Tuesday, February 07, 2012

War Horse: The Making of the Motion Picture

The Oscar race this year is upon us. Nine films are vying for Best Picture, and I myself have a few favorites. The Artist is amazing, with an idea and performances that are nothing short of stunning. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, heartbreaking in so many different ways, is a pretty faithful adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s brilliant novel. But for me the movie that really stands out this year is War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Michael Morpurgo novel, which was also the basis for the London and Broadway shows.

War Horse (It Books) is now getting the royal treatment, with a making-of book that’s as emotional as the movie itself. With four forewords -- by Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Morpurgo, and screenwriter Richard Curtis -- the book starts off with an impressive bang.

Morpurgo’s crafting of the novel. Kennedy’s discovery of the stage show and her surprise that no one had bought the film rights. Curtis’ take on cracking the story, which is told from the perspective of the horse, Joey. And Spielberg’s own take on committing it all to film, especially his feelings about the Devon region, where he shot.

These essays aren’t long, but they’re written with clarity, from the heart of the people at the heart of the project. It’s easy to see how such a gorgeous film was produced.

Though there is a section about how the film was made, the book almost sidesteps this entirely. The largest section is devoted to the narrative of the film, as we meet Joey, Albert (the young man who becomes his best friend), and the people Joey meets along the way as he is drafted into World War I, captured by German soldiers, rescued by a Frenchman and his granddaughter, recaptured by the Germans, and on and on.

This section includes scores of photographs of the finished film and the production, as well as snippets of the screenplay. The episodic nature of the film belies is real depth, as we see people from so many cultures, in a time of great global stress, focus their attention on a very special animal. The film focuses on the humanity of these people instead of the inhumanity of the war.

That, too, gets a section, illuminating the role of horses in the battles of World War I and included is a terrific collection of drawings, paintings, and photographs from that era.

How wonderful that the director of Saving Private Ryan can create a war movie that turns away from war to tell the story of a horse -- and that the horse’s own story is more about people than the war that rages around them.

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Anonymous R Vulliamy said...

While it pleases me that War Horse is getting the royal treatment, Canada’s own history is closely linked to the subject of the book and subsequent movie. In my own working life while teaching high school social studies to grade 11s, I asked students to look at the role of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade in WW I. An event of continuing importance to historians was the mounted charge led by Gordon Flowerdew of British Columbia. Canadian Cavalry members charging the machine guns of the German infantry at Moreuil Wood in 1918 was an act that can only be described as heroic. How I wish we might then have had “War Horse” as a film or Robert Mackay’s recent book, Soldier of the Horse (on your magazine’s list of Best Fiction of 2011) to recommend. Your reviewer, Monica Stark, was right on the money when she concluded that the aforementioned book provided “a memorable view of a war that…we (Canadians) still know surprisingly little about.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 11:08:00 AM PST  
Anonymous War Horse said...

i love war horse i have read the boook and seen the movie and i want to see the play

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 2:22:00 AM PDT  

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