I ran into the wise old man at the Sushi place in Texarkana yesterday. We had both just seen the movie “War Horse” and were soothing our disgruntled critical spirits by spicy red tail and sesame salmon rolls. He didn’t like the movie and was reluctant to talk about it when I first joined him at the Japanese feast, but he mellowed as he munched on the artistically arranged fare.
“What was it about the film you didn’t like?”
He readjusted his chopsticks and replied, “Well, Dan, I think when a modern movie becomes more dependent on technology than on the skill, I mean the ART of storytelling, things go awry. That’s apparently what happened in “War Horse.”
“You mean the explosions and the realism of the way World War I was depicted?”
“Yes, I mean that, and I also disliked the slickness of it. You know that absolutely perfect period costumes, military uniforms, weaponry. It was as if the filmmakers wanted you to say, ‘My, what an artful job of depicting,’ rather than the more desirable, ‘What a wonderful job of storytelling.”
“I felt that the movie tried to tell too many stories.”
“Yes, Dan, I felt that, too, and I also think the actors worked too hard on their accents, so much so that I missed half of what they said.”
“I thought I was the only one. I blamed it on my hearing aids.”
“No, ask anyone who saw the film without captioning what the dialogue was in certain vital scenes, and I’d wager they couldn’t tell you. The farmers, for example, concentrated so hard on the glottal stop ‘t’ that they sounded like they were gargling.”
“Well, sir, I thought the episode in which the little French girl and her grandpa tended the horses was touching, I mean, in a fairy tale sort of way.”
“Touching, but contrived, Dan. No French farmer ever looked and acted so downright, well, French. Also, the girl was just too contemporary.”
“Was there anything about the movie you liked?”
“Emily Watson who played the farmer’s wife is a brilliant actor. Her only problem was the contrived accent. She emphasized the wrong sounds in an effort to be authentic. But her facial expressions told a story all its own—a mother’s empathy and longsuffering.”
“I agree. I believed the mother more than any of the others. I didn’t like the anthropomorphism. I know a little about equine training, and the way the movie showed that is way off. I never knew a horse that would learn by watching a task done. They have to do it."
The wise old man dipped his last roll into the sauce and said, "Steven Spielberg used to know how to tell a story. "Close Encounters," "Catch me if You Can," and movies like that, ones that know the story and tell it, will last. This Bellicose Equine foolishness won't."