First Image From Steven Spielberg's 'War Horse' Shows War, Horses

by Oliver Lyttelton
March 11, 2011 2:03 AM
9 Comments
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Update: EW (print edition; not yet online) has more stills from the film which have been scanned by the folks over at The Film Stage. See below.

After a spectacularly busy few years, with six films being released in the first five years of the 21st century, Steven Spielberg's been taking something of a breather -- only "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" has reached theaters, and the less said about that, the better, to be honest.

But 2011 sees the legendary director return to his more traditional work ethic, with two classically Spielbergian movies hitting theaters in the space of five days, either side of Christmas. The long-in-the-offing motion-capture adventure "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" is first up, followed swiftly by "War Horse," his more dramatic entry, and already looking a major threat for awards season next year.

Based on the successful novel by Michael Morpurgo, which was adapted by the National Theatre in London into a hugely successful stage play (the Broadway version starts previewing at Lincoln Centre next week), it follows Albert, a young boy who enlists in the army during WW1 after his beloved horse Joey is sold and sent to the front. The film is still a good nine months away, but filming has long since wrapped, and Baz Bamigboye has premiered the first official image from the film, which shows three of the major roles in the impressive supporting cast.

Tom Hiddleston, soon to play Loki in "Thor" and "The Avengers," is on the right, Benedict Cumberbatch, now best known for playing the title hero in TV's "Sherlock", on the left, and in the centre is actor Patrick Kennedy, most familiar from "Atonement" (he played the older brother of Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan's characters).

Nowhere to be seen is the film's young lead, Jeremy Irvine, plucked from obscurity to topline Spielberg's film, but the 20-year-old actor talked to Bamigboye and dropped a few details about his experience making the film. Despite his character's equine connections, Irvine admits that, "I'm not a huge animal person, and I didn't grow up around horses. In fact, I'd never ridden a horse."

Knowing that this probably wouldn't fly, Irvine started helping out in a stable during the audition process, and once cast, was sent on a two-month training course with Hiddleston, Cumberbatch and Kennedy (who all play army officers). Part of the regime included time spent with 'Liberty trainers,' or horse whisperers. Irvine relates of their methods, "The horses have no tack on and you communicate with them using body language. You get them to run around you, run behind you. You'd take your shoes off and the horse would run off with the shoes. The purpose was to become as comfortable as possible with the horses."

Eleven different horses play Joey at different stages of his life, not to mention the various other steeds that appear in the film. Of course, this only account for the second half of the title; there's plenty of combat involved as well. Irvine describes one scene, a doomed cavalry charge against more advanced German artillery: "It's the weapons of the old world -- our men on horses -- meeting the absolute destruction of these tools of mass slaughter. There was this line of machine guns and there's this wall of lead coming out of these guns. There were real explosioins at my fet, bodies flying through the air, stunt men getting shot at. It was terrifying. The smoke and the smell and the taste of the guns firing. It's not difficult to act scared in that situation."

It's all sounding pretty promising, particularly with the material (which would be tearjerking even if Michael Haneke made it) in the hands of a perfectly-matched Spielberg. The film hits theaters on December 28th. Invest in tissue companies before then. Not like that.




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More: Films, Actors, War Horse, Tom Hiddleston

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9 Comments

  • goldfarb | March 13, 2011 3:14 AMReply

    ugh...enough with The Crystal Skull...those who liked it, liked it too much and those who didn't, hate it beyond reason...
    the real story here is that every time Spielberg delivered a one-two punch like this (drama/action) it's a very good year at the movies...
    '93 - Shilndler's List/Jurassic Park
    '02 - Minority Report/Catch Me If You Can
    '05 - Munich/War of the Worlds

  • BradZuhl | March 11, 2011 4:42 AMReply

    I think the biggest problem with Indy 4 was Shia and making his character such a big part of the story. The whole idea of Indy passing on his action-adventure mantle to Mutt (whether that was just an internet rumor or whether Lucas and Spielberg really intended to try it) was just a ludicrous notion. The film should have had more Indy and less Mutt.

  • Paul | March 11, 2011 4:18 AMReply

    Indy 4 was terrible.

    My biggest beef with the film is how it had no soul & when compared against the first 3 films is just out of place.

    The Indy films are some of the best practical effects driven films ever made & Spielberg knew that. In interviews before the films release he was quoted as saying over 80% of the effects were practical and this was not a film heavily dependent on CG & lazy filmmaking.
    So imagine my disappointment when the film opens with a CG prairie dog & ends with CG aliens against CG explosions, Ray Winstone just quitting life (seriously, was he too lazy to stand up?), & I think Cate Blanchett was CG, I've seen her act & she's far more talented that that (was she psychic or just full of it?)
    The best scenes in the film were the opening credits (goofy & fun), most of the battle in Area 51 (the only really stunt & practical driven scenes), & the scenes with Jim Broadbent.

    The rest was terrible & if someone's defense for the movie is that it's far superior to the other films that are out there than that means cinema truly is dead because Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was terrible.

  • Kevin Klawitter | March 11, 2011 4:09 AMReply

    Kathleen, if Indy 4 ruined your childhood, then your childhood had i coming.

  • Proman | March 11, 2011 3:36 AMReply

    Indy 4 was the most fun I've had in theaters in 2008. By far. I wasn't coming in with my own set of expectation for what it should have been like so many clearly are. I also understood it for what it was (and it was not - i.e. another 1930s serial but a distincly different 1950s exxagerated sci-fi flick. Seen under this light the movie is really quite clever.).

    I was open and it was a blast. I give all the credit to the filmmakers for making a real action film with Harrision Ford, who considering his age was given a lot of action.

    And as for how the movie was actually received, it's certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I could care less what a bunch of online bloggers type, it was a fun film.

  • jess | March 11, 2011 3:28 AMReply

    Thrilled to see Benedict Cumebrbatch in this film. Awesome actor and outstanding in Danny Boyle's Frankenstein at the National.

  • Kathleen Walsh | March 11, 2011 3:18 AMReply

    Proman, I have three words for you regarding Indy 4: PSYCHIC ALIEN MUMMIES.

    That movie ruined my childhood.

  • Proman | March 11, 2011 3:11 AMReply

    Indy 4 was a spectacular 50s inspired sci-fi action adventure, that was both financially and critically succesful. Enough of that hatred. The movie is soo much better than the films of its types than it's simply criminal the kind of hatred is pointed towards it.

    Also, Spielberg has arguably busier in the last 5 years than ever before, in edition to running DreamWorks (through what was a very difficult period) and developing of dozens of properties he also directed Tintin.

  • [A] | March 11, 2011 2:22 AMReply

    Heh, good article. You should write more (what, I'm serious)

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