War Horse Blu-ray Review
The disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 2.4:1 1080p transfer using the AVC MPEG 4 codec and is Region free.
Actually filmed and not digital what we have is simply a stunning picture. Detail is excellent, right from skin and hair through to fur and water eyes; clothing has definite weaves and mud splatters in individual specks; grassland has clear blades and barbed wire has individual points; brickwork, tree lines, mud tracks, water pools – each have clear and precise lines that delineate their definition. There is the occasional bout of softness, but nothing to take your eye away from the sharp and defiant image.
Colours are strong, bold and absorbing, never showing any signs of wash or bleed. As is the norm with most modern film it has been digitally graded giving the colours real vibrancy; check out the lush greens of Devon in the early part of the film, or the wonderful blues of the skies. Slight de-saturation during the war torn scenes leads to a predominance of blue, but it is still very strong, while the reds of the sunsets, especially the final scenes are as warm and vibrant as to melt the screen.
Contrast and brightness are set to give deep inky blacks still with plenty of shadow detail, best showcased during the Joey’s night-time gallop through the trenches and into no-man’s land.
Digitally there are no compression problems, edge enhancement, aliasing or posterization to contend with. There is a very slight filmic grain sheen that reminds us of the organic nature of the medium that really adds to the feel of the movie. In all a spectacular picture.
I concentrate on the English dts-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track that is even better than the picture. With seamless integration of all surround effects and full use of all speakers you really are in the centre of the action. The simplest of effects: a character is talking on screen and the camera pans away from them – his dialogue moves with him around the speakers, thus the camera pans to the right, their speech comes from the left and you are left in no doubt as to who is speaking and from where. Effects such as this are myriad, from galloping horses, cars, tanks, wind and rain; there is pinpoint accuracy from the speakers, but mixed to such a degree of subtly that it sounds perfectly natural.
Dialogue is clear and precise but mixed to match the onscreen action thus whilst there is a dominance towards the front it is not exclusive. Bass is strong and deep when required but restrained when filling in the rest; gun shots, galloping horses, heavy artillery, even that of distant shelling, comes across very aggressively, as it rightly should (the huge guns making for some room shaking ferocity that is scarily accurate). Balance this with Williams’ score which is wild and evocative, fanciful and moving and levelled to such a degree to keep everything well maintained. This is simply a stunning surround track and a strong contender for track of the year so far.
- War Horse: The Journey Home (19.35, HD) – Two round table discussions hosted by Spielberg: the first is with the cast and discussions range from filming on location, to the story with plenty of anecdotal comments showing up the camaraderie experienced between the actors and the horses. The second has the main production crew and is slightly more production orientated with regard to discussions on the writing, adaptation, sets and locations. Each table has about ten minutes worth of material, obviously cut down from a much longer discussion.
- An Extra's Point of View (03.06, HD) – Hosted by Martin Dew one of three hundred odd extras employed on the film, tells of his experiences of working on set, in both uniforms (English and German) and how well everything is organised; way too short to be of any real depth.
And that’s it, very disappointing for what is a premier release from a major studio.
War Horse is Spielberg’s take on the children’s novel and the West End play of the same name. It tells the story of the thoroughbred horse, Joey, who is, due to unforeseen and regrettable circumstances, sold into the army and whose life, and the lives of those he meets around him, is forever changed during the horrific trench warfare of the Great War. Spielberg directs with a very sure hand and, indeed, it contains many a spellbinding moment, but the film, like the book and play before it, has a reputation and he falls into the trap of trying too hard to be over sentimental and suck the audience into deeply feeling for the characters and their plight. Whilst remaining a thoroughly entertaining watch it manages the unusual feat of simultaneously suffering from trying too hard to get at your heartstrings and actually ends up being somewhat non-plus. Though visually and aurally it is an absolute delight.
As a Region free Blu-ray set Dreamworks has provided a rather lacklustre package, while the picture is absolutely stunning with regard to texture, detail, colour representation with deep black levels and the sound is utterly absorbing with plenty of surround activity and bass to thoroughly engage, the extras package leaves a lot to be desired. However, such is the nature of the beast, this film will no doubt be picked up due to its subject matter and Spielberg’s name attached.
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