.”
Wells comment: As I tweeted late this afternoon, War Horse is a time-capsule movie. Every luscious, immaculate, John Williams-scored frame says ‘this is how Oscar-bait films used to be made…if the director was hungry and utterly calculating.’ It’s analogous, I feel, to Hitchcock’s Topaz. The handprint and the auteurist chops are unmistakable but they have a crusty yesteryear feel. Out of the past.
Hammond: “Spielberg is known to be a great admirer of David Lean, and with its sweeping vistas, deliberate pacing and epic story of one horse’s remarkable journey through the front lines of World War I, the film could almost be a tribute to the great director of such classics as Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
Wells comment: War Horse contains unmistakable tributes to Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia and Stanley Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory. War Horse‘s best scene is a British attack upon German lines across a blown-apart, puddle-strewn No Man’s Land — very similar to (and in some ways an improvement upon) Kubrick’s classic tracking shot of French troops attacking German positions in Glory. Spielberg also includes an “attack on Aqaba” sequence with sword-bearing, horse-riding British troops attacking Germans and overturning tents and steaming pots of whatever and killing guys with blade-swipes, just like Lawrence‘s original. Spielberg even features a British noncom named Higgins, an apparent nod to the Corporal Higgins in Lawrence who refuses a cigarette to Daoud and Farraj.
Hammond: “There should be some kind of separate Academy Award for the horses [as] they are surprisingly expressive.”
Wells comment: This is true. The horse (or horses) who play Joey are very actorish. And the black horses who play Charcoal, Joey’s best four-legged friend, are no slouch either. I would go so far as to say the horses are almost hams in this thing.
Hammond: “War Horse is probably too emotional and traditional to earn much love on the hardcore, unsentimental critics awards circuit, but I imagine it will fare very well at the CCMA’s , Golden Globes and Oscars.”
Wells tweets w/edits: “Tonally, emotionally and spiritually, War Horse is Darby O’Gill and the Little People goes to war with a horse. And I’m saying this as a fan of Darby O’Gill and the Little People — within its own realm and delivery system it’s a decent, cheerful, sometimes spooky little Disney flick. In any event, welcome to Spielbergland. It’s like no other place in the world. If you can push aside the carnage-of-war stuff, War Horse is essentially a nice Disney family movie. But the concept of restraint is out the window. The King’s Speech is a b&w Michael Haneke film compared to War Horse.”
Hammond: “The King’s Speech triumph last year over the more trendy critics choice of The Social Network might indicate there is still room for less edgy, more ‘traditional’ films in the heart of the Academy voter. We’ll have to wait to see, but the sheer scope of War Horse certainly gives it its own niche against smaller favored Best Pic hopefuls (seen so far) like The Descendants, The Artist, Midnight In Paris and Moneyball.”
Wells comment: War Horse is wonderful, beautiful and very touching…if you’re Joe Popcorn from Sandusky, Ohio or Altoona, Pennsylvania. Or if you feel a nostalgic affinity for “less edgy, more traditional” films and can just roll with what War Horse is serving. I think it’s so shameless it’s almost a hoot, but that’s me. It’s all of a piece and very exacting and lovely and handsomely shot and full of highly expressive emotional performances, but my God! Spielberg!