Tuesday, 21 February 2012

From Book to Stage to Screen 1: The Oscar

As well as this Oscar special thing I've got going on, I thought I'd mix things up and add a second special. Today is officially 'From a book to a stage show to the screen day.' Personally, it's my favourite holiday. The first film we're looking at today has been nominated for six Oscars including Best Cinematography, Best Score, and, obviously, Best Picture. It relies entirely on animal performances and a protagonist who has only ever been in a low rated T.V. series. Not exactly the making of a Best Picture film.

The story, however, is exactly the sort of thing the Academy love. If you're unfamiliar with it, allow me to enlighten you. Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) lives on a farm with his mother, Rose, (Emily Watson) and his father, Ted. (Peter Mullan). Times are rough and they're in need of a new plough horse. Ted heads to the market to buy one and puts a bid in for a complete unsuitable horse. However he gets involved in a bidding war for the creature with his landlord and slight rival, Lyons, (David Thewlis) and wins with the bid of 30 guineas. Rose is furious at his decision but Albert takes responsibility for raising the horse and claims that they will be able to plough their extremely rocky field. Albert names the horse Joey and they bond instantly. They overcome plenty of challenges together but Ted still can't pay rent. As World War I comes around, Ted sells Joey to the army, much to Albert's argument. Joey goes off to the front line in France under the care Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), and seems to bring out the human nature of everyone he encounters. Albert swears that they will be reunited again and as the war continues, Albert also goes to the front line, but long after he last saw Joey. But that doesn't mean they won't fight to find one another as well as protecting those around them.

Trying to teach a horse to samba was more difficult than expected. 
Fine performances from the entire cast. It was nice to have so many familiar faces pop up throughout the film. Actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, and David Thewlis all provide small but needed inputs to the overall film. Young protagonist, Jeremy Irvine, put in a great turn as Albert and is probably the most understandable and developed character in the entire movie. We don't just see him raising a horse and going to war, we see him grow up and become a young man. Plus, if his relationship with Joey - or anyone for that matter - wasn't convincing, the whole emotional spine that the film is built on, would be crushed. The real stars of the film are most definitely the animals. 14 horses played Joey, but the main horse was called Finder. As well as Joey, there is Topthorn; a large black horse who is essentially the closest thing to a friend of Joey's. These two horses have a better on screen relationship than many humans in other movies. This seems to be the year for animal performances with these horses (and a goose) as well as the dog in The Artist.

Albert always had a thing for cloth. 
Now, this film is absolutely beautifully shot. The way Spielberg flicks in between intimate moments between characters and wonderfully epic panning shots across a wasteland of  war is flawless and sensational. However, here's where the film drops. The score was also epic and, while at times, very fitting, it lacked the country heart that I so felt it needed. On top of this, there was never really enough time for any massive character developments. I feel there was way to many superfluous shots of unneeded action which could have been time spent developing characters. Particularly towards the end, a lot of characters decisions or changes of heart seemed too sudden and therefore unbelievable.  The only other thing that frustrated me was the choice to not have the German or French characters speak their native language, but just with accents. (Which sometimes slipped anyway.) This wouldn't bother me so much as it is a family film and kids don't want to read subtitles, but I admit I got frustrated when orders were given in German by a man who had just been speaking English. It's either one or the other Mr. Spielberg. Make your mind up.

Overall a good film. There are moments of absolute genius and moments that aren't. There are particular scenes that stand out miles above the rest due to small factors. (Such as the lighting in the final scene.) And yes, I did well up every now and then. A film that is suitable for all the family and has a strong, decent narrative. It's easy to follow and easy to be absorbed into.

Best Bit? My personal favourite moment was the Cavalry's first charge in enemy terrain. The way the horses rise out and burst forth from the field was cinematic gold.

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