Monday, November 28, 2005

War of the Worlds

This weekend I watched the updated Steven Spielberg version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. The DVD was a Netflix rental, I did not see it on the big screen. I felt the same way about this movie that I did about Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith: I wasn’t terribly impressed. Unlike Sith, however, I’m not sure if a theater viewing would have helped with the experience.

“War of the Worlds” is about a dock worker named Ray (Tom Cruise) who is called upon by his ex-wife to watch over their kids; a slacker son (Justin Chatwin) and a modernized but typical allergy and affliction filled, “where’s mommy”, “I gotta pee” daughter (Dakota Fanning). Before Ray can awkwardly bond with anybody, a lightning storm causes a tall, mechanized, death-ray wielding camera tripod from hell to burst forth from the ground and just start frying everything in sight. The rest of the movie takes Ray and family across New York running from destruction, other people, death-ray blasting alien camera tripods, human grabbing and “processing” alien camera tripods, and strange mental cases planning attacks in deserted cellars (Tim Robbins). Then it’s over. Everybody is reunited and alive and relatively clean in mostly untouched Boston.

There are a number of ways I could review this movie. I could let it stand on it’s own as entertainment, I could compare it to “The War of the Worlds” (1953), or I could compare it to the H.G. Wells book The War of the Worlds (1898).

Standing on it’s own, War of the Worlds is almost a good movie. The movie is pure spectacle. It could have been a special effects “spooge-fest” but it isn’t; which is a good thing or a bad thing depending upon your viewpoint. The alien tripods were one-hundred percent believable. The aliens themselves were somewhat hokey looking. The plot was well sequenced but the cellar sequence was far too long and the ending was blatantly abrupt and disgustingly “happy”. The acting is above par, although most seem to hate Cruise’s mono-faced performances and Dakota Fanning’s constant screaming.

When compared to the “The War of the Worlds” of 1953 I would rate it slightly worse. It’s shocking when you realize that half a century separates these two films. The 1953 version was much better in most aspects, from the adaptation to the acting. Fifty two years of special effect evolution makes a massive difference but when compared to each other on equal ground the 1953 version still holds the edge on application and usage. I like their aliens better, too. I also liked the inclusion of faith in the 1953 version. The finale in/outside the church, the last sanctuary of humanity with all hell breaking loose outside, seems wholesomely realistic.

It has been about 28 years since I read the book and the black and white comic book that I obtained with it. I would have to re-read the book to make a comparison. Spielberg changed his version to have the alien machines hidden beneath the earth’s surface for what is presumed to be millions of years or at least before the genesis of man. Spielberg also kept the origin of the marauders hidden.

Most reviews of War of the Worlds attack it on the basis of sloppy science and use of political correctness. I think if you are one of those people, you are entitled to your opinion but I’ll consider you somewhat (or maybe entirely) an idiot. I program computers. I know there is no way in bloody hell that a nerd with a laptop could interface with, let alone write enough program code to be a destructive virus on a massive, planet-sized alien mother ship. My brother is a genetic chemist and knows dinosaurs cannot be grown from DNA in the belly of skeeter encased in amber. That didn’t prevent either of us from enjoying Independence Day or Jurassic Park. Frankly I don’t care if an EMP would prevent a camcorder from working, or if death-rays are the most inefficient ways of exterminating humanity, or if bacteria should have killed the aliens when they buried their machines millions of years ago. I also don’t care if this movie was sickeningly politically correct by not identifying the aliens as Martians, or having the pathetic single-dad, or that joining the Army is a worthless cause, or that occupations never work, or that human nature is really pathetic when you get to it, or that every impossibly grave situation will have a clean, happy ending in Boston. I felt the same way when I reviewed Land of the Dead.  If you can’t enjoy a movie because of social commentary or can’t accept the impossible in the name of entertainment they you have no business reviewing a movie or really discussing it openly. I think War of the Worlds would have been much better off without that social commentary but it wasn’t a deciding factor. I think Tom Cruise is a total whack-job outside of Hollywood, but on film he usually delivers acceptable to good performances.

To summarize, I’m glad I rented War of the Worlds. I probably would have been mildly disappointed if I had viewed in a theater or purchased the DVD outright. There weren’t enough special effects to make this a must have in collection and I don’t see it as a classic I watch over and over again.

Rotten Tomatoes

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