The 65-year-old Ohio native and Oscar-winning filmmaker helmed the film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 children's novel about the extraordinary journey horse Joey embarks on to reunite with his beloved owner, the British farm boy Albert, after they are separated during World War I.
Asked if it is his mission to craft family films that are as intelligent as they are entertaining, Spielberg, who also directed this winter's animated hit "The Adventures of Tintin," told United Press International at a recent New York press conference, "I don't really think of discriminating against one audience in favor of another.
"If I make a movie like 'Saving Private Ryan' that has an R rating, I don't expect young people to attend," he reasoned. "But a movie like ['War Horse'] is intended for everyone. I really didn't discriminate. I really didn't say this is going to bring young audiences back to an era where the machine and implements of warfare supplanted the horse and there was this great paradigm shift. ! Sometimes stories just connect with me. And when they really connect with me with such intensity, I have to make the movie. I have to direct the movie, not produce it, but direct it and I hope I can bring a lot of people along with me. I just don't ever say this is for this audience and not for that audience."
Spielberg also said he doesn't view "War Horse" as a "war movie," despite its title and battlefield setting.
"I've done other stories about war. I do not consider 'War Horse,' a 'war movie' at all," Spielberg, whose credits include "Schindler's List,""1941" and the Indiana Jones franchise, told reporters.
"I consider ['War Horse'] to be a character story," the director added. "I consider it to be a love story between a horse and a young man and also a story of great hope and great connection that this horse makes to every character both German and British as the horse travels on this episodic journey, almost an odyssey, through his own life and own experiences surviving through the war. The war is a backdrop that allows us to create drama, but the war isn't the reason I told this story. World War I isn't the reason I made the movie."
Although the success of the movie hinged on the audience empathizing with Albert and rooting for him to get his equine soul-mate back, Spielberg said he had no reservations about casting a newcomer in the lead role.
"Well, I'm a veteran of foolhardy casting choices," the filmmaker quipped. "Giving Drew Barrymore her first chance to help carry 'E.T.' And giving Christian Bale his first film to totally carry 'Empire of the Sun.' I've risked everything on new people who I really believed in. So, for me, I have no risk aversion. I don't feel anxiety any longer in casting someone who has to carry a movie if they've never done a movie before because if I think they've got 'it,' then I can work with what they bring to me. And Jeremy had it. Jeremy had a gift; he's affable, he made a tremendous connection with the animals, even though he didn't ride until he made 'War Horse' with us, but there was just something about the spirit of his naivete, being a young actor in training, but never having been given a break. He reminded me of Joey. He never acted before either.
"So, I had Jeremy who never acted before and I had a horse who had never been in a movie before and I figured, 'What the heck, put them together, let's see what happens," Spielberg laughed. "Jeremy had great intuition. He had a great, intuitive heart, a great personality. I just knew it was raw material I could work with, and he was instantly adopted by the other cast members, who were vastly experienced and really took him under their wings."
A skillfully rendered, sentimental drama about an animal that brings out the best in the humans he encounters even under the most dire of circumstances, "War Horse" offers much-welcomed respites of humor, as well.
Asked about balancing the comedy with the seriousness of the war scenes, screenwriter
Richard Curtis told UPI, "I just made it one of my jobs that at each point [there is some humor.]"
"It was just looking at each bit on its own and thinking, 'Is there anything delightful or funny I can do here in the normal richness of how it would be with every place?'" noted Curtis, who previously wrote the films "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Love Actually," and created TV's "Blackadder" and "The Vicar of Dibley."
"One of the things that was lovely was when Steven first talked to me he said, 'Make each bit as rich as you can make it.' We had to sort out how the story ran. He did realize that ['War Horse'] was kind of episodic and if you absolutely commit to each story that was the way the film was going to work rather than if you filmed all the way through, going like a train. We just had to keep the stuff that was relevant. We tried to write a sort of Thomas Hardy tragedy for the first 40 minutes and thought that could be the whole film, then suddenly you realize when that's over, there's a lot more film to go."