Wednesday, June 29, 2011

War Horse: The Movie! Trailer of Spielberg's Film Premieres; Meet His Equine Artistic Adviser

War Horse. Steven Spielberg. Dreamworks. Disney. Get ready to put it all together! Watch for the Disney/Dreamworks Hollywood film version of the hit London and Broadway stage play. You'll be able to see it in about six months; the tentative release date is December 28 in the United States.

The War Horse story took on another dimension today, with the release of the first trailer promoting the film version of the hit stage play.

If this trailer is any indication, it looks like Steven Spielberg's amazing directing talents easily extended themselves to showing horses in a very realistic and appealing light. And that's not easy to do!

Sure, the story of War Horse is epic, and a great one. But the horses could easily have ended up looking like stick figures, or limp two-dimensional background objects. Not every film with a great horse-related story line succeeds in showing horses both realistically and inspirationally. The Black Stallion and Phar Lap are two from the past that I think did do it well.

What did horses look like during World War I? How could today's horses be made to look like yesterday's? What about their manes and tails and tack? Yes, even their shoes? Spielberg needed some help there. (©Disney/Dreamworks publicity photo)
When they went looking for a horse to play Joey, the star horse of the film, I think they went to eventing yards. What do you think? Irish-bred? Yes, the mane is too long, you're right. But could it be that's intentional, to make the horse look like he would have during World War I? Ali Bannister would have had a hand in that. Who's she? Keep reading!

Note: for some reason, only the first minute or so of this audio file is playing. I'm sorry. The full file is playing on the Hoofcare and Lameness Facebook page (; I'll try to fix this file if I can.

Take a break and listen to this BBC Radio interview with British equestrian portrait artist Ali Bannister, who literally woke up one morning to find herself and her artwork and her design talents on the set of War Horse. Ali's title was "Equine Artistic Adviser". And while there may be no Academy Award for makeup and hair styling of horses, there is no question that the authenticity of this film rests on the portrayal of the horses as looking like they would have for the time period, and for their work on English farms and in the war. Ali shares her experiences in this first of many interviews.

Here's a sample of Ali Bannister's horse portraiture; watch Theo come to life. You'll see why Spielberg chose her! You can see lots more, and commission Ali to paint your horse or dog, at

This video shows scenes of the making of the film in Devon, England last year. Note: the release date is mentioned as August, but it has now been pushed back to December.

If you're new to War Horse, it's both a play and now a film-in-progress based on a best-selling children's book by Michael Morpurgo.

The synopsis, from Disney/Dreamworks Films publicity: The First World War is experienced through the journey of this horse—an odyssey of joy and sorrow, passionate friendship and high adventure. War Horse is one of the great stories of friendship and war— a successful book, it was turned into a hugely successful international theatrical hit. It now comes to screen in an epic adaptation by one of the great directors in film history.

Translation: Yes, of course. But there's more to it than that. War is too painful a subject sometimes to tell from the human perspective. People have built-in defenses in their subconscious selves, to protect them even for the time spent viewing a Spielberg film like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List. But when you can show how war affects an animal that has no choice in the matter, people allow themselves to feel something--about animals, about humanity, about themselves--they might not otherwise let slip.

That's War Horse, in a nutshell. You feel it slip, and you let it. It's about a horse, so it's safe to let it slip. But of course it is about much, much more than a horse.

Special thanks to Kentucky equine photographer (and friend of Hoofcare and Lameness) Wendy Uzelac Wooley of Equisport Photos and her late, great ex-racehorse Jaguar Hope, who even after his death is doing amazing things. A sketch of Jaguar Hope by Ali Bannister appears on the Dreamworks crew logo caps for the War Horse film. I highly recommend Wendy's Racehorse to Showhorse blog for anyone who wants to see great photography presented in an upbeat format. Her contributions to this blog have added a lot and there wouldn't be a Hoof Blog without the support of generous, creative, collaborative-spirited people like Wendy.

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