In the opening scene, Devon, England farm boy Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) watches a colt being born. Some weeks later, his father Ted (Peter Mullan), in one of his many drunken stupors, buys the colt with all of his rent money, though what he needs is a plow horse. Albert agrees to care for and train the horse, who he names Joey. Soon, World War I breaks out and Ted sells Joey to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) to recoup the money he spent at the auction. Albert swears they will meet again.
Joey winds up in France and, after Nicholls is killed in action, then Germany, where he pulls ambulance wagons. After that, Joey comes into the care of an elderly Frenchman (Niels Arestrup) and his granddaughter, Emilie (Celine Buckens). Then back to Germany, where he hauls artillery and is watched over by the equine-loving Private Friedrich (Nicholas Bro). And on and on, until the film can be categorized as epic.
The reason Joey bounces from owner to owner and country to country isnít so much that heís skilled or knows he must return to Devon. Itís that heís bad luck. Most of those who involve themselves with Joey either end up injured, captured or dead. We almost donít want Albert to find him just so the Narracotts can live free of this black cat.
War Horse, adapted from Michael Morpurgoís novel (itself turned into a play in 2007), traps the audience. They will root for and sympathize with Joey; not so much because he deserves it, but because that is what Spielberg tells us to do. He canít be blamed for wanting us to react, but he can be blamed for making us feel bad if we donít. In bringing War Horse to the screen, Spielberg was at least in part inspired by Robert Bressonís Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), which followed the parallels of a donkey and a young farm girl. And itís one of the most emotional film experiences because Bresson refuses to demand.
Some of the more positive aspects include the remarkable battle sequences and Janusz Kaminskiís camerawork, which offers some of the finest shots ever put into a Spielberg film (the finale stands out as truly breathtaking).
War Horse is sentimental and uplifting, just the way middle-age moviegoers would like it. But with that comes the point that it is tedious bait. If this isnít Spielberg trying to get Oscars, then The Adventures of Tintin isnít mo-cap.
An Extraís Point of View (3:06) offers a brief look at what it may be like to be an extra on a Spielberg film.
A Filmmaking Journey (1:04:13): This documentary uses interviews, clips and behind-the-scenes footage to give a comprehensive account of the making of War Horse. The variety of topics include Michael Morpurgoís novel, the cast, location shooting, the battle sequences, the visual effects, themes, and much, much more. Fans will love this feature-length doc.
Editing & Scoring (8:53): The work of editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams is examined. Included are comments from both, as well as Spielberg, who started his collaboration with Kahn on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and with Williams on Jaws.
The Sounds of War Horse (7:13): Sound designer Gary Rydstrom, who helped War Horse get two of its six Oscar nominations, and his work on the film are looked at.
Through the Producerís Lens (4:04): In this featurette, snapshots taken by producer Kathleen Kennedy are shown alongside an interview.
Also included are a DVD and a Digital Copy.