War is in vogue right now – ok, not literally – but dramatisations of the first world war, or “The Great War” as it became known (with no appreciation of the horrors which were to come with the second) are popping up all over our screens. Here in the UK we had the depiction of the trenches in the now Golden-Globe winning period drama, Downton Abbey, where war even encroached upon the aristocrats’ much prized drawing room as the great stately mansion was turned over into a pop-up hospital – perish the thought. Meanwhile, I am chaffing at the bit with excitement as I anticipate the forthcoming television adaptation of Sebastian Faulkes’ Birdsong – surely one of the best fictional portrayals of war ever written, and the first book (and the last) which has ever made me cry. In the theatres, the West End blockbuster, War Horse, adapted from the children’s book by Michael Morpurgo, has been the talk of town, selling equally well when it moved over to Broadway. And now, finally, the WW1 frenzy has moved to our cinemas, as the very same equestrian sensation of War Horse hits our screens thanks to it’s overhaul and adaptation by the one and only, Steven Spielberg.
So, caught up in the excitement, I trotted along to the cinema to see War Horse on the first day of its general release. This was after the popular press spoke of a masterpiece, a tear jerker – by god, even the Duchess of Cambridge had been crying at the Royal premier in London – Speilberg’s best work for years and so on. And indeed I went along with high expectations. After all, wasn’t it Spielberg who directed that emotive, black and white masterpiece that is Schindler’s List and the equally powerful Saving Private Ryan? Sure, Spielberg has had his tacky moments – I’m thinking E.T. on a bicycle riding off as a silhouette in front of the moon, gigantic dinosaurs doing what ever they do in Jurassic Park (I can’t say I’ve ever watched more than about 10 minutes of this franchise) and the plastic shark in Jaws 1 – but with the likes of Schindler he’s directed some pretty stunning, serious masterpieces. But with War Horse Spielberg does not recreate his previous war-themed genius. He certainly does recall his tendency for directing tacky, sensationalised Hollywood tack which makes you cry indeed – from desperation.
Call me a cynic, but this poster says it all. Horse and man, stood together, hair tussled in the wind, the warm glow of a sunset reflecting on their faces which are absorbed in ambient pouting heroism. And from the cliched blockbuster poster follows a film which is overloaded with contrived, cheesy banality and boring, over-acted scenes which stretch the film to it’s full almost three-hour painstaking duration.