Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A War of Words over Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds
Reviews by Sombrero Grande

My short-and-sweet, spoiler-free review:

Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake of War of the Worlds is a fun popcorn movie, but the more you think about it the less likely you are to still like it.

My rambling, spoiler-laden review:

While Spielberg’s unique take on War of the Worlds looks great and sports some thrilling moments--including one truly remarkable cinematic scene--the “twists” that Spielberg has integrated into his version of the story leaves the entire endeavor in shambles logically. Upon leaving the theater, audience patrons no doubt will start to question key plot points they have witnessed and find, as I did, that the whole story ends up as preposterously spun as a Karl Pilkington tale.

Let’s begin with Spielberg’s choice to have the alien tripods arise from underground instead of crashing down to Earth from space. Tim Robbins’ character says that the ships must have been there before there were even people on Earth. Hmm. So, when the humans were building their cities and roads, laying sewer pipes, etc., they never once noticed these gigantic ships lying just below the ground surface? Also, what was the aliens’ reason for waiting until NOW to mount their attack? How could they foresee the rise of humans and anticipate the need for these giant tripod machines to wipe them out a million years later? Plus, if they built these machines over a million years ago, doesn’t that mean they’d have to ignore any further advances in their technology and continue to train generation after generation of alien pilots on these probably now probably highly antiquated vehicles?

I never once believed Tom Cruise to be just a regular “blue-collar slob.” I know he’s friends with Spielberg, but is that the only reason he was ever cast in this part? I also don’t understand why Spielberg chose to tell his character’s story in all this. Other than destroying ONE tripod and making the “brilliant” observation to one military officer that birds were now perching on a tripod so its shield must be down, he didn’t DO anything! In the 1950s version, the character we follow, Dr. Clayton Forrester, is instrumental in bringing down the alien threat, so it makes sense to follow him in his adventures throughout the invasion. But Cruise merely plays some blue-collar schmuck who just keeps running and then--hey, look at that--the aliens all of a sudden die. Once the alien threat is removed, forget every bit of character information that was attempted in the first act of the film. It’s very reminiscent of Spielberg’s highly abrupt denouements to his Jurassic Park movies, where any character issues are wrapped up in the two seconds between the departure from the dinosaurs and beginning of the end credit roll.

Going back to the issue of birds being the indicator that the tripods’ shields are down--what, birds couldn’t fly through the shields before? Would they just explode on impact or something? We saw people traveling though the shields throughout the movie, and buildings and trees never seemed to have any destruction done to them by penetrating the shields, so what makes birds so spectacularly different? Also, why would the shields go down just because the aliens inside got sick? What, is there one alien per ship whose job it is to continually turn a crank to keep the shields up?

Ugh. So as I said earlier, if you don’t think about the plot, there are some great, dumb popcorn moments in War of the Worlds. The image of the burning train speeding by is akin to the Union 76 ball rolling past the heroes’ car in The Lost World; it’s a cool little moment that doesn’t necessarily make sense but is still fun and foreboding nonetheless. Of course there are great special effects shots of the tripods disintegrating people (as Cruise runs through their remnant dust and clothes) or using their tentacles to fish people out of the water. Then there’s one scene that’s absolutely cinematically breathtaking. When Cruise and kids are speeding out of town in the only still operational van, the camera spins in and out of the moving vehicle so seamlessly that it takes a few moments to even realize that it’s happening. The movement of the camera and choice of angles positively electrifies the scene and will put you on the edge of your seat. It’s a perfect and ingenious way to shoot that scene--it only makes me sadder that the same ingeniousness was not applied to the story’s crippling weak points.

All in all, if you’re just looking for mindless entertainment, you could certainly do worse than the 2005 version of War of the Worlds. Think of it as a new Spielberg Jurassic Park movie that substitutes aliens in place of dinosaurs.


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