Steven Spielberg has been absent from the directors chair for three years; his last directing job was "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls".


Now, within day (in the US at least) Mr. Spielberg releases two: "The Adventures of Tintin" and "War Horse". One animated, one live action - both are being marketed toward the family movie segment.


At least for "War Horse" this will be a tough sell.


It is clear that Spielberg recalled [perhaps] fond memories of watching "Lassie Come Home" or "Black Beauty" as "War Horse" borrows heavily from both. He then borrowed heavily from his war epics ("Saving Private Ryan"), throwing it all in a pot, stirring and coming up with... a film that's nearly three hours long. Too long and too much violence for your typical Lassie kids. Adults might be put off by a story that doesn't evoke thoughts of "Black Beauty" or "National Velvet".

As a fair warning to those who have seen the stage production in London or on Broadway - you will definitely be most disappointed. All the creative imagery has been removed since real horses have replaced the puppets used on stage. The stage production harkens back to the brilliant stage adaptation of "Lion King".


Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) is a British farmer who buys a young thoroughbred to use as a plow horse. His son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) becomes very fond of the horse and...


Okay... stop.


For all who are actually horsemen, this is when the film goes to the crapper. Thoroughbreds are considered light riding horses; they are built for speed, not strength. I'm pretty sure this was probably proven many hundreds of years ago when the very first farmer decided to strap a plow to his pet thoroughbred and finished the season with unploughed fields. Horses that pull plows are called draft horses: French Percheron, Belgiums, British Shires and of course Scottish Clydesdale - these are the horses that pull the plows. They are twice as big and bulkier than the trim thoroughbred.

Now that we straightened that out...war breaks out in Europe and Joey is purchased by the British cavalry for use in attacking the Germans.


Joey, valiantly goes into battle and, though just about every other horse during the brutal attack is killed, Joey escapes unscathed, minus his rider.


Now begins his quest to return to the quiet life as a thoroughbred plow horse. But during his trek, he becomes the property of several owners who love and care for him.


Little does Joey know, Albert has enlisted in the war effort specifically to find his faithful horse. And after two and a half hours a totally ludicrous ending occurs. And ending the makes "Lassie Come Home" look believable.


Spielberg is at home with his epic battles. Unlike "Saving Private Ryan" these battle scenes are rather bloodless, however kids might object to seeing horses lying around dead. Adults might wonder why everyone speaks perfect English during World War I. Though technically splendid, as are most Spielberg films, this film just does cut any segment of reality.


"War Horse" is holiday family film that will be tough to find a family audience. The cinematography and sweeping landscapes give way to an implausible narrative.   -- GEOFF BURTON