Blu-ray Review: War Horse

War Horse Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Disney | DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg | CAST: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell, Eddie Marsan
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 4/3/2012 | PRICE: DVD $29.99, Two-DVD $39.99, Four-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo $45.99, standard-definition download $29.99, high-definition download $39.99
BONUSES: featurettes, documentary
SPECS: PG-13 | 146 min. | War drama | 2.40:1 aspect ratio | 7.1 DTS-HD audio | English, French, Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Sentimental, sad and hopeful, Steven Spielberg’s (Indiana Jones movies) War Horse is a film that deserves to be presented in high-definition. The master director tipped his hat to classic filmmakers for a Gone With the Wind-era look that is stunning on Blu-ray. The bright green English countryside and grave, dank no man’s land of war are clear and gorgeously rendered. As too is the lyrical and heart-breaking score by composer John Williams (The Adventures of Tintin).

The movie’s performances are uniformly good, with most name actors showcased in only small parts. That’s because the star here is Joey, the horse of the film’s title, that carries all the characters’ hopes and love with him.

War HorseRunning more than two hours, War Horse‘s pacing does suffer at times. As Joey travels through World War I, we’re introduced to new characters, slowing the film each time. But those who can stick with the story will be rewarded in the end — but do keep tissues handy.

Produced by Laurent Bouzereau, who also worked on the Jurassic Park Blu-ray among many others, the Blu-ray special features for War Horse are some of the best we’ve seen. The Four-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo contains a bonus Blu-ray disc with four extras in high-definition.

The highlight of that disc and the whole set’s extras is the documentary A Filmmaking Journey, which interviews Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, actors Jeremy Irvine (Now Is Good), Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s Sherlock), Emily Watson (Equilibrium), David Thewlis (Anonymous) and others.

Unlike many making-of pieces, the feature-length A Filmmaking Journey is as interesting as any documentary, looking at all aspects of the movie’s production. Spielberg talks about how he couldn’t get the story out of his head after seeing the stage play version in London (the film and play are based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo). Benedict Cumberbatch discusses the thrill he felt riding the horses in the charge. And we see how stunts were done with real horses without one being injured during the film’s entire shoot. (Spielberg proudly says that the Humane Society consultant had full power to stop production at any time to make sure the horses were treated properly.)

The bonus Blu-ray disc contains three more featurettes, all shorter but still interesting. One looks at the film’s editing and scoring, including interviews with editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams, both of whom have worked with Spielberg on numerous films. Williams explains that he gave Spielberg three different music compositions for the opening, but his idea of a single flute portrayed the hope of the movie best.

In another featurette, sound designer Gary Rydstrom goes in-depth into the sound of the movie. Spielberg explains that authenticity was of the utmost importance, and Rydstrom gives some details of tricks they did for sound, such as using the slowed down sounds of miniature horses, which tend to have more emotion in their voices, for many of the horse sounds in the film.

The last piece, “Through the Producer’s Lens,” weaves an interview with producer Kathleen Kennedy together with photographs she took on the set.

As well as the film itseld, the main Blu-ray disc also contains two bonuses: “War Horse: The Journey Home,” showing a round-table discussion with Spielberg, Kennedy and others talking about the movie and reminiscing about its production; and “An Extra’s Point of View,” a brief piece following one of the 100 or so core background artists who performed as country Englishmen, German soldiers and others throughout the movie.

Even the DVD has a separate bonus: “War Horse: The Look,” exploring the work of the film’s creative team.

There’s no commentary or deleted scenes as Spielberg prefers to showcase the movie as it was made, but the War Horse Blu-ray still has plenty of entertainment.

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About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.