Now I've seen both "War Horse" the movie and "War Horse" the play. As I previously commented on this blog, the play is sensational. The more I think about it, however, the more I feel that the plot itself is rather simple-minded and predictable. What makes the play sensational is the production, in which the life-size "puppets" of horses and other farm animals are operated with such virtuosity by the dancers (both as to movements and sound effects) that one is entranced. On top of that, the Lincoln Center cast was absolutely superb, and the thrill of having it all enacted live in one's presence in a relatively small theater swept away any reservations about the story itself.
These elements are missing with the movie. Instead of puppets, we get real horses, but not in "real time" of course. Rather, a group of trained horses are put through their paces numerous times, and the results are cut and edited together to imbue these horses with personalities consistent with the dramatic needs of the film. The weaknesses of the plot thrust themselves forward. The acting is not nearly as distinguished as in the live theater experience I had, although certainly proficient. The entire thing is gorgeously photographed, effectively directed, and accompanied by a somewhat intrusive score by John Williams. (I say intrusive because it is so musically rich that it calls attention to itself, which perhaps is a blessing since attention paid to the score diverts attention from the plot, after all!)
Is it a bad film? Not at all. But as a dramatic experience it falls short of the live theatrical version. On its own terms, it's a pretty decent family-oriented film (despite some rather graphic bloodshed in the battle scenes – but most kids old enough to operate a remote or get on-line have seen worse). I saw it in a theater with a reasonably large screen, which is necessary to do justice to some of the gorgeous photography and the big battle scenes, but I suspect it will also be reasonable effective on small screens and laptops once it becomes available for streaming or DVD/Blueray release.