BY DEANNA CULLEN
‘Tis the season for uninspiring box office results, with audiences unwilling to cozy up to even the most star-studded holiday flicks (a 5.1 million Friday opening for New Year’s Eve? Really?). But when War Horse gallops into theaters on Christmas Day, expect rekindled audience devotion, expect sold-out seating, expect front-line box office figures.
Last Sunday, ‘Celebrity Magnet’ Tom Murro attended the red carpet event at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center for Spielberg’s War Horse, a movie adaptation of London’s theatrical phenomenon of the same name.
Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel, the play chronicles a boy’s journey to the Western Front of the First World War after his beloved horse is sold into the cavalry. The play began in 2007 at London’s Royal National-Olivier Theatre, in collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company, and continues to play to packed houses at Lincoln Center on Broadway.
Arrivals lasted nearly two hours, according to Murro, with appearances by Spielberg and Mopurgo, along with up-and-comer Elizabeth Olson, The Reader director Stephen Daldry, and CW’s Ed Westwick. Also spotted were Gilligan’s Island’s Tina Louise, Tony Danza, former Giants player Tiki Barber, Law and Order’s Mariska Hargitay, Kathie Lee Gifford, Cassidy Gifford and Tinsley Mortimer.
As more famous celebrities walked “the longest red carpet” he’d ever seen, Murro seized the chance to talk to Steven Spielberg. Spielberg spoke about his latest offering, and explained how his adaptation differs from the original. The two also chatted about a mutual friend from Martha’s Vineyard, Chris Rebello, who had played Chief Brody’s son in the gruesome blockbuster shark flick Jaws, before parting ways.
Spielberg learned of War Horse two years ago from his production partner, Kathleen Kennedy, and upon viewing it himself, was compelled to make a movie version after the play “grabbed me, reached into my heart, and pulled something out.”
“I fast tracked the movie because I was so moved by the book and the play,” Spielberg explained. “I just couldn’t imagine waiting any longer, so I made it very quickly.” Though faithful to the play’s heart-tugging premise, Spielberg did make some changes for his film adaptation. For one, the play’s puppets have been replaced by real horses – although such a change is hardly unprecedented.
- Michael Morpurgo and Tom Murro
Perhaps the most marked difference lies in Spielberg’s casting choice. Audiences who have viewed the Broadway play are familiar with an all-American cast, but Spielberg opted to fill the roles for his movie with a predominantly British cast. Newcomer Jeremy Irvine plays lead character Albert Narracott, while Tom Hiddleston plays Captain Nicholls and Celine Buckens makes her film debut as Emilie, a French girl whose family takes in, and cares for, the horse.
So how will a British ensemble, with some unknowns, fare with American audiences? Probably pretty well. After all, according to last week’s cover article by Entertainment Weekly, Spielberg’s myriad films have always relied more on masterful storytelling than all-star casts.