I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

War Horse

tn_warhorsespielbergSteven Spielberg’s WAR HORSE is the story of a horse named Joey. He is distinguishable because he is brown with a white mark on his head and above his hooves. Otherwise I’m not sure I could pick him out in a lineup. He’s just a horse. Doesn’t talk or do math problems or anything.

The story begins with Joey’s birth and ends with his ascension to the stars like E.T. (note: some facts have been altered) and in between he goes through a harrowing journey in turnip farming, WWI, etc. His primary equine-human relationship is with a youth named Albert (Jeremy Irvine), who is there at his birth and later becomes his owner and trainer. Despite going way beyond anyone’s expectations in his indentured servitude, the purchase of non-plow-ready pretty boy Joey financially ruins the family, their lives are destroyed and they have to sell him for cheap to the army for even more cruel and unusual treatment by different noble, handsome Englishmen.

During his tenure as a war horse the ownership of Joey’s body, soul and dignity is transferred between the British army, the German army and a little French farm girl. So we briefly see the war from different perspectives and we see that the people on both sides and caught in the middle are all just people. They have different accents but they all conveniently speak English and all share a love of forcing this particular horse to nearly kill itself by carrying people around and dragging heavy metal equipment through rough terrain. So why do we have wars? We’re all the same.

mp_warhorseWhat I heard about this movie that I thought sounded promising was that it was about “war as seen through the eyes of a horse.” What I should’ve realized is that that means through the emotionless, uncomprehending eyes of a horse. I mean jesus, we’ve seen a thousand movies about how man can’t comprehend war. What, is a horse gonna figure out a new angle where it makes more sense? Are his simple animal ways gonna solve a puzzle we’re overthinking? And then is he gonna stamp his foot in Morse code to explain it to us?

No, this horse doesn’t radiate any kind of intelligence or feeling. I get nothing. In his defense, he is a horse. He probly hasn’t gotten a chance to hone his skills on the stage or anything like that. In fact there is a play version of this and they used a puppet. Probly didn’t even let this guy audition. Nobody gives horses a chance.

I guess the play itself is based on a children’s book which is told in the point of view of the horse, giving him human words and thoughts. In the movie he doesn’t talk, so he’s just a horse. He doesn’t even get a part where there’s a girl horse and they flutter their eyes at each other because of love. He’s not so much a character as a mcmuffin, a thing that everybody’s trying to get because of its buttery English muffin bun. Yeah, he runs around, does a little horse parkour on the battlefield, but he doesn’t have much in the way of thoughts or emotions and not too many deliberate actions. He’s on a leash or in a barn, he’s auctioned off a couple times, sold a couple times, found and claimed a couple times, gets rescued. He’s a slave, used as a vehicle or a tool to pull cannons up a hill. Even in the hands of his true owner he’s forced to nearly kill himself plowing a field full of rocks. And he’s not the Cinque of beasts of burden. He never figures out how to say “Give us us free.”

By the way Joey also has a horse buddy that goes through alot of the adventures with him. Like Morgan Freeman in AMISTAD he adds his dignified presence but doesn’t get a huge amount to do.

I’ll say this about Joey, even if it doesn’t translate to film he’s clearly got alot of charisma. For some reason Albert’s dad willingly pisses off his landlord and sinks his whole farm to buy Joey, believing he’s not the type of horse he needs, just because “he’s something, isn’t he?” Albert knows as soon as he sees him that he’ll be “the one to save us,” only Mom sees him and immediately thinks he’ll be the end of them. When a guy in charge of war horses first sees him he’s so impressed by him that he’s sad that he has to use him for this purpose. The British captain loves this horse, so do the German soldiers that get him, and the little girl, and the two opposing soldiers that save him and then argue over who gets to keep him. Then the soldiers all come together to try to convince the doctor not to execute the horse. Yeah, sure, he’s dying, but he’s something!

Joey’s something all right. He’s lucky. Not wild desert horse lucky, but manages-to-survive-a-bunch-of-torment lucky, at least. He miraculously makes it through the horrors of WWI trench warfare, and then what does he do? Does he stop to reflect? No. While the soldiers ring a bell to commemorate the end of the war, and talk about how important it is to remember and appreciate all the brothers they’ve lost, Joey is in the barn eating hay like nothing happened. Because – and I cannot emphasis this enough – he is a horse.

The humans talk about Joey like he’s a hero for making it through that nightmare, like war is as profound an experience for him as for them. But is the horse gonna have PTSD? Actually, he might. I wouldn’t be surprised if animals could get that. I think I read something about pets being traumatized by Hurricane Katrina. But will he go to his grave with the guilt and shame of having taken lives, like Albert’s father does? No. He’s a horse. Even if he’d killed anybody I don’t think he’d give it another thought. He’d just eat more hay, later casually take a shit right where he’s standing, etc.

So I don’t have the connection to the horse that I think you’re supposed to have, and in fact having all the people linked by the horse kinda made it harder for me to relate to them, because their whole lives seem to revolve around a horse. What am I supposed to think about a kid who tries to enlist so he can go to war with his horse? One of the soldiers even seems creeped out by Albert’s emotional farewell to Joey before he’s old enough to go with him (it’s meant as a joke though because he suggests that it wouldn’t be weird if it was a dog).

Later Albert becomes a soldier and he carries a drawing of Joey that he looks at like it’s a picture of his girlfriend back at home. Some dick makes fun of him, asking if he’s gonna write a letter to his horse. I’m not sure if this is the case, but it makes it seem like the whole reason he’s in the military is to look for his horse. Come on kid, I know it’s sad that your dad gave away a horse you liked, but this is years later. You are just becoming a man. You are in a war zone. I’m pretty damn sure you’ve never been with a woman. You may very well die, and will definitely see your peers dying all around you. If you haven’t already taken human lives, you’re about to. That’s your job. And you know how your dad feels about what he did in his war, he won’t even talk about it. What I am saying to you is that if you’re still mooning about your pet horsey you’re a fucking idiot.

Yeah, I know, beautiful creatures, blah blah blah. A connection between a man and his steed. And not in a ZOO type of way. I get it. But Albert doesn’t know he’s in a movie about a horse. He should have, like, other shit that he thinks about sometimes. Girls. Baseball. Botany. Something. When the horse comes back into your life we’ll be happy for you. But you gotta have a life first.

So this presented a problem for me as a viewer. I can’t relate to the horse and then the humans aren’t in it enough for me to build a strong connection to them. So when one character who has come in contact with the horse returns unexpectedly later it’s a great turn of events but I feel like it doesn’t have as much impact as it should because that seemed like just one short chapter earlier and not a full emotional experience.

Despite all this I still kind of liked this movie because it really started to click with me in the last third or so. It started with that shot you’ve seen in the trailer where Joey is running through a huge battle, leaping over trenches and dodging bombs. The first part of the movie is an old-fashioned, heart-on-its-sleeve, Walt Disney Pictures type feel. But then it leaves the idyllic BABE-like farm (complete with comic relief goose) for the grey skies of hopeless combat. A BLACK STALLION type movie gives way to a harsher-than-expected PG-13 version of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN type battle scenes. But for the most part Spielberg doesn’t go for that Fubar/combat photographer style he popularized. The running scene especially has smooth pans through the gorgeously photographed horrors. It’s pretty enthralling.

There is a harrowing SPOILER moment when Joey starts to get tangled in barbed wire, and he’s dragging a bunch of shit and still hauling ass and I went from oh no, he’s in trouble to oh wait, it’s like the plow, he’s gonna get through this! to oh shit, that doesn’t look like CGI, how the fuck do they do that? And then I won’t say what it is but this leads to by far the most compelling sequence of the movie, which is not so much about the horse but about two humans from opposite sides of the war having an odd bonding experience. That, at least, is a classic scene.

I guess in a way WAR HORSE is an animal version of EMPIRE OF THE SUN. Like Jamie he’s not able to understand the uncontrollable forces at work around him. He just has to accept the shit life throws at him and try to, like, run through it really fast, and jump over some stuff. But we see what’s going on around him so we have a little more of an understanding of it than he does, and also are able to see what the different sides have in common. He doesn’t really worry about obtaining material possessions (unless you count hay) and doesn’t learn as much as Jamie, but he does manage to keep transporting Albert’s dad’s war pendant, so that’s sort of like his version of Jamie’s box of mementos or Victor in THE TERMINAL’s peanut can full of jazzman autographs.

Despite those similarities I’m very skeptical as to whether this horse will go on to the type of career Christian Bale has. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I doubt I will.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 3rd, 2012 at 3:28 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews, War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

60 Responses to “War Horse”

  1. All fictions require of their audience some measure of suspension of disbelief.

    WAR HORSE the play has a bunch of dudes walking alongside wooden contraptions roughly fashioned into animal puppets & a giant tank puppet. Yet my agile, willing mind is able to invisibilize the onstage puppeteers, as well as the few rows of audience skulls in front of me & the surrounding attendees in my field of vision around the stage. Thus, I achieve suspension of disbelief and enjoy the show.
    Despite my not being a 9 year old girl (an arguable claim for Mouth on this websight), I feel for the horse. When the human characters talk a bit too much, it is excusable, even welcome, because it’s a play and they have to explicate stuff that relates to the reticent horse. The brief vocalist interludes & traditional-British-sounding songs are eerily cutting and emotional. The goose is awesome.

    WAR HORSE the movie requires me to forgo most of my adult mental faculties and my understanding of human behavior. I am unable to achieve suspension of disbelief.
    Somehow, despite the major advantage of not having a bunch of hunched over puppeteers manhandling & walking step-for-step with the protagonist animal for the duration of the narrative, the movie assaults my intelligence where the play spectacularly superseded my cynicism by virtue of its own assured take-it-or-leave-it execution. Ergo, I feel that the filmmakers are insulting me. Also, the movie’s music is lousy. The goose is still awesome, though.

  2. This could easily be Spielberg’s next action/adventure trilogy. Just think of the possibilities; Police Horse; One Step Ahead of the Glue Factory! And finally Doctor Horse; Deadly Hay Fever!

  3. very good review Vern, I liked the movie a lot, but I will say that I would have preferred Spielberg had made a more straight up WW1 movie instead, but I’ll take what I can get (I find WW1 pretty fascinating by the way)

    and I’ve never really understood why so many people are obsessed with horses either, I mean all they do is stare at you, my cats emote more than a horse does

  4. The bit in that trailer that always makes me laugh is that shot at 1:47 with the horse looking over its shoulder, as it seems like a horse version of the shot they use in cast montages in non-horse starring movies. It feels like it should have “And Introducing…A Horse” over it.

  5. I’ve known some “horse people” in my day, and they’re a strange lot. Many of them seem far more comfortable around horses than actual people. Others are so immersed in horse show culture that they seem completely unaware that there’s an actual world outside of their wealthy clique.

    I think part of the appeal of horses is that they are incredibly powerful creatures that, if they wanted, could just as much kill you as let you put a saddle on them. A well trained horse is an amazingly gentle creature. When riding them you get a sense of the sort of strength that animals have, and it’s a both scary and exhilarating. It’s really amazing to think about how weak humans are.

    I really liked this movie. I think some of the disappointment probably stems from what Griff said above, people expected a more straightforward WWI film along the lines of Saving Private Ryan, and what they got instead was a post-modern recreation of John Ford and David Lean. Spielberg is working in the genre of melodrama at times. And when I say melodrama I don’t mean to use it as a straight up pejorative like most people use it today. I’m speaking about the traditional genre that goes back to 18th century drama. At times the combination of Spielberg’s sentimentality and the genre of melodrama go a little overboard, like during the scene where Joey is plowing the field. But for the most part it didn’t bother me as much as some critics. I suppose it’s probably because I saw the film as a faithful recreation and because, to be perfectly honest, I like animals. Maybe I’m the only one, but I actually cared about what happened to Joey.

    I also thought that Spielberg was doing some pretty interesting things with the format of the war film. As Vern pointed out, when Joey crosses enemy lines, this disrupts a simple us v. them narrative that’s common even in anti-war films. I also think that the vignette format is pretty ballsy for a big Hollywood film. It creates a kind of picaresque story that lets us see how the war affects different aspects of society. I also thought the refusal to show a ton of gore was an interesting choice. If the film had been made by someone who hadn’t directed Saving Private Ryan, then I would be tempted to say that this is a cop out. But Spielberg has shown the horrors of war in previous films, so I don’t think it’s easy to just say he wimped out here. He is, after all, the man who showed an entire generation of filmmakers how to photograph a war scene. I think Spielberg is showing that a war film can be approached from multiple perspectives, and each of them, if well execute, are legitimate in their own way. One of the greatest scenes in the film is cavalry charge, where we are shielded from the gore, but not from images that show the aftermath. He’s cleverly borrowing from Sergei Eisenstein here, and I thought it was great. In his own way, Spielberg is also arguing that these older films that were restricted in what they could show an audience are legitimate forms of art that can still tell us something about the world.

    (Spoiler alert ahead). I was shocked when Joey’s second owner, the British officer, died. I had read few reviews of the movie, and I was not familiar with the play, so for me it came out of nowhere. it was a great move to have the audience spend some time with this stiff-upper lip Brit, see him bond with Joey, show dignity and perseverance, and then kill the guy off.

    I understand that War Horse isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But you have to be really kidding me if you think the film doesn’t achieve some great moments.

  6. The bond between man and horse is a little different then what we have going on with any other animal. I don’t mean it in some kind of mystical bullshitty way, but from the fact that in the scale of importance to the development of many civilizations Horses rank somewhere just below fire. That’s why certain folks get so angry when those animals are mistreated. Horses lugged our shit around for close to 6,000 years and that affection dies hard in the cultural memory.

    Laugh if you want, but when the zombies come my equestrian skills are really going to pay off.

  7. My grand uncle served in the American cavalry during WW1. I don’t know how much action he saw, and he hated horses, but still… aNorwegian socialist in an American outfit fighting Germans in France. No wonder he wrote a book about it.

  8. About that cavalry charge scene:
    (If I interpreted/received Spielberg’s masterful visual establishment correctly: )

    The Germans were in their camp, aka patrol base, conducting personal hygiene (and cooking, iIrc?), unarmed, in some tents in the middle of an open field, and they had their machine guns in the tree line behind them, pointed directly at their own camp?

  9. While dying, John Huston finished an adaptation of James Joyces’ THE DEAD.

  10. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 3rd, 2012 at 11:07 am

    I might be missing out on greatness here, but I got REALLY bad vibes from this one trailer-wise, and I don’t have any intention to see it. Mouth’s pretty much confirmed a lot of what I thought this movie would be in the hands of a director like Spielberg, who as you all know frustrates me to no end.

    So… no “War Horse” review coming any time soon from me, is what I’m saying. Sorry guys.

    I will balance this shortcoming of mine out by urging you, once again, to go and see “Margin Call” if you want a genuinely great financial thriller with a big-name cast to die for. Or alternatively “Shame” if you have a hankering for gratuitous shots of Michael Fassbender’s cock. Either one is fine by me.

  11. Weirdly enough Vern, your description made me like this film even more. I can’t help but wonder if Spielberg has ever seen Au hasard Balthazar.

  12. Is anyone else remembering it how I remember it? Mass casualty-producing gatpieces aimed at one’s own friendly force? It’s possible I’m wrong about the Germans’ orientation of those heavy weapons.

    The only tense part of this movie that got to me for a minute was when the drunk father takes a shotgun to the horse’s face. Surprised me how serious that got, probably because of the inherent drama of having a gun pointed at someone’s face. That’s always riveting cinema.
    But then… like Vern said, the “someone’s face” is that of a horse. Blank, expressionless, constantly hovering over a pile of hay. The dramatic moment quickly devolved into the sick cousin of a good Simpsons visual gag about the stupidity of Santa’s Little Helper.

    Unfortunately, I have to say I took the talking-telepathing werewolves of TWILIGHT 4.1 more seriously.
    And now I think Spielberg would somehow ruin that series if he somehow were hired to direct the next installment.

  13. I thought the horse came off better than Shia did in Indy 4. And I like Le Boeff and really enjoyed Indy 4. I just thought he couldn’t be Indy’s son. Where as the horse was without a doubt, a horse.

  14. RBatty—preach it. I’ve known serious horse people in my time, and the weirdest thing about ’em is how they adopt the mannerisms of their horses. If they argue they’ll start tossing their heads back in forth in disagreement, and I swear I once saw one snort and stomp when we brought out the wrong wine. I just about fed her an apple.

    Also, all the horse photoshops on their Facebook pages need to stop. All horses may go to heaven, but they don’t need Adobe to do it. Finally double props of the show circuit. That shit becomes their whole lives, with them hitting the same cities and meeting the same ultra fit and well-preserved trainers in the same kind of dirt ring where their sugar daddy/mama spouses drink margaritas in the stands and talk up horse insurance. Whenever I encounter it I just think, “how the hell did I get here?”

    Sorry, I rarely get to rant about this, and you’ve kind of wound me up. Horse people, go figure.

  15. I actually really loved the first half of the movie before the horse goes to war more than the second half. Then again, I genuinely live in the area it is set and just revelled in the accents (mostly excellent, surprisingly), and depiction of life at the time. My great grandfather was a Devonshire farmer with a drinking problem too, so I was really impressed with Peter Mullan; he just nails his character. Spielberg and Kaminski really showcased my home and reminded me why I love the area.

  16. This was my biggest disappointment of 2011, hands down. I went to see it with high hopes opening weekend and left the theater really bummed out that it didn’t live up to what I know Speilburg is still capable of. I think I said in the Hook thread that it was groan inducing. I would much rather sit through a Hook,Terminal, and The Lost World marathon than sit through it ever again. It really is fucking horrible and I’m surprised people have taken to it like they have, it even got an incredibly unwarranted Best Picture nod.I hope Hugo takes that one,it was the movie this year that took me most by surprise and reaffirmed my belief in how amazing 3D can be in the hands of the right director.

    Still got my hopes up for Lincoln though, the set pics I’ve seen of Daniel Day Lewis are beyond impressive.

  17. I have a friend who works in a small cinema showing this; they keep scaring the customers away by calling it ‘WAR WHORES’.

  18. I think a movie called War Whores could have a truly interesting premise. Or it could be a porno about naughty war nurses.

    And here’s a fun little link:
    http://m.guardian.co.uk/film/gallery/2012/feb/03/oscars-2012-mock-film-posters?cat=film&type=gallery

    I wouldn’t mind owning the first poster and think a movie with that title would do quite well.

  19. Heard a comedian joking about how a good sequel title to War Horse would be More Horse.

  20. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 4th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Anonimouse – that was worth clicking on just for the “Iron Lady” poster. “She crippled our country… and stole our milk.” Priceless!

  21. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 4th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    And Dieselboy – I don’t think I’ve seen a Spielberg film made in the last ten years or so that WASN’T a disappointment in some way. Especially “Munich”. I genuinely expected to like that one when I went in, and instead came out absolutely loathing it. I mean, maybe I’ve missed a good one or two, but I can’t come up with a Spielberg film I haven’t seen from that period that’s generally recognised as a classic.

  22. Paul-I really enjoyed Tintin. I don’t know if I’d rate it amongst his best but I’d say it’s his best since Munich, which I do think is a very solid movie.

  23. I enjoyed CATCH ME IF YOU CAN very much as a light, carefree story but then it got really heavy and serious in the latter half. Seeing the DVD behind the scenes features I see why. When they were filming the scene where Frank Abignale Jr.(Leo DiCaprio) is having dinner with his father(Christopher Walken) in a fancy restaurant. Frank Sr. is talking about how he first met Frank Jr’s mother(who he’s now divorced from) in France during the war. “I didn’t speak a word of French and six weeks later she was my wife.” They show him do the first couple of takes and Walken plays it wistfully. Then he does one take where he suddenly tears up and breaks down crying. Spielberg was just blown away and moved by that choice. Walken offers to do another take, a more “straight” one but Spielberg says theres no need and that’s the one they used in the movie. Now, that was a great performance by Walken in that scene and it probably got him the Academy Award nomination for supporting actor, but it also threw off the movie IMO. The later scenes with Walken now have this tragic and sad undertone that doesn’t mix well with the funnier scenes with Leo and Tom Hanks. It makes me realize that a major weakness of Spielberg is that he leans toward great emotional scenes that are moving but also undermine the overall story he’s trying to tell.

  24. “The Pigs Wanted Animal Farm… But Now They Got War Horse… Up to Here! In…
    A WAR HORSE ON ANIMAL FARM”

    #mywarhorsesequel

  25. do you guys think Spielberg will ever come out with a another movie that everyone widely agrees on being good instead of being split down the middle?

    it seems like Spielberg suffers from the fact that he’s Spielberg, that is to say people these days have unrealistically high expectations of his films and every time one comes out it’s always split evenly down the middle between people that liked it and peopled that loathed it

    heck, do you guys think he’ll ever at least come out with another movie that’s as big of a hit and as influential as Jurassic Park again?

    it seems like Jurassic Park was the last movie on the same level as Jaws that was not only a massive hit, but changed Hollywood forever

    and these days it’s almost as if Spielberg has more of a (albeit strong) cult following than anything else, I mean his movies are still popular but they don’t pull in the big bookoo bucks like the Transformers flicks do for example (as sad as that is)

    basically what I’m saying is I’d like him to pull off a James Cameron and show the Michael Bays of the world how it’s done

  26. I personally don’t think so; the reason is I just don’t think that there is anything left for the beard to sincerely say through the language of cinema anymore. He’s pretty much exercised it all within the past 4 decades and you can see it in the soul that is lacking in a lot of his recent releases. His endorsement of the heartless like Michael Bay speaks volumes I’d say.

    His recent films seem technically sound and all but the heart and personality he used to inject into “A Steven Spielberg Film” is just not there anymore. Then again I have also counted Ridley Scott out before and it looks like the old fart is about to blow my mind this summer with PROMETHEUS. So I guess you never know.

  27. “His recent films seem technically sound and all but the heart and personality he used to inject into “A Steven Spielberg Film” is just not there anymore.”

    I would personally disagree, I don’t think the Beard has changed all that much, I think it’s the world that’s changed around him

    I mean we’re living in a world where it seems like most people treat movies as an excuse to twitter half the time

  28. Keep in mind I’m talking about his blockbuster output here since you spoke on a more “universal” type of classic. Movies like MINORITY REPORT and WAR OF THE WORLDS are cold emotionless dreck that lose the audience because they have nothing for the audience to hold on to. You look at movies like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and JAWS and above all the crazy sci-fi dialogue and oceanic horror the main component of it all is PURE HEART.

    It’s there in the way he frames the shots, the way he directs the actors and what that inspires them to emote etc. I saw a bit of INDY 4 on TV the other day and I could see why so many people hate it. I mean I switched the channel because there is nothing organic about his movies anymore. They feel and look fake now; as soulless as anything by a hack like Ratner or Bay. When I can’t not longer distinguish a Spielberg movie anymore I know the guy is just not in the right place.

    The whimsy he used to bring like he wanted to be on set. That energy translated in his storytelling as a master of fine filmatism for years and years. It always felt like it was a big kid playing in a great playground and sharing it with the rest of the world. Now it DOES feel like another director shooting a standard formula pic and putting out there to see if it sticks.

    It will take the likes of Ridley really kicking everybody’s ass by returning to his roots and the King walloping everybody’s behind with the AVATAR sequels to wake up the brilliant filmmaker lying dormant within the shell known as Steven Spielberg. So for the sake of great genre fare I hope so. But as much of an optimist as I may be I am also a realist. The guy who couldn’t even get TINTIN right to me is not capable of bringing out another fun and classic blockbuster anymore. He should just stick to oscar bait; he’s doing pretty well there still.

  29. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    February 6th, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Broddie – I absolutely agree with you on the “heart” issue. And Griff – I think Spielberg has nothing more to say. I see the same themes and cliches in “Minority Report” as I do in “Munich”, and the movies suffer for it. I would LOVE for him to prove me wrong, because I think “Schindler’s List” is a masterpiece and I’ve seen “Jurassic Park” about twenty times without ever getting tired of it.

    But I think that at the heart of every recent Spielberg movie is the same core, whether it’s about Mossad agents hunting terrorists or futuristic cops arresting people for crimes they’re only about to commit or Harrison Ford vs aliens or whatever. And that core has long since ceased to shine.

    If someone says to me that a new Fincher or Nolan movie is coming out, I’m excited for it. (Same with Kubrick, only probably best to use the past tense on that one.) I can’t even remember how long it’s been since I had that feeling about Spielberg.

  30. Hey Griff, serious question: why do you think Jurassic Park was influential? I mean I like the movie and the series, just don’t know what it brought to the table that had any long-lasting effect on Hollywood. Since I pour over every page as I add the reviews to the timeline the fact that you mentioned this at least twice got the old “inquiring minds want to know” wheels spinning.

    It can’t be the CGI, TRON showed us a future of all-CGI sets and scenes more than a decade before, and T2 brought in-scene “realistic” CGI two years ahead of Jurassic. It can’t be a trend in “assholes in peril” movies as they’ve been around for quite some time.

    Just curious.

  31. Jurassic Park was influential in that it was a huge smash hit movie that woke Hollywood up to the potential of CGI and got everyone talking, it could just have something to do with the media over-saturated world we live in but it’s been a long time since a Spielberg movie got everyone talking besides Kingdom of The Crystal Skull which only got everyone talking about how much they hated it (story of the Goddamned modern day)

    it just seems like a Steven Spielberg movie is met with a lot of indifference these days, I don’t remember Tintin getting much talk either, the only films that get a whole lot of attention these days are the latest Transformers or Superhero movie or whatnot

    but like I said, how many movies at all really stick around in the public consciousness outside of the window when they’re released these days? it seems like there’s a half life now where everyone might love a movie when it comes out but as the years go by it’s legacy fades to a few simple things, if that, look at Inception, big hit movie that everyone talked about, now whenever you see it mentioned it’s just the ending or the “BRRRRRRRRRRRM” sound effect, or even the mighty Avatar has now faded into the “giant smurf movie” as opposed to a fun, ground breaking blockbuster, but you better fucking believe everyone knows Ghostbusters or Back To The Future like the back of their hands

    I don’t think it’s because movies themselves have gotten worse necessarily, it’s just people’s attention spans have gotten worse, everyone’s too preoccupied with Goddamned Honey Boo Boo reality tv trash and other celeb gossip, that’s what’s zeitgeist capturing these days, everyone has ADHD, may God help us all….

    but anyway, you know now that I think about it maybe Jurassic Park ISN’T all that influential because it seems like the lesson Hollywood took from it at large is “CGI is cool” instead of the other things that made the movie work, which is an airtight script with no filler or fluff, a wonderful pace that builds the excitement as opposed to a movie where “things just happen”, interesting and memorable characters that you actually want to see do interesting things, good acting and well written, quotable dialog

    oh yeah and well shot and well edited action scenes as opposed to a bunch of shaky-cam chaos

    so yeah, Jurassic Park SHOULD have been more influential than it ultimately was, I guess

    and as far as Spielberg in general goes, yeah the guy’s golden age is past him (but come on, he’s in his 60’s for crying out loud), but I don’t think he sucks now, I think AI and Minority Report are actually quite good and while War of the Worlds may not be anything great, it’s still better than a lot of modern movies of a similar ilk (let’s not even go into KOTC)

    so I think he’s still got it, after all Lincoln was great….

  32. Speaking of latter-day Steves, I think CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is the best film Spielberg ever made, by a wide margin. But anyways:

    I love JURASSIC PARK and believe that it’s quite influential. Look at JAWS and how it birthed the 1980’s, where monster movies and slasher movies are super plentiful and but also a bit more intelligent and subtext-rich than they used to be. A precious handful of them might be super-classic GOATs like JAWS. Then JP comes along and, for better or worse, we see a trail of prestige special effects genre pieces in its wake. As Griff may be getting at, it was sort of a point-of-no-return where it was going to be this philosophy of “the more you spend, the more you’re possibly going to get” from now on as far as the greenlighting committees went. So on the one hand you get crap like the Michael Bay films, but on the other you get filmmakers like Peter Jackson getting this Orwellian trainset with which they can put their imaginations on the screen.

  33. CGI is a great tool, but the problem is that Hollywood waaaaaaaaaay overuses it, CGI is great for replacing effects that in the old days would have had to be stop motion, but it’s not a replacement for real sets or locations, makeup, animatronics and even (some) models

    the whole philosophy of special effects has changed for the worse, the mantra in the old days used to be that they DIDN’T want the audience to know how they pulled it off, they wanted to leave you guessing, not sure of what exactly you were looking at, while obviously you had vague ideas of what something was, be it makeup or models or whatever, the fact that it was something tangible, something real, meant that you never knew 100% how they pulled something off and they didn’t want you to

    take the werewolf transformation in American Werewolf in London or the effects in The Thing, while obviously on some level you understand it’s not real, that it’s latex and whatnot, you still don’t know the details, just HOW did they pull this stuff off? you have no idea and that’s what makes it so impressive

    but now with CGI you know how it works, there’s no secret, no trickery, it’s all just done with computers and you can always tell when something is CGI, no matter how detailed or impressive it may be it’s like watching animation, you can appreciate the artistry but the suspension of disbelief is gone

    nowadays some movies they make are basically animated movies with live action actors in them (not unlike the Toon Town sequence in Who Framed Roger Rabbit) , Avatar was like that, it was basically an animated movie with live action segments grafted on, the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland and Sam Raimi’s OZ movies are basically just animated movies with actors planted in them

    and while on one level the effects in those movies are impressive, they don’t feel like places you could actually be in if there’s nothing that you could actually touch in real life

    that’s why movies like Blade Runner and The City of Lost Children are still so impressive even today because everything was done with real sets and real models, they look like places that could actually be real

    so in a perfect world Hollywood would learn that when it comes to CGI less is more, if they tried mixing CGI with practical effects and real locations or real sets (like Jurassic Park, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Christopher Nolan Batmans and Inception) they would get a movie where you wouldn’t know what you were looking at, is this CGI or not? the mystery would be back

    I so wish I could be a director, I tell ya man, I’ve got vision!

  34. “but now with CGI you know how it works, there’s no secret, no trickery, it’s all just done with computers…”

    See, the thing is you actually don’t know how this stuff is done; you just know what tool was used to do it. I think your post reflects the general attitude of most people when it comes to CG -“computers did it” as if it’s an automated process. It’s like looking at a paint brush and thinking “oh so this is how he painted the Sistine Chapel”.

    I’ve been trying to get into CG for almost a decade now, working on this stuff for thousands of hours and believe me when I tell you I’m still nowhere near good enough. The people charged with creating CG for movies have to be unbelievably talented artists and unbelievably knowledgeable engineers AT THE SAME TIME. It takes huge teams of people thousands of manhours to create this stuff and even when they do a good job a computer gets all the credit.

    My advice to you (or anyone reading this) is to learn a little bit more* about the techniques involved in creating this stuff. Like anything else you have to be knowledgeable about something before you can truly start to appreciate it. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. Like I said, I’ve been at this for years and I see plenty of shots where I honestly have no goddamn clue how they did it.

    *Or do what I did – download a pirated copy of 3Ds Max or Maya and have at it.

  35. “I think CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is the best film Spielberg ever made, by a wide margin.”

    This is the most controversial statement I have ever heard in my life.

  36. Yeah, I don’t wanna get into ANOTHER CGI debate, after we just had one a few weeks ago underneath a whole different review, but I’m with Mode7. People always say “Oh, that was done with computers” but WHAT was exactly done with computers and HOW?

    Here. Take this software. http://www.blender.org/ It’s free, powerful, has lots of tutorials and has been used for many professional (sometimes just professional looking) productions. Go ahead, I give you a week to do something awesome with it. MAke some dinosuars, let some UFOs wreck your hometown or something like that. It’s easy! It’s nothing! Just sitting on a chair and pushing a button. The computer does it all. No creativity or workmanship needed, right?

  37. Obviously, making special effects with CGI is incredibly difficult and complicated and new innovations are being made every single day by genius-level intellects around the world. It is incredibly exacting work that requires the soul of an artist and the skills of an engineer. It is also not very interesting to hear about for the layman. Seeing behind-the-scenes footage of the craftsmen creating the stop-motion model work for EMPIRE STRIKES BACK or the giant animatronic T-Rex head from J.PARK is almost as cool as seeing the completed footage, while seeing someone sitting at a desk, dragging a mouse around, is not. So if there’s any magic missing from CGI, it’s that we know that most of the work that went into it was mostly pretty boring, even if the results are exciting.

  38. Griff: I believe that the best special effect a director has at his or her disposal is the actors. I like CITY OF LOST CHILDREN a lot, but the film would be meaningless without Perlman’s and Pinon’s performances, particularly the way that the modulate their acting to fit into the film’s odd tone and aesthetic. The film itself could look terrible but would still be compelling because of the work they do. In my opinion, all the CGI in the world didn’t make Jackson’s KING KONG better than the original.

    I agree with you that less is more when it comes to CGI, but what really bothers me is when CGI is the main reason for the existence of a film. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I prefer it when an actual script is the starting point.

    Majestyk: I’ve seen people defend THE TERMINAL (which I think is a terrible film) and vilify MUNICH (which I think is exceptional), so I figure it’s fair game to nominate any of the films Speilberg’s made in the past 25 years as “best” or “worst.”

  39. I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to expect that one day CGI technicians will come to terms with the qualities unique to their medium, much in the way that electronic musicans eventually stopped mimicing classical forms and began exploring the compositional possibilities inherent in their instruments. I’m pretty sure that eventually CGI will have its own Stan Winstons and Tom Savinis.

  40. I dont want to step in a Hornets Nest again, but not long ago i saw an interwiew with William Friedkin on youtube.
    It was after a Screening of his great Movie “Sorcerer” at the Aero.
    He told a lot of great Storys about all the Shit happend, during the making of that Movie and how dangerous it was.
    For instance the spectacular Bridge Scene. Or when they had to blew up that giant Tree, the Special Effect Guys
    couldn´t do it, Friedkin call an Arsonist from New York and let him blow up that Tree.
    I mean it´s one of the Movies, where you can see all the Madness on Screen, like in Apocalypse Now.
    Than one Guy in the Audience asked Friedkin if he would use CGI when making that Film today.
    Friedkin, who is absolutly pro CGI and Digital Filmmaking, said of course he would because they all were risking their
    Lives back than. While i can absolutly understand his POV, i am kind of happy he made it back in 1977.
    CGI looks most of the time just much to perfect and clean for the more gritty, grimy kind of movies.
    At least for my taste. O.K. Let the Shitstorm begin.

  41. Jareth: Best of the last 25 years? Open to interpretation. Best HE EVER MADE? Unless you live in a world where JAWS, E.T., or RAIDERS don’t exist, nothing he made in the last 25 years even comes close to qualifying.

  42. Majestyk: Obviously you and I know that JAWS and RAIDERS are Speilberg’s best films (I actually dispise E.T.), but I’ve seen guys on the AV Club who claim that MINORITY REPORT is his best film bar none. On the same web site, I saw a guy defend WAR OF THE WORLDS as better than CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.

    I don’t know where to draw the line. I don’t really like Speilberg, so I’m inclined to think that he’s always had some really well-made films interspersed among some truly awful ones (ALWAYS, HOOK, 1941). I think general wisdom tends advocate the idea that the good ones got less good after SCHINDLER’S LIST or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. The guy who was defending THE TERMINAL qualified that he was speaking strictly of post-PRIVATE RYAN films.

    Pike: The cast and crew of all those great Thai action films often suffer horrible injuries during production. It makes me very uncomfortable to admit that I prefer that method of stuntwork to anything CGI has accomplished so far.

  43. @ Jareth Cutestory

    “All the CGI in the World didn´t make Jacksons King Kong better tan the Original”

    SO TRUE !

  44. Mr. Majestyk-

    Yeah but when you see the behind the scenes footage of the T-Rex you’re looking at the end result. It’s not as if you wouldn’t be bored to shit watching someone fabricate it in real time. 99% of FX work has always been tedious, painstaking and boring to the layman – you just don’t see it.

    Jareth-

    What the hell is a CGI technician? We’re* artists dammit!

    *Not sure I’m qualified to use “we” here but fuck it, it’s too late now.

  45. Mode7: I subscribe to the idea that “art” is little more than a discourse used by critics and theorists when discussing culture, often with elitist tendencies. I think there is more dignity in being a painter, a sculptor, a filmatist or a CGI technician than there is in chasing after some ephemeral idea of “artist.”

  46. I do agree by the way that if something can be accomplished practically it probably should be, CG should only be used for impossible shots IMO. I think part of the problem is the “fuck it, we’ll fix it in post” attitude I hear alot of directors are prone to. They’d rather have an FX team spend god knows how long simulating something they could do pretty easily practically for no other reason than because that’s someone else’s job and they don’t have to deal with it. The lazy bastards.

  47. It’s strange, you know, because the idea of constructing a work after the perfomers have left the building has produced some really compelling material in the field of music. Stuff like Miles Davis’ work with Teo Macero is meticulously assembled through editing, and all manner of mischief can be achieved by stitching together loops and samples and found sound.

    Maybe the relative expense of making a movie rules out this sort of experimentation and limits the post-production work to damage control.

  48. Mode7: Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’m still more interested in learning how they managed to miniaturize the pneumatics to fit them inside the T-Rex head or how they figured out how to minimize matte lines to be able to put optical plates against a white background than I am in how some guy at a desk wrote a program to help all the other programs deal with the zeros and ones in a more efficient way. That is all extremely important work and I’m sure it’s fascinating if you know how it works, but it’s pretty dull for your average joe. Every now and then there’s a really cool breakthrough like motion capture that piques my interest, but nine times out of ten, as much as I respect the shit out of the work CGI artistes do, it doesn’t really make for cool behind-the-scenes stories.

  49. Jareth-

    Yeah I see where you’re coming from, I just hate the word “technician” since it’s exactly that word that gets added on to the titles of menial jobs to make them sound all fancy. Refuse technician for example (garbage man). Believe me I know what I’m talking about, I’ve had more than one minimum wage job with the word “technician” in the title. Maybe this kind of thing only goes on in the UK, I don’t know.

  50. You’ve convinced me, Mode. No disrespect intended. From now on I’ll call your profession CGI Wizards.

    Actually, a buddy went through some sort of CGI class in art school and it sounds really difficult.

  51. If you dont know it, you really should watch all five parts. It´s a lot of fun because Friedkin is a hell of a Storyteller.
    If you have any Interest in Movies and Movie making, do yourself a favor, and watch it.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSuMKrsCrMI

  52. Mr. Majestyk-

    I can’t really disagree since most of the people in my life get a kind of glazed over expression whenever I try to explain what it is I’ve been doing on the computer for the last five hours. It kinda sucks being so fascinated by something so few people actually give a shit about.

    Jareth- Cheers bud, Wizard will do nicely. In fact I might see if I can strong-arm everyone I know into calling me “The Wizard”, like “The Maestro” from Seinfeld. What could possibly go wrong?(!)

  53. Tell me about it Mode7, I’ve been programming since 1975, created an online education system that’s helped tens of thousands of ne’er-do-wells, and am in the process of rolling out three entertainment websites including one with what I think is quite a hook since it’s never been done before, but I have no one to talk to about it. Even when I had my job with the education thing there’s was only one dude and with him it was just “talkin’ ’bout tech” since he wasn’t a developer. Oh the years of wasted programming jokes.

    My simple question to Griff sure has gotten the discussion going lol. I think there are a lot of cool posts worth revisiting which is why I developed the WordPress plugin that shows posts that have gotten recent comments rather than relying on just the comments themselves which generally focus on just a few recent posts. Since it’s “below the fold” I don’t think it’s had the effect I’d hoped for, but it was a worthy programming detour.

    With CGI sometimes it takes time. The work necessary to make CGI blood and beheadings look right means we gotta have a few years of it not, but in the end it will be invaluable to beloved blade weapon combat and “one shots”. Particle rendering is a much an art as a science as with the rest. If you can appreciate the evolution of compositing, you’ll eventually be just as satisfied with the currently less than ideal effects.

  54. That’s some impressive shit clubside. I think so far my most impressive feats received “couldn’t you have just used a camera?” as a response. I really don’t have an answer to that.

  55. Mode7 – I’m not saying there’s no artistry or skill involved with CGI, there is, but there’s no mystery behind it either, at the end of the day no matter what you know CGI was just made by people sitting at computers, there’s no questions like “just how did they make this animatronic not look like it’s an animatronic and movie realistically?” or “how did they make these latex effects look like real movie flesh?” etc etc

    plus there’s an uncanny valley thing going I think where your brain just instinctively knows when you’re looking at something real and when you’re not, CGI artists are trying to beat millions of years of evolution and I’m not sure if it’s a hurdle that can be passed, if there can ever be CGI that looks truly “photo-realistic”

    that’s why when you look at the creatures in The Thing or the buildings in Blade Runner and they feel more “real” than if they were created by CGI, because your brain can just tell that these are objects that exist in reality, that you could actually touch and the suspension of disbelief is enhanced

    lack of suspension of disbelief is probably one reason why so many people are unhappy with movies today

    but let me just be clear that I’m not an anti-computer guy, after all I’m a big gamer, I spend a lot of time in computer created worlds and I love seeing what developers are able to create do with these virtual environments

    but movies are different than video games and in the case of movies I think CGI is overused, it should be used to compliment and enhance other practical effects instead of just being the be all end of all of special effects, as it is now

    let me ask you something, do you think the Lord of The Rings movies would have been better if Peter Jackson didn’t shoot on location in New Zealand? if instead of those sweeping hills and majestic forests it was all CGI created like in Lucas’ Star Wars prequels?

    no, because Jackson used those real locations to give a feeling of reality to everything, it made the CGI feel more grounded in reality and thus more believable

  56. I’m sorry, replace two uses of “movie” with “move” and “moving”

  57. At the same time Griff, would Benjamin Button have looked anywhere near as believable if it’d been done with latex?

  58. I never saw Benjamin Button

    but like I said, sometimes CGI can be great, but it’s still overused

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