Under the Radar

Hero Horse of the Great War

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Is Steven Spielberg's War Horse (out now on a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack) an epic family film about horses or a the filmmaker's long-awaited take on the horrors of World War I? Hard to say, really.

How you feel about this one kind of depends on how much you credit the horses with the ability to convey real emotions. If you're a big fan of the characters in Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers or The Pacific, you're likely to have some issues with Joey, the horse whose journey anchors the movie.

That doesn't mean there aren't a lot of things worth watching here. War Horse evokes old-time widescreen epics like Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia or Doctor Zhivago with its sweeping vistas and its episodic story tries to tell the World War I story from all sides. The British cavalry attack on German forces early in the film invites positive comparisons to the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.

The Blu-ray looks incredible, so good that it poses a difficult dilemma. War Horse at home looks way better than it did when I saw it last December at an advance screening held in a suburban multiplex. Even the DVD copy included here might look better than the projected film in a less-than-perfect locale. If you don't live in a major city with top quality facilities and have a great home setup, it's getting harder to justify the effort and expense of a night out.

Of course, the digital copy here is so murky when compared to the Blu-ray that you can't really tell yourself you've seen the movie. This one comes on separate disk that opens your iTunes or Windows Media Player and copies it to your hard drive once you've entered the one-time code. You can stream the movie anytime if you're logged into an Apple TV and it's downloadable to an iPhone or iPad at any time.

The whole package is loaded down with documentaries and extras befitting a movie that its makers fully expected to win Best Picture, so many that there's a second Blu-ray disc solely devoted to additional material. If you like the movie, the documentaries are much better than most of the promotional clips that fill out these packages and roundtable discussions between Spielberg and the cast and crew give a great sense of why folks in Hollywood line up to work with the guy.

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