Convince me War Horse is not hokum

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Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby MovieAddict » Thu Dec 29, 2011 10:45 am

I'm sorry but as soon as I saw the preview...my brain provided instant
feedback. This is hokum!

What markers triggered such a rapid neuronal response...

Slow-motion running horse with overly dramatic syrupy scores.

Young handsome farmer hero pining (in slow motion with overly dramatic syrupy score) for said horse.

Cold people who glorify war are cruel to animals.

All the pieces add up to another morality story of how bad humanity is capable only of brutalizing each other and worse, animals. We are only good at creating ever better machines to mechanize warfare in order to kill more efficiently. Only young innocent farm boys and liberal pacifists will save us.

Ya, ya, ya, been there done that, do I need to see another preachy alternative universes Hollywood epic?

That was my brain's instant reaction and now seemingly confirmed by glowing reviews calling War Horse one of Spielberg’s best.

To me it looks like one of his most hokum...can someone who’s seen the movie convince me otherwise?
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive...those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Mach6 » Thu Dec 29, 2011 11:38 am

I can't help you with that one MovieAddict. War Horse looks like a rental to me. The only thing I'm wondering about is will it have one of those Spielbergish "the family reunites together after all their conflicts" endings. :(
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby mavrach » Thu Dec 29, 2011 12:08 pm

That's exactly what it looks like, typical Speilberg. Actually it looks like lesser Spielberg to me. But I've also heard some great reviews from trusted sources, so my interest is piqued.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby molly1216 » Thu Dec 29, 2011 3:12 pm

it's black beauty, national velvet, the horse in the grey flannel suit...people like movies with horses.. move on.
i think for spielberg it was a cheap shot

personally i don't think he's directed anything worth watching since Saving Private Ryan and even that was paint by numbers
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby J.M. Vargas » Thu Dec 29, 2011 5:16 pm

Caught "War Horse" at the Ziegfeld in NYC the day after Christmas (a couple of days after seeing Scorsese's "Hugo" 3D in the same venue). No surprises here, the trailer pretty much tells you what the movie is and that's what you get. Its Spielberg and Co. (Williams, Kaminski, Kahn, Kennedy & Marshall, etc.) almost on auto-pilot assembling their latest, expensive feel-good and historically-accurate (as far as background and period details are concerned) motion picture event that affirms the value of family, honor and tradition. It's "Au hasard Balthazar" meets "Empire of the Sun," and we know from "A.I." which side of this mash-up ends up dominating when Spielberg directs/produces.

I just saw "Balthazar" last month for the first time so Spielberg's attempts to humanize the horse (including the too-obvious use of animatronic and/or CG effects to have the horse's eyes express emotion) stood out, especially because he didn't try to do this often but only a handful of times. But then there are so many little tribute/homages to "Balthazar," "Paths of Glory," "How Green Was My Valley" (fitting since this is Spielberg at his most John Ford-ish) and Steven's own movies throughout "War Horse" that one can't help but admire Steven's mastery of his directorial craft just as you're shaking your head in disapproval of the screen bleeding schmaltz from every pore. No surprise that the horses (there's a black one besides 'Joey' that's almost like a sidekick) are the most-compelling and better actors of the movie with a couple of notable exceptions. God bless Emily Watson for allowing herself to be typecast in the concerned wife/motherly voice of reason for so long, but her scenes with Jeremy Irvine (the CW-approved bland lead) and Peter Mullan (whose drunk patriarch schtick and silly farm duck made the cut from the stage play... got that Minkin?) make me appreciate the lift she gives to every movie she's cast in. And Niels Arestrup's handful of scenes (especially one near the end) as a concerned grandparent are also good. The absence of any actors recognizable to most regular moviegoers (only David Thewlis, Arestrup and Watson stood out) actually helps "War Horse" because you're basically left with the horses as the only recognizable and familiar thread through the many owners, countries, battles and World War I events it passes through. The 'money shot' of the movie when the horse runs through the trenches of a WWI battlefield (most of it made it into the trailer) is cinematically thrilling, as are a handful of moments (a "Paths of Glory"-type trench battle that feels like a PG-13 "Saving Private Ryan" moment, the charging of the British brigade against a German front, etc.) that are constantly undermined by Spielberg underlining every emotion/twist with a too-obvious reveal ahead of time so that slow audience members (i.e. little kids) aren't lost. That said there's a line late in the movie to explain why all the characters (German and French besides the Brits) speak English, along with some schtick between a German and British soldier, that literally brought down the house (i.e. the 35-40 patrons that came to the Ziegfeld that night).

Spielberg is not unaware of how square "War Horse" is. He just doesn't care and is obviously playing over most cinephiles' head and aiming squarely for both the cheap seats (any undemanding movie goer will be moved to tears by sentimental stuff that would make this forum's regular posters go blind from rolling their eyes too far back) and the immortality of film scholars in future generations assessing his body of work rendering opinions on his 'auteur' stature. Alas, that's what I was in the mood for the day after Christmas and that's what I got. Had to watch "Young Adult" an hour after seeing "War Horse" to cleanse the palate and regain my cinephile senses (didn't really like "YA" but I can admire what Reitman, Cody and Theron were going for even if I don't completely buy what they're selling).
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Gabriel Girard » Thu Dec 29, 2011 7:05 pm

molly1216 wrote:it's black beauty, national velvet, the horse in the grey flannel suit...people like movies with horses.. move on.
i think for spielberg it was a cheap shot

personally i don't think he's directed anything worth watching since Saving Private Ryan and even that was paint by numbers


Out of the movies he made since SPR only The Terminal andKingdom Of The Crystal Skull are easily dismissed. A.I., Munich and Minority Report are superior offerings, Catch Me If You Can is great fun and I'm one of those people who thinks that War Of The Worlds works. But yeah, I have zero interest in War Horse.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby molly1216 » Thu Dec 29, 2011 7:57 pm

Gabriel Girard wrote:
molly1216 wrote:it's black beauty, national velvet, the horse in the grey flannel suit...people like movies with horses.. move on.
i think for spielberg it was a cheap shot

personally i don't think he's directed anything worth watching since Saving Private Ryan and even that was paint by numbers


Out of the movies he made since SPR only The Terminal andKingdom Of The Crystal Skull are easily dismissed. A.I., Munich and Minority Report are superior offerings, Catch Me If You Can is great fun and I'm one of those people who thinks that War Of The Worlds works. But yeah, I have zero interest in War Horse.

i didn't say bad i said not worth watching...AI, Munich and Minority Report could have easily been done by other directors....and if i am not mistaken AI and MInority were hand me downs from other directors, none of them deserve a repeated viewing..and they are certainly not in the class of his earlier work. I did find Catch Me if You can to be of a higher caliber and rewatchable..so i take it back...that one i would watch again if it were streaming... but the CACHE of being a 'spielberg film is gone.... i would never just buy a ticket because his name is on it.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby MovieAddict » Thu Dec 29, 2011 10:36 pm

I didnt mean for this post to be a anti-spielberg diatribe but come to think of it...he peaked 20 minutes into Saving Private Ryan, its been all downhill since then.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive...those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby mavrach » Fri Dec 30, 2011 7:16 am

Spielberg makes movies for the masses, so families can go out and see the wonders of cinema. He's got incredible talent but uses them for the wrong purposes.

Munich was the least Spielbergy movie he's made. I didn't think he was capable of filming a sex scene. I wonder if he fainted during that.

I wish he'd make more movies like that. Basically niche-type movies that Spielberg could use his status to promote. He could get his masses to check out more thought-provoking subjects if he wanted to. Instead, we get another movie that says war is bad.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Andrew Forbes » Fri Dec 30, 2011 7:20 am

With the exception of Gabriel, every post in this thread seems to confuse direction with screenwriting. Spielberg may lean toward the saccharine, but he remains among the most inventive visual stylists in all cinema. Molly, you say that A.I., Minority Report and Munich "could have easily been done by other directors." Are you joking? That displays a collosal failure to understand even the most basic aspects of film-making. I don't understand how someone who has watched so many films from such a broad range of eras could honestly make that statement. Saving Private Ryan was "paint by numbers??" The script is trite, certainly, but there is hardly a piece of visual and aural storytelling in that film that hasn't revolutionized the war genre.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Andrew Forbes » Fri Dec 30, 2011 7:20 am

mavrach wrote:I didn't think he was capable of filming a sex scene.

Schindler's List?
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby mavrach » Fri Dec 30, 2011 7:41 am

I don't think anybody is saying Spielberg is without talent. The problem Andrew is that he uses his talent in all the wrong ways. War of the Worlds had awe-inspiring visuals, pretty and terrifying all at the same time. But the movie is worthless to me because of the story, the latched-on happy ending after depicting such amazing destruction on the way there. I saw that movie exactly once, and I wish so hard that I could like it because of the buildup.

Spielberg can pretty much direct any movie he wants at this point. I just wish he would direct more adventurous movies, not sappy ones with happy endings. Even his older crowdpleasers were more rugged. Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't show us innocence through the eyes of a child or such. He could take a more unique script that would get denied, under-funded, or under-marketed, and apply his abilities to that instead of making more of the same. That's his problem.


Oh yeah, Schindler's List. I've actually only seen that once but good call. I kinda wish we had a parrallel universe where Spielberg made more movies like Schindler's List and Munich.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Andrew Forbes » Fri Dec 30, 2011 7:57 am

mavrach wrote:I don't think anybody is saying Spielberg is without talent. The problem Andrew is that he uses his talent in all the wrong ways. War of the Worlds had awe-inspiring visuals, pretty and terrifying all at the same time. But the movie is worthless to me because of the story, the latched-on happy ending after depicting such amazing destruction on the way there. I saw that movie exactly once, and I wish so hard that I could like it because of the buildup.

Spielberg can pretty much direct any movie he wants at this point. I just wish he would direct more adventurous movies, not sappy ones with happy endings. Even his older crowdpleasers were more rugged. Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't show us innocence through the eyes of a child or such. He could take a more unique script that would get denied, under-funded, or under-marketed, and apply his abilities to that instead of making more of the same. That's his problem.

Spielberg has changed. He has matured. He has improved. Are you telling me that his early work is more mature than Munich or A.I. or Catch Me If You Can? Do any of those, amongst his most recent work, have happy endings in the way Jaws or Raiders or Close Encounters or E.T. had happy endings? Did any of his early films have nearly the same depth or complexity of emotion as those films? A.I. has a tragic ending. Munich has a mournful, contemplative ending. Catch Me If You Can has a complex and bittersweet ending. Sure, War of the World's has a happy ending. If you ignore the massive loss of life that has preceded it.

And Molly seems totally oblivious to Spielberg's astonishing formal prowess. Her comment seems to suggest that he is merely a Chris Columbus or Ron Howard at this point.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Andrew Forbes » Fri Dec 30, 2011 8:03 am

One additional note: If the average director were to take a genre premise like Minority Report and turn out a by the numbers action blockbuster with a neat twist, people would lap it up. Spielberg turns in astonishing setpiece after astonishing setpiece, with a story hinged on a devastating emotional core, and refuses to resolve the central tragedy in the commonly understood "Spielberg" way, and we say "Yeah, but it had a happy ending." F***ing no. That movie drips with dispair, and only a fraction of it is eased by the end.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby mavrach » Fri Dec 30, 2011 8:19 am

I think everybody's agreed on Munich.

I'm one of the few defendors of A.I., but it's a weird hybrid of Spielberg and Kubrick. Take Kubrick's darkness and apply it to a typically Speilbergian child. I actually love it because it takes an idealized innocence and throws it into the messed up world of Kubrick. That ending doesn't work for most, but it was a big risk to take and I hugely respect that. I think if any other director were at the helm, the studio or producers would have made him change the ending. That's the thing, Spielberg does have the power to make unique stories.

Jaws & Raiders work because they stick to their guns. They're what we want our mindless blockbusters to be when we go to see something like a Transformers movie. Jaws is a movie about a killer shark, and it follows through and doesn't add an unnecessary message or try to sweeten it by adding a child to the boat that wonders why everybody is fighting or something. By all means this should be fluff, but he turned it into something special.

Sure, War of the World's has a happy ending. If you ignore the massive loss of life that has preceded it.


That's exactly the problem with War of the Worlds. The ending doesn't match the story. That buildup dicatated that the mother would have been killed in Boston and that Cruise had been lying to his daughter about her survival because he couldn't bring himself to tell her the bad news. Then the son got killed. It makes zero sense and nothing is learned if they go to Boston and find the family together at the end in their home.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby J.M. Vargas » Fri Dec 30, 2011 8:40 am

As I said earlier, Spielberg has stopped aiming for the current cinephile culture (the type of person impressed by "Drive" even though it isn't original and is using tried-and-borrowed genre elements, yet because it has a hard-edged and it isn't directed by Spielberg gets mostly hailed as a masterpiece) and instead is appealing to either everyday non-cinephile viewers or scholars of a future era. The closing shots of "War Horse" are some of the most gorgeous and beautifully-shot cinematography I've ever seen in a movie (shades of "Gone With The Wind" along wth your favorite John Ford movie) and only someone without their resistence to Spielberg's school of storytelling all the way up can appreciate "War Horse's" old-school yet technically-proficient moments. Once Steven's gone and we're older (or a new generation of viewers come to appreciate him like we currently do the likes of Ford) its when the true measure of his total output as an old-school-by-choice filmmaker will surface. There will always be an 'A' tier of Spielberg everybody loves ("Raiders," "E.T.," "Jaws," "Munich," "Close Encounters," "Schindler's List," etc.) but the 'B' and 'C' tiers ("Always," "Empire of the Sun," "Amistad," "The Terminal," "War Horse," etc.) are the one's that stand to benefit the most from a dispassionate, distant viewing that separates the current feeling by cinephiles toward the director from those that will be seeing his work a hundred years from now.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Gabriel Girard » Fri Dec 30, 2011 9:57 am

Andrew Forbes wrote:One additional note: If the average director were to take a genre premise like Minority Report and turn out a by the numbers action blockbuster with a neat twist, people would lap it up. Spielberg turns in astonishing setpiece after astonishing setpiece, with a story hinged on a devastating emotional core, and refuses to resolve the central tragedy in the commonly understood "Spielberg" way, and we say "Yeah, but it had a happy ending." F***ing no. That movie drips with dispair, and only a fraction of it is eased by the end.

Word. It's easily in the top 3 Philip K. Dick adaptations right behind Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly and it's better than the short story which resolved its plot with an unbelievable deus ex machina. Despite his celebrity I always feel as though Spielberg is underrated as an auteur and director because he mostly makes ''popular'' films. But the way he makes choses to tell his stories is always interesting, he's a director who can make great movies with ordinary material and most of the time manages to make it feel personal.. This thread makes me want to catch up with his films I haven't seen (Empire Of The Sun, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, 1941, The Color Purple, Always
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Steve T Power » Fri Dec 30, 2011 9:07 pm

Spielberg makes films for people who just LOVE movies, plain and simple. Cynics need not apply.

Andrew can defend him all he wants but no one listens. Objectively speaking, there's no other director in history that can match Spielberg pound for pound. He's the Wayne Gretzky of film making. He may not be my favorite director, and not all of his work appeals to me, but I can say with absolute certainty that he's the best in the game. To say that he's been steadily declining when his weakest material came out of the '70s (1941) and '80s (Always, The Color Purple) is just madness.

I apologize if i'm not coming off as my typically diplomatic self, but Spielberg bashing is a sore spot, and it pisses me off to no end. I'm sure guys like John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra had their detractors in their day as well.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby azul017 » Fri Dec 30, 2011 9:58 pm

molly1216 wrote:i didn't say bad i said not worth watching...AI, Munich and Minority Report could have easily been done by other directors


I actually agree with you on Munich. I felt that if you strip away the Williams score and Spielberg's name, one could mistake it for a John Madden film. Speaking of Madden, I think The Debt was what Munich should've been... just better overall. Subject matter is apples and oranges, but it was better structured.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Dan Mancini » Fri Dec 30, 2011 10:11 pm

mavrach wrote:That's exactly the problem with War of the Worlds. The ending doesn't match the story. That buildup dicatated that the mother would have been killed in Boston and that Cruise had been lying to his daughter about her survival because he couldn't bring himself to tell her the bad news. Then the son got killed. It makes zero sense and nothing is learned if they go to Boston and find the family together at the end in their home.

This would all be true...except it's so completely off target. You're being a literalist in the dullest sort of way (no offense). At its core, the movie is about fatherhood and Cruise's cowardice. It's ballsy because a) it offers up Tom frickin' Cruise as a basically douchey and unlikable anti-hero, and b) it boldly delivers an ending that large swaths of people who can't be bothered to pay attention to what's really happening in the story will instantly dismiss as a Hollywood happy ending (which it's not). The ending completely undermines Cruise's character...and that's the point. But, yeah, if you try to squeeze the flick into some Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich template for blockbuster moviemaking, I can see how it would appear that Spielberg messed up the Cruise character and copped out on the ending. But no...he did not. No, sir.

To the larger point: Spielberg is prolific and, like all prolific artists, his work is inconsistent. Big whoop. That he's mastered the medium of film shouldn't even be questioned. Neither should the fact that he has a distinct voice and things to say.

Andrew's right that he's matured as a filmmaker, but he's had a remarkably developed vision from early in his career. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is brilliant, the sort of deeply personal story written on an epic genre scale that is almost entirely unique to Spielberg. And movies like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark aren't mindless blockbusters; they're the sort of bravura pieces of filmmaking we desperately wish all blockbusters could be--wickedly fun, smart, and technically astounding.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby J.M. Vargas » Sat Dec 31, 2011 2:26 pm

Early box office estimates for the New Year's weekend: http://www.deadline.com/2011/12/first-box-office-1-mission-impossible-ghost-protocol-passes-300m-global/

6. War Horse (DreamWorks/Disney) Week 2 [2,547 Runs]
Friday $4.6M, Est 3-Day Weekend $13.1M
Est 4-Day Holiday $17.6M, Est Cume $42.8M

7. The Adventures Of Tintin (Paramount) Week 2 [3,087 Runs]
Friday $4.4M, Est 3-Day Weekend $11.4M
Est 4-Day Holiday $15.5M, Est Cume $50M

Considering the budget and promotion "Tintin" received it has to be disappointing that "War Horse," a movie most people didn't even know about until a few weeks ago (which is also longer and showing on fewer theaters), is only $7.2 million behind "Tintin." The foreign cume (over $200 million worldwide) will help "Tintin" in the long run. And, given Spielberg's pedigree and the budgets of these films (close to $100 million for "War Horse," $175-200 million for "Tintin" + marketing), they're both commercial disappointments with limited awards potential. The summer of '93 for Spielberg this is not.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby azul017 » Sun Jan 01, 2012 11:35 pm

EDIT: Wrong thread, sorry.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby mavrach » Tue Jan 03, 2012 7:32 am

Dan Mancini wrote:
mavrach wrote:That's exactly the problem with War of the Worlds. The ending doesn't match the story. That buildup dicatated that the mother would have been killed in Boston and that Cruise had been lying to his daughter about her survival because he couldn't bring himself to tell her the bad news. Then the son got killed. It makes zero sense and nothing is learned if they go to Boston and find the family together at the end in their home.

This would all be true...except it's so completely off target. You're being a literalist in the dullest sort of way (no offense). At its core, the movie is about fatherhood and Cruise's cowardice. It's ballsy because a) it offers up Tom frickin' Cruise as a basically douchey and unlikable anti-hero, and b) it boldly delivers an ending that large swaths of people who can't be bothered to pay attention to what's really happening in the story will instantly dismiss as a Hollywood happy ending (which it's not). The ending completely undermines Cruise's character...and that's the point. But, yeah, if you try to squeeze the flick into some Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich template for blockbuster moviemaking, I can see how it would appear that Spielberg messed up the Cruise character and copped out on the ending. But no...he did not. No, sir.

To the larger point: Spielberg is prolific and, like all prolific artists, his work is inconsistent. Big whoop. That he's mastered the medium of film shouldn't even be questioned. Neither should the fact that he has a distinct voice and things to say.

Andrew's right that he's matured as a filmmaker, but he's had a remarkably developed vision from early in his career. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is brilliant, the sort of deeply personal story written on an epic genre scale that is almost entirely unique to Spielberg. And movies like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark aren't mindless blockbusters; they're the sort of bravura pieces of filmmaking we desperately wish all blockbusters could be--wickedly fun, smart, and technically astounding.


No offense taken. I see what you're saying.
Maybe it's because we grew up watching Spielberg's movies. Of course Raiders is going to have a bigger impact - I watched that dozens of times growing up. I liked Minority Report, but I've watched that exactly three times since it's release. That's just because I'm an adult with a life now. And every time he releases a movie, I wish it would have the same impact on me.

I don't know, perhaps I need to see War of the Worlds again but that was how it came off. I guess the problem is that I don't find most of Spielberg's movies to be thought-provoking in the way that I see other filmmakers' works. And his lesser efforts stick out far more as far as that problem is concerned. How can you not get upset watching Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal, when we could have been given another Raiders of the Lost Ark? At the end of the day, I'll still have Raiders and that's the one he'll be remembered for.

But yeah, even if you dislike War of the Worlds, if you compare it to Independence Day you really see its strenghts.
+1. this is very interesting.
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Re: Convince me War Horse is not hokum

Postby Andrew Forbes » Tue Jan 03, 2012 7:58 am

See Tintin. It's a perfect example of how Spielberg can take advantage of the freedom modern technology affords him without losing the wonder and wit of his best films.
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