Another Perspective

Spielberg’s Horse Opera — A Warning

Steve, what were you thinking?

By 12.30.11

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I guess Steven Spielberg is such in institution now, such a trusted brand (in the boring expression the business majors have foisted on us), that he assumes, with some reason, that he can put just anything on the screen, sure in the knowledge that it will be praised. That the movie promotion industry and its camp followers will go along with the gag.

Sad, but all too true. So far War Horse, a mawkish and manipulative boy-meets-horse opera, has gotten good reviews. It shouldn't. The movie has some good acting, some beautiful scenes, and lush music from John Williams, Spielberg's long-time musical accomplice. But for me, scenes of gratuitous coarseness ruin what would otherwise have been a mediocre to pretty good movie.

In addition to being overly sentimental, the movie has some Private Ryanesque scenes of World War I combat that are not for the faint-hearted. But worst of all is a hideous and inexcusable sequence where a terrified horse, in fact the central character in the movie, runs at flank speed through no-man's land only to be badly cut and painfully brought down and encased by barbed wire. The sequence is so gut-wrenching that it reduced my wife -- a softie when it comes to animals but hardly a creampuff -- to sobs. It ended about the time I had decided I needed to escort her to the lobby to gather herself. She wasn't the only one in the theater the scenes disturbed.

The movie is rated PG-13, which I'm told means parental guidance for children 13 and under. Hard to imagine how an adult could benefit from seeing this episode of what can only be described as animal torture, let alone a 13 year old. In younger children the scenes described above could cause nightmares.

In the contemporary entertainment world, where edginess is king and gore is to be lingered over, Spielberg and his movie-making colleagues seem to have forgotten about the imagination, a glorious human organ, but one so long ignored by Hollywood that it's in a serious state of national atrophy. We don't have to be beaten within an inch of our lives to get our attention or our empathy. Surely movie audiences aren't so jaded that they require this level of violence and coarseness to respond.

My guidance to parents is to take the 13 year-old animal lovers in your family to We Bought a Zoo or to the dog park. Skip War Horse, which could have been a good movie for youngsters in the absence of the unnecessary, over-the-top brutality, though a doubtful one for adults because of its clichéd heart-tugging and utter predictability. 

C'mon Steve, what the hell were you thinking? 

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.