Spielberg's schmaltzy War Horse - it's enough to make you weep

Jan 11, 2012

Not even Joey's 'manure scooper' could clear up the negative reviews for this chocolate-boxy epic

SUCH is the power of PR that a glitzy movie premiere in London complete with royals – of the Hollywood and Kensington Palace variety - and lots of breezy Oscar talk have masked the fact that many critics have been less than complimentary about Steven Spielberg's new epic, War Horse.

Some are downright damning of the Hollywood director's screen adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's novel about a horse drafted into WWI. 'Cringe-worthy', 'chocolate-boxy', 'trivial' and 'schmaltzy' are just some of the putdowns.
Of course, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge added regal glamour to the red carpet, sharing the spotlight with Joey, the dashing chestnut colt and equine 'lead' in War Horse. Kate, we are told, duly cried – and Spielberg's wife passed her a Kleenex.

To be fair, some critics have doled out superlatives. The Daily Telegraph calls the film "genuine in its emotion, unflinching in its reality... epic in its grandiosity." The New York Times calls it "a tribute to a glorious tradition of honest, emotionally direct story-telling".

But even Joey's 'manure scooper' - an essential aide when you take a horse up a red carpet – couldn't clear up all the negative comments deposited in the film's wake.
While Kate Muir of The Times says the film's "power is undeniable", she also describes it as Babe meets Band of Brothers and dubs it a "sweeping schmaltzy epic".

Andrew Pulver of The Guardian says Spielberg has opted for "a lachrymose, buttery treatment" of Morpurgo's tale. "From the first swooping shots of a chocolate-boxy English countryside, this War Horse is rooted in a buffed-up, sanded-down vision of rural England, where even alcohol-fuelled poverty is given a picturesque, storybook patina.
"He [Spielberg] has the entire arsenal of film-making at his disposal, but can't seem to snap out of a now-habitual mode of vitality-erasing, dewy-eyed affectation."
Christie Lemire of the Associated Press calls the film "overlong" and "painfully earnest". The dialogue, she adds, is "so frequently on-the-nose and repetitive, it might just make you cringe".

The New Yorker's David Denby criticises Spielberg's literal and unimaginative approach to a story that was originally written from the perspective of the horse. It feels like 1950s family entertainment, he says, "sentimental, and overly explicit".

In the theatre, we never asked why the production was devoted to an animal while ten million men are dying, but when Spielberg films the story realistically, "it seems trivial, even a little daft".
Spielberg, an old war horse himself when it comes to dealing with the critics, will doubtless come through unscathed. Such is the power of the PR machine, he may even gallop home with an Oscar.

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