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DVD Shopping Bag: War Horse

My Second to Last Spielberg

By Robert T. Trate     April 02, 2012
Source: Mania.com

It all started with Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. I left the theater feeling “meh” towards it. It was the first time ever for me feeling that way when it came to Spielberg and his work. Many of my friends and colleagues argued it happened to them before that; as far back as Hook if you can believe it. Now, in light of such Spielberg produced films as Transformers (1-3), TV series like Terra Nova, and the films War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I feel Spielberg has lost his touch. The magic just isn’t there anymore. 
 
Last holiday season I was thrilled to see that Spielberg had two directed projects about to arrive in theaters. Both The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse were right out of the Spielberg handbook. Tintin was Indiana Jones before there was an Indiana Jones (chronologically for the characters). It also looked as if Spielberg was going to give us an adventure worth having in the digital medium. War Horse had Academy gold spray painted all over it. Now, I was cautious. I didn’t have my hopes too high. I really enjoyed A.I. but I think of it as the last Stanley Kubrick film. Catch Me if you Can, The Terminal, and Munich were one timers. All three contributed to my feeling of Spielberg’s spiral into the mediocre. Not to say these aren’t well made films, they just don’t have that Spielberg magic. 
 
Before I go into why War Horse is my second to last Spielberg film, perhaps I should go into the Spielberg magic. His work always evoked the best of the human spirit. It always found a way into our hearts. Whether this is the love of a botanist for his adopted son or for the everyday man who takes that leap into the great unknown. Spielberg’s films, stories, characters, and even the music were damn near pitch perfect and a class unto themselves. The only thing you could compare a Spielberg film to was another Spielberg film. Of course this is my own opinion. There are many people who despise Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s dark, Spielberg’s wife screams the whole time, and its doesn’t have Nazis. The Color Purple is another case in point where the story was completely different (at that time) from the work he had done. Yet, damn if I don’t watch the life of Miss Celie every time it is on. Spielberg waved magic from his wand and also brought to life films he wanted to see at the theater. His first great love was the movies and he saw cinematic wonders in Back to the Future, Gremlins, Poltergeist, and The Goonies to name just a few. He knew he wanted to see these stories on the big screen and they, too, share in his magic. 
 
Somewhere along the line, the mad magician become the uber producer and “Transformers Spielberg” emerged. I saw an interview with him talking about his great love of the toys and how he always bought them for himself. I got excited and thought, “Yeah, this has a chance”. Three Transformers films later, I wonder what happened. Is the money just too good? Did he put his name on something and hope for the best? Why couldn’t he just tell Lucas, “George I’m sorry, but these ideas of yours suck” for Indy 4?  I am picking the worst of the worst and casting stones where they already have been thrown before. Spielberg did produce Band of Brothers, Shrek, and Letters to Iwo Jima showing that it hasn’t been an all induced Michael Bay nightmare. It’s just now when I see “From Executive Producer Steven Spielberg” on a film I am more likely to role my eyes than get that must-see feeling.  
 
Last December I picked Tintin over War Horse. Quiet frankly I didn’t want to watch a massive WW1 slaughter over my holiday vacation. To make this short, I almost fell asleep. There was nothing here that was new or invigorating. I have never read one of Tintin’s adventures;  then again I never read a James Bond book either so that shouldn’t matter. It was Spielberg’s responsibility to win me over. Not only on Tintin the character but this story as well. I figured I’d wait for War Horse to get all its nominations and then go see it. In that time, Hugo and The Artist seemed a much more tempting fare with their trailers and stories. 
 
With the release of the film today on Blu-ray and DVD I did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I watched a Spielberg for the first time at home. The adventures of Joey the Horse and Albert (Jeremy Irvine) pre-WW1 to the end of it was beautifully shot. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski did an incredible job. However, as I sat there watching another spectacular shot, I asked myself, “how many times have I seen this”? The Academy must have agreed with me as he did not win the Academy Award for best cinematography. Nor did War Horse win for the other 5 nominations it received. As the whole film played out I really felt nothing for Jeremy Irvine and the loss of his best friend, Joey. The horse’s story plays out wonderfully, as clearly he is the main character. However, with each heavy-handed emotionally well-lit moment, I found myself again less impressed with Spielberg’s abilities. I had seen all this before in Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and even in Amistad. Each scene began to scream, “Isn’t this so emotional? Can’t you feel your heart strings being pulled!” The culmination of each event should draw out those emotions. Not brilliant cinematography and an easily replaceable John Williams’ score. 
 
There were several things that did endear War Horse to me and it came down to the acting. Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Toby Kebbell all delivered incredible performances. I’ll give Spielberg kudos for directing these gentlemen (oh and kudos to the duck in the film too). Yet all these men are up-and-coming actors. If Spielberg couldn’t draw anything from them, then he completely has lost his touch. Acting is the key and main weapon in his arsenal for his next picture, Lincoln. What I’ll be watching for is to see if this is just another a tour de force of Daniel Day Lewis’ acting or if Spielberg truly has lost his magic.  
 
Top 5 Picks of the Week:
 
1. War Horse (Four Disc Combo: Blu-ray/DVD + Digital Copy)
2. Howl's Moving Castle [Blu-ray]
3. Torchwood: Miracle Day [Blu-ray]
4. Chinatown [Blu-ray]
5. Cleopatra [Blu-ray]
 
ACTION / ADVENTURE / KUNG FU/ THRILLERS / WESTERNS
 
The Cats (AKA The Bastards) Starring Klaus Kinski and Giuliano Gemma
 
Double Hour Starring Filippo Timi and Ksenia Rappoport
 
Grand Central Murder Starring Van Heflin, Samuel Hinds and Sam Levene
 
Hate For Hate Starring John Ireland, Antonio Sabato and Fernando Sancho
 
London River [Blu-ray] Starring Brenda Blethyn, Sotigui Kouyate, Francis Magee
 
The Odds Starring Tyler Johnston, Julia Maxwell and Jaren Brandt Bartlett
 
Tick...Tick...Tick... Starring Jim Brown, George Kennedy, Fredric March and Lynn Carlin
 
Truth About Kerry Starring Stana Katic, Darren Keefe and Jessica Margaret Dean
 
War Horse Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis
 
War Horse (Four Disc Combo: Blu-ray/DVD + Digital Copy) Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis
 
War Horse (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) Starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis
 
ANIME
 
Black Butler: Complete First Season (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) Starring J. Michael Tatum, Brina Palencia and Monica Rial
 
Black Butler II: Complete Collection (Limited Edition, Blu-ray/DVD Combo) Starring Brina Palencia, J. Michael Tatum and Monica Rial
 
Howl's Moving Castle [Blu-ray]
 
Motto to Loveru Complete Collection
 
Okami-san and Her Seven Companions: Complete Collection (Limited Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo) Starring Brina Palencia, Monica Rial, Joel McDonald
 
Pokemon Movie: Black - Victini / White - Victini Starring Leah Clark, Jason Griffith, Khristine Hvam
 
Polyphonica Crimson S Complete Collection (2012)
 
CARTOONS
 
Danny Phantom: Season Two, Part 1 Starring David Kaufman and Grey DeLisle
 
Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures Season One Volume Two
 
Regular Show: The Slack Pack (2012)
 
CLASSICS
 
Chinatown [Blu-ray] Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and Diane Ladd
 
Cleopatra [Blu-ray]
 
The Corsican Brothers Starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ruth Warrick and Akim Tamiroff
 
Fearless Fagan Starring Janet Leigh, Carleton Carpenter, Keenan Wynn
 
The Miniver Story Starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, John Hodiak and Leo Genn
 
Prince & The Showgirl Starring Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier, Sybil Thorndike
 
Traveling Saleslady / Miss Pacific Fleet: Joan Blondell & Glenda Farrell Double Feature Starring Joan Blondell and Glenda Farrell
 
Warner Bros. Film Noir Double Feature: The House Across the Street/Homicide Starring Robert Douglas and Wayne Morris
 
COMEDY AND LOVE Mania Style
 
Me Myself & Irene / There's Something About Mary Starring Anthony Anderson and Jim Carrey
 
The Three Stooges Commemorative Pack DVD Starring Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard
 
HORROR
 
2-Headed Shark Attack Starring Gerald Webb, Charlie O'Connell and David Gallegos
 
The Afflicted Starring Kane Hodder, Leslie Easterbrook and JD Hart
 
Bloodlust DVD
 
Demons 2 [Blu-ray] Starring Asia Argento, David Edwin Knight and Nancy Brilli
 
Enter Nowhere Starring Shaun Sipos, Scott Eastwood, Sara Paxton and Leigh Lezark
 
Eyes of the Woods DVD
 
Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass Starring Jamie Abrams, Paula Davis and Navin Pratap
 
The Midnight Disease Starring Lawrence Griffin, Mia Chiarella and Katie Foster
 
Prophecy Collection [Blu-ray] Starring Viggo Mortensen, Eric Stoltz, Vincent Spano
 
Unsolved DVD
 
Zombie Apocalypse Starring Ving Rhames, Eddie Steeples, Johnny Pacar and Gary Weeks
 
SCIENCE FICTION / FANTASY
 
Alien Opponent Starring Jeremy London and Roddy Piper
 
Miramax Double Feature: Equilibrium / Renaissance [Blu-ray] Starring Christian Bale, Daniel Craig, Sean Bean and Taye Diggs
 
TV LAND
 
3rd Rock From the Sun - Season 3 Starring John Lithgow, Kirsten Johnston, French Stewart
 
3rd Rock From the Sun - Season 4 Starring John Lithgow, Kirsten Johnston, French Stewart
 
Bob: The Complete Series Starring Bob Newhart and Timothy Fall
 
Commander Set 2 Starring Matthew Marsh
 
Dukes of Hazzard: The Complete First Season Starring John Schneider, Catherine Bach, Thomas Wopat
 
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Complete First Season Starring Will Smith, James Avery, Janet Hubert-whitten
 
Full House: The Complete First Season Starring John Stamos, Bob Saget, Dave Coulier and Candace Cameron
 
Gilligan's Island: The Complete First Season Starring Bob Denver, Alan Jr. Hale, Jim Backus and Russell Johnson
 
Gilligan's Island: Complete Second Season Starring Bob Denver, Jr. Alan Hale, Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer
 
Gilligan's Island: The Complete Third Season Starring Bob Denver, Jr. Alan Hale, Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer
 
Nip/Tuck: Comp Third Season Starring Dylan Walsh, Julian Mcmahon, John Hensley and Roma Maffia
 
Nip/Tuck: Complete Fourth Season Starring Julian Mcmahon, Dylan Walsh, Joely Richardson
 
That '70s Show: Season Three Starring Topher Grace, Aston Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Laura Prepon
 
Torchwood: Miracle Day [Blu-ray] Starring John Barrowman, Mekhi Phifer and Bill Pullman
 
Waltons: The Complete Third Season Starring Richard Thomas
 
Robert Trate writes three weekly columns for Mania: the DVD Shopping Bag, the Toy Maniac, and The Geek Life. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings, Cosplay photos and film criticisms.

 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 18
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SmokingFrog77 4/3/2012 12:25:51 AM

I thought Munich was excellent, but otherwise largely agree with your assessment of the Spielberg phenomenon. I wonder if the loss of magic is actually due to us aging though. I wonder how I would see ET if I watched it for the first time in my thirties, because when I watch it now I'm 5 all over again.

sportwarrior 4/3/2012 12:38:53 AM

I agree with the assessment on War Horse, too... except that the shameless emotional plucks still struck pleasant chords with my heartstrings. I loved the cinematography, was hapy with the score, and found the acting enjoyable. This is a replacement level Spielberg movie, which still makes it very good when compared to others... just not very high in his own pantheon.

hanso 4/3/2012 4:52:04 AM

 1.  spielberg owns.  2.  trate, the font sucks balls bro.  i think wise mentioned it earlier.  dude, on the phone it aint as bad but on the comp its balls. 3.  i was bored with war horse.  

Hobbs 4/3/2012 6:38:14 AM

I knew Hanso would chime in.  No one can downgrade his boy Steven. 

I think it's a fair question to ask if Spielberg has lost his touch.  It happens to the best of them, we all get older.  I've heard good things about war horse but i've said it before, I'm only interested in watching a horse if i have money on one.

I watched Close Encounters a few months ago...first time in about 20 years and wow, was that a great movie.  A little dated now but I was engrossed through the whole film.  Steven can't really do that anymore and that makes me worried about Lincoln.  I read the book that the movie is based off of and there is a potential for a great movie there but I don' t know if he can pull it off anymore.

That being said, I don't think it's time to hate on Steven yet...he deserves some more chances. 

I 3rd the font Rob, I feel I need glasses when I read your articles the last few times.

SmokingFrog77 4/3/2012 6:45:02 AM

What's with the font stuff??  All Mania articles have the same font on my pooter.

karas1 4/3/2012 8:41:10 AM

The font for this article is little bitty.  It makes my eyes ache.

You say Torchwood: Miracle Day on bluray.  Is it also available on DVD?  I know I'm behind the times but I don't have a bluray player, just a DVD player (that also plays VHS tapes.  You think I'm replacing all my movies on VHS with DVDs?  I'd rather spend that $1000 on other stuff.).

redhairs99 4/3/2012 8:58:28 AM

 Munich was a great film and I was actually surprised that Steven had the balls to go against Hollywood politics with the subject matter.  He took a lot of heat for it too.

That said, Steven has lost it.  I'm always willing to give the guy a chance for old times shake but Munich was his last really good film and the best since Saving Private Ryan.

keithdaniel 4/3/2012 10:50:44 AM

In regards to Spielberg's apparent loss of his so-called "magic" or "touch" of a sort, I would tend to agree.  It seems to me that he's more concerned whether or not his movies are commercially viable rather than creatively exploring, which is a great shame given his track record from the 70's, 80's and 90's.  Few directors can boast longevity spanning that long.  I've only seen AI once (and it's been a while for me) but I thought that was only a marginally good, perhaps 2 and a half star movie at best.  it lacked way too much emotional content, in other words, I found it hard to care about the characters (although the actors were good) and overall it was just way too moody.  Although I liked Minority Report much better than AI, IMO, it wasn't a great movie either.  It needed some more action and stronger story elements.  Munich I thought was at least near great, if not great.  Other efforts like Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal were decent but nothing spectacular, but in those latter two cases they weren't neccessarily meant to be due to the nature of those stories.  For me, his last great film was Saving Private Ryan which is now about 14 years ago.

In fairness to Spielberg, even a great talent like himself isn't going to hit a home run every time out because not every story appeals to a wide audience.  It should also be noted that due to his own success over the years so much more is expected from him and so he's primarily being compared to himself.  He may have also fallen into the trap of repetition or directing mediocre or bad material.  If that's indeed the case, then perhaps he should stop directing altogether and just produce and or executive produce behind the scenes and let other directors take over.  The way I see this, if he doesn't change his mentality then it's best that he steps out of directing now before he continues to lose credibility by continuing to either direct material that's beneath him or employing directing techniques that he's already covered.  It would be sad to see if he continues to go down that same road as too many other great directors have gone (Coppola, Donner and Mel Brooks to name a few) further watering down a once brilliant career.  As the case with too many other successful Hollywood people (George Lucas comes to mind), perhaps he has too many "yes men" working with him.  If that's the case, then it may be about time he starts listening to other voices who won't just tell him what he wants to hear, but what he needs to know!   

hanso 4/3/2012 2:02:37 PM

Trate, thanks for changing the font.  Although now its a bit big but I'll take that over what you had previously.  You should contact Jarrod, ask him what he was using cause that worked all time.  Now that I'm off the phone and on my computer, I can say what I really wanted to say.

First, Trate, whoever your friend is that said Spielberg "lost" it after Hook, please punch him in the balls for me.  Did your friend not see Jurassic Park, Schiendler's List or Saving Private Ryan?

Now to the rest of you crazy bastards, Spielberg is king and hasn't lost anything.  The only thing I'll agree on is that he hasn't delivered a classic movie since Saving Private Ryan but the cat has so many classics he don't need no more.

Lets take a quick look at Spielberg's last four movies.  Munich earned him a best director nomination and scored a best movie nomination.  Indy 4 even though I'm not fan made a ton of money.  Adventures of Tin Tin was a good quality animated flick that made cash.  War Horse earned him a best director nom and scored a best picture nom.  So has you can see, Spielberg has enjoyed both commercial and crticial/prestige sucess in his last few outings.  If Spielberg has "lost" it, then the rest of the cats in the game ain't never had it.

Spielber is KING!

hanso 4/3/2012 2:09:21 PM

 And Spielberg as a producer is all over the map so it ain't fair just paint him with "Transformers".  He also did Super 8, and True Grit recently.  And on TV he had United States of Tara, The Pacific.

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