Director: Steven Spielberg
“Some viewers have criticized its sentimentality. However, if some of the early scenes, as well as the final sequence, are overly romanticized, they only serve to reinforce the horror of the trenches.” (938)
I’m still adamant that the play is far superior to the film but then as I’ve said before I saw the play first and was, and remain, absolutely enchanted by it. Since writing my review for the film when it was nominated for the Oscars I have spoken to a couple of my friends about it. Interestingly they saw the film first and preferred it to the play. I still feel that the characterizations suffer from moving onto the big screen and can’t quite understand why certain characters were both omitted and added when there was such a wealth of them both in the novel and the play.
John Williams really is an extraordinarily talented composer which is just highlighted with another beautiful score to add to his outstanding repertoire of work. Like I said previously there are enough similarities to the music used in the play while at the same time he creates something new and suited to the film.
Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch are still the standout human performances for me despite only being in the film for about 30 minutes. Hiddleston’s Captain Nicholls has a tangible sense of compassion – he understands the bond forged between Joey and Albert. And the dawning realization on his face during that fatal charge that this style of warfare was no match for guns. In a single look Hiddleston manages to convey the truly senseless loss of so many animals. And in a much subtler way than the shot of a field strewn with the bodies of dead horses.
While I still feel that the film loses a lot of the magic that makes the plays so special I do like all the little nods Spielberg includes, particularly the inclusion of the goose – a much-loved puppet in the play. I am beginning to see the beauty of the film the more I watch it. The cinematography is gorgeous. It has very definite styles as well. The beginning of the film is lush and bright. Gradually as the war continues the color begins to fade until we reach the desolate landscape of No Man’s Land. Towards the end of the film the color begins to return to the world, an infusion of healing, warm light that washes over everything. “Their brief exchange, finding common ground in their concern for Joey, reminds us of the absurdity of this war and explains why Joey and Albert’s return home at the end of the film is bathed in such warm, welcoming light.” (938, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Some of the most breath-taking scenes come out of No Man’s Land and this is one of the few areas where the film excels over the play. There just isn’t the scope on stage to recreate that infamous dead space of land yet there most definitely is the scope to do it justice in the media of film. Joey’s run through No Man’s Land takes your breath away. It’s an outstanding piece of cgi – one that you almost cannot tell is computer generated but for the fact they would never allow a real horse to go through that.
Joey and Topthorn’s relationship translates pretty well to the big screen – in some ways it’s more believable than the core relationship of Joey and Albert. It’s surprisingly moving and emotional when Topthorn meets his end. And as much as I complain that the film can’t quite match the standard of the play I am still reduced to tears at Joey and Albert’s reunion and eventual return home.
It will be a long time, if ever, that the film will ever match the play in my eyes but the more I watch the film the more I can appreciate the masterful aesthetics that Spielberg created and the continued life he gave to Morpurgo’s beautifully touching story. It means that should the play ever stop running (which doesn’t look likely to happen any time soon) there will always be the film to ensure the story of an incredible horse endures, reminding us all about the sacrifice of so many animals oft forgotten.