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Steven Spielberg's War Horse is based on Michael Morpurgo 1982 novel of the same name, which was also turned into a theatre production in 2007. The story revolves around a horse called Joey who originally belonged to a young Devonshire man called Albert. At the outbreak of World War I Joey is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. The horse serves on both the British and German sides. Meanwhile Albert, who is too young to enlist in the army, misses his beloved horse so much that he sets off on a dangerous mission to find and bring Joey home...
As I review this soundtrack (at the start of November 2011) the film has still to open in cinemas. So having not seen the movie, I can't comment on whether the music works well in its intended place alongside the movie. However, being a John Williams score, accompanying a Steven Spielberg movie you can bet that it fits perfectly.
Williams's Raider of the Lost Ark score was what got me hooked, as a young teenager, on buying soundtracks and as a consequence I'm always keen to hear his latest scores. While I enjoyed this soundtrack immensely, I couldn't help feeling that Williams's just phoned this one in.
There are too many elements that sound too similar to his previous works - most notably Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and elements of his Harry Potter scores. For years I've argued tooth and nail with anyone who bemoans the fact that Willams's scores all sound the same. I still believe they are all very different, with only the occasional track sounding similar to something from his past work. However, with War Horse there was, just for a slight moment, a paranoid voice in my head that made me doubt whether Williams was still working; maybe he had long since retired and that, at 79 years old, maybe his agent was employing another composer to reference his previous works to come up with a "new" Williams score for this film.
I've actually lived on Dartmoor for the last five years, in a tiny village called Buckland-in-the-Moor which is just a few miles from where a lot of the scenes in the movie were filmed. In fact my other half swears that she saw Steven Spielberg driving a car at the end of our road, lost on his way to the set just outside Widdecombe-in-the-Moor (he was actually travelling the wrong way with his map spread over the front of his dashboard). So again, the movie was always going to be something that I was going to be looking forward too. Not only has it got my boyhood favourite pairing of Spielberg and Williams, but is was filmed on my doorstep.
So, yes, I'm afraid I was hyped up before the first track even began playing. And while this might not be one of Williams's greatest scores of all time (it's not even in his top ten) it's still a fantastic soundtrack and much better than the majority of soundtracks churned out today.
The War Horse illustrates why we are lucky Williams is still working in Hollywood. This is an incredibly beautiful score and is well worth adding to your soundtrack collection.