Perhaps the easiest way to describe War Horse is as a series of short stories. Joey is owned by a poor farmer and his family. Joey is owned by an army captain. Joey is owned by an old man and his granddaughter. Some of these vignettes work well, Joey and Albert together is clearly meant to be the strongest story and is, but others are completely underwhelming. What is worse is that after a while, one ends up simply waiting to see by what semi-contrived fashion Joey will end up moving to his next owner. The interstitial moments that move us from one story in the film to the next are more interesting than the film itself.
I cannot escape that scene of Joey plowing the field despite everyone thinking he will fail. It is not merely that the scene itself is poorly executed, it is that the scene ruins the rest of the movie. Less than 30 minutes into the film, by plowing the field, Joey has done the impossible, the stuff he does later is no less impossible, just different impossible. At the latest, the hero experiences his moment of doubt/failure early in the first act, the rest from that point forwards has little drama to it, no matter how much the music swells or how dark the night is or how much it precipitates. And the music does swell, and armies do fight, and characters cry, and it does become night. It all just has no soul because never, even during that first moment, is there even the slightest doubt that Joey can do anything. And, during that first moment, the film forcefully shuts up even the most vociferous of doubters.
The technical aspects of the release, as indicated above, are brilliant. The picture is incredibly sharp without losing any grain. Those dark scenes are still brilliantly detailed. Janusz Kaminski's all-too-often-used blown out windows are spectacularly white. The colors are rich and full, be they brown mud, blue sky, orange sunsets, or red blood. The 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack, too, is full and rich. John Williams' stirring score, the pounding of hoof beats, gunfire, speeches, they utilize every channel available to create an immersive, would-be effective sound design. It is a film put together by people who know every rule about filmmaking and use them all.