“We Ponder the Timeless Appeal of the Equine Film”
The first images from War Horse have been released in what promised to be a return to form for the ET and Jaws director Steven Spielberg. The First World War drama is based on a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo and was adapted as a hugely successful play by the National Theatre in London in 2007.
The excitement is not so much about Spielberg directing another war epic after his groundbreaking Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, but that the man who created the most famous shark in the world is making a film revolving around a horse, the animal that has featured in more good films than any other non-human creature.
War Horse tells the poignant story of Joey, a horse who is tamed and trained by a young man called Albert (Jeremy Irvine). The onset of war sees master and horse separated and the story follows the remarkable journey of the horse and the people he encounters, including British and German soldiers and a French farmer and his granddaughter.
In the 1982 Australian classic The Man From Snowy River starring Kirk Douglas in the dual role of feuding twin brothers, the value of a horse is stated succinctly: “A man without a horse is like a man with only one leg.” Like War Horse, the film is about a boy who decided to tame wild horses, but here it has disastrous consequences when his father dies in a stampede.
The list of classic films in which horses play a central role is long. The late Elizabeth Taylor became world famous though her appearance in National Velvet, the story of a jaded former jockey who helps a young girl prepare to ride a wild horse in the Grand National, the gruelling English steeplechase.
Another equestrian film highlight was Seabiscuit, which starred Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges in the fact-based tale of an undersized horse who lifted the spirits of America during the Depression era through his feats on the racetrack.
Similarly, last year saw the release of Secretariat, about the stallion that in 1973 won the American Triple Crown. As with the other racehorse films, the human drama that revolves around the animals is just as important as what happens to the animals themselves. Here it’s the tale of how a determined woman, Penny Chenery Tweedy, turned family tragedy – the death of her father after a long illness – into an era-defining story of triumph. The power of horses and their emotional impact on humans was displayed in real life in 1973 when Secretariat appeared on the cover of Time and other major publications.
The Black Stallion is one of the best examples of why horses fascinate so much, and especially of their ability to resonate with the young. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, it’s set at the end of the Second World War, when a 10-year-old boy, Alec, and his father are travelling on a ship off the north coast of Africa. On the deck is a handsome black Arabian horse Alec takes a fondness to before a violent storm results in the ship being wrecked. The only survivors are the boy and the horse and they form a remarkable bond on a deserted island.
Then of course there are all those Westerns. It’s hard to think of a cooler image from any movie than Clint Eastwood riding into town on a horse. Even when the actor admitted that he had developed an allergy to the animals for short time he carried on filming on them.
Horses even played a major part in the development of cinema. The photographer Eadweard Muybridge proved a horse could “fly” when he photographed galloping horses and showed that at one point when they run all four hooves are off the ground. Seeking a way to share this groundbreaking discovery, Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, a method of projecting animated versions of his photographs as short moving images. The influence can even be seen in the time-warping action of The Matrix.
It’s no wonder, really, that whether they are being ridden in Westerns, racing to glory or saving lives during wars, horses continue to play a major role in cinema.
- First Photos From Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (screencrave.com)
- Official Plot Synopsis for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (screencrave.com)
- Full Cast of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse Revealed! (screencrave.com)
- New Images Of Spielberg On The Set Of War Horse (cinemablend.com)