Taking a page from Paramount’s campaign for Young Adult and the promo push for other ‘word of mouth’ movies like The Help, DreamWorks has avoided the festival circuit with Steven Spielberg‘s War Horse and taken the movie straight to the people. Some of the first screenings for the movie are taking place away from big metro areas in the US, and the first reactions are in. (The screening schedule is below, though it’s too late for tickets to most of them.)

The general response to War Horse seems to be quite positive, but most of the people who are chiming in are folks whose taste in movies we don’t really know, so some of the superlatives and criticisms might be taken with caution. We’ve rounded up a few below.

MovieVu says,

What it comes down to is “War Horse” is as flawless a film as we’ve ever seen from the director. Seeing something as brutal, terrible, and human as war through the innocent eyes of a noble horse is an ambitious form of storytelling, and yet it completely comes off as honest and authentic. I cried. I cheered. I felt like little more than a marionette, controlled in body and soul. It’s odd. This isn’t the work of the Spielberg we’ve come to know in the last two decades. This is something new. Back to basics, as it were. This is the Spielberg we had from the 70?s to the 90?s: powerful, gutsy, honest, and effective.

Those comments, incidentally, echo some of the reactions people have had to Tintin, in the way that working in mocap seems to have allowed Spielberg to indulge in a mixture of adventurous spirit and back to basics filmmaking.

And one IMDB user gushes:

This was a masterpiece. This should be one of the top 2-3 during Oscar season. All the hype we were hoping for was well-deserved. Outside of the first 30 minutes being a tad “eh,” the rest of the film is the best I’ve seen of Spielberg in years. Some of the greatest scenes I’ve seen in his career. I’m going to go as far as to say that it’s my second favorite Spielberg film after “Schindler’s List.”

There are a handful of other positive Twitter reactions to be found, most of which are simple superlatives. A couple people chimed in saying the film is too much of an Oscar bait effort, which is a criticism that could mean a few different things:

“Am I the only person who basically hated War Horse? It was nothing more than manipulative and predictable Oscar bait. Move along.” (@2denniskelly)

“This was AWFUL. Nothing but Oscar bait. I’m very disappointed.” (From guany, a commenter at Awards Daily)

But the latter of those audience members took to the forums on Jeff Wells’ site to go into a lot more detail:

It is such a shame that with a cast of this caliber, there is not one noteworthy performance in the film. Every single character is one-dimensional… I cannot believe that Michael Kahn actually edited this? Not only was the pacing dreadful (especially for the first 30 mins), but many of the cuts themselves are cheap… There are a lot of problems with Spielberg’s direction too. Not only was the tone all wrong, but he made a lot of lazy decisions. I don’t know how many more sweeping pans around the horses I could have stomached.

There’s a good bit more along those lines, and the comments are all a lot more meaningful than a simple “AWFUL” tweet, so I’m glad this audience member took the time to write a lot more.

Many members of the press will have to wait until the end of November to see the film, though with more word of mouth screenings happening tonight and next week, there will be some other reactions to be had.

Here’s the War Horse screening list, including past playdates:

Tue Nov 1, 2011 in Bellevue, WA
Tue Nov 1, 2011 in Leawood, KS
Tue Nov 1, 2011 in Cleveland Heights, OH
Wed Nov 2, 2011 in Beaverton, OR
Wed Nov 2, 2011 in Bethesda, MD
Wed Nov 2, 2011 in Plymouth Meeting, PA
Thu Nov 10, 2011 in Olathe, KS

Do these early comments hold any weight for you? They shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, though without knowing a lot more about how these viewers consider other films, the quick Twitter praise or jab doesn’t mean much to me. The longer reviews, on the other hand, are a bit more informative, I think.

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