If anyone else has refused to watch Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of War Horse until they could attend the puppet version from Britain’s National Theatre, the fact that the Tony Award-winning theatrical hit has embarked on a 20-city tour of the U.S. may be welcome news. The equestrian extravaganza is currently strutting the stage in San Francisco, (while simultaneously continuing its long runs in London, New York, and Toronto) and has visits scheduled for Portland, Spokane, Dallas, Chicago, Des Moines, St. Louis, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Boston, and more over the next 11 months – as well as tours of Britain and Australia in 2013. Fortunately, the tour kicked off with a run in Los Angeles, and I’ve kept my own vow by seeing War Horse live on stage first, then followed it with Spielberg’s movie on DVD. The contrast is striking and deep-seated.
Knowing that Spielberg has a tendency to, if not glamorize, at least fetishize, warriors and military heroism (i.e. his executive-produced series Band of Brothers, his opus Saving Private Ryan, most likely his upcoming Civil War ode Lincoln, and even a 40-min war film he made at age 14) it is hardly surprising that historian Jacques R. Pauwels wrote on Political Film Blog that Spielberg’s War Horse is “militarist” and fails to question the First World War. And it turns out I agree with Pauwels. But those who haven’t seen the National Theatre show that motivated the making of this movie epic of a horse and his boy ought to take note that the stage version is A Very Different Animal.