The Mummy rounds up the horses

By “Hula Girl” 

California - To know whether animals used in film production have been treated humanely, insiders tell Animal People, watch the horses.

Horses, among all the animal actors or props, are the most commonly used and the most vulnerable species on most production sets.  Aside from being easily replaced unless specifically trained, they are legally classified as livestock, thus making them exempt from most animal protection laws.

Animal lovers were up in arms midsummer due to scenes from The Mummy and Joan of Arc.  Both movies featured horses that were yanked around and made to fall during battle scenes.  They wanted to clarify if any of the scenes were computer enhanced and wanted to know if there had been a resurgence in film cruelty.

The answer to the latter, according to Gini Barrett, western regional office chief of the American Humane Association, is “yes”.  Barrett and staff keep the Hollywood screen industry under scrutiny, with strong cooperation from many actors and producers.

In truth, the problem lies in U.S. filming projects abroad.  Many of these productions are filmed in foreign countries and are legally structured as international co-productions.  This classification effectively renders AHA’s oversight authority nil.  Though some companies cooperate voluntarily, most do not.  This new trend has grown dramatically and the results are showing up in theaters and on television.  In order to respond to the public’s concerns, AHA is seeking as much information as they can get on individual projects.  Those with significant or questionable animal actions are reviewed.

Of the films asked about, The Mummy apparently came up clean.

“We agree that the battle scene in The Mummy looks frightening, Barrett said.  “However, Universal Studios supplied us with a video tape so that we could slow down and stop the action.  We were therefore able to determine that all of the horse falls in that film were accomplished using trained falling horses.  We have requested additional information from the horse wrangler.”  Barrett added, “While we would like more information, we are fairly comfortable that reasonable procedures were used.”

The Mummy was filmed in Morocco, a nation with a long tradition of pride in horse care and riding skill.  Joan of Arc was filmed in the Czech Republic, where horses are eaten.

Cinematographer Enzo Giobe, cofounder of the International Generic Horse Association/HorseAid, was not involved with the Joan of Arc production but keeps an ear to the industry wall and pinpoints scuttlebutt involving horses.

“Here”, Giobe says, “if a horse were to break her neck, it’s a tragic accident and the film goes for silver reclamation.  Every director knows the AHA and film-goers are sensitive toward that sort of thing, so the directors have to be a little cautious and not do things that put animals at risk.”  Giobe stressed that bringing productions up to western humane standards in Central and Eastern Europe is going to be tough, but can be done.

“In Italy”, he explained, “horses used in films today are usually well taken care of.  Same thing with Australia.  The Australian horse wranglers these days are very conscientious.  We were concerned about Braveheart, which was filmed in Australia, because of the battle scenes.  But the producers went out of their way to avoid having horses hurt.  They used all fiberglass horses in injury scenes.”

According to Home Box Office (HBO) and The Making of Braveheart in addition to using trained rearing horses, animatronics were heavily used.  Actor Mel Gibson and his technical team paid great attention to all computer graphic enhancements used in the battle scenes.

The AHA began monitoring film production in 1940, a year after the first major public outcry arose over the filming and death of a stunt horse in a movie.  In Barrett’s opinion, “Horses are a battle everyday.”  Hollywood, take your cue.

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