War of the World


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"It's not the worst movie in the world(s) but the only panic-inspired rioting that this film is likely to generate is after Tim Robbins appears on screen"










War of the Worlds
The Masked Reviewer

The Masked Reviewer wants to clarify a few things right off the bat.

First, this isn't really about a war.  It's an alien invasion and no declaration of war is ever made.  We don't do much fighting back.  Not only that, but we only ever see one world.  Our world.  No other world.  That, in total, is a singular world, not plural worlds.  So, this film is guilty of false advertising.

But, until the public is ready for its class action lawsuit against director Steven Spielberg, here's a little bit about the movie.

Before that, though, the Masked Reviewer wants to raise an important issue about movie piracy.

Presumably, since 9/11, people are so used to being frisked, searched, and pushed around, nobody raises a proverbial stink when they have to be scanned with metal detectors and have their bags searched to get into a movie.  At this event, no bags or cell phones were allowed in the theater.  It seems like the studios are able to ride the wave of fear and ubiquitous security to make sure that no one videotapes their stinky movies.  Sure, this is their screening...no one paid to see it.  The thing is...two days later, someone could go to the theater and bootleg the movie for $10. 

The other thing is...and no offense to Mr. Spielberg...War of the Worlds doesn't contain any blueprints for an atomic bomb.  It's not a national treasure.  It won't change the world(s).  It's just a disaster movie with aliens.  And, you know, if someone really wanted to pirate the movie, they could have done it.  They stopped short of a full cavity search.  A dedicated person could have found a way to pirate the movie.  Of course, it would be wrong...and who in the world wants to buy a bootlegged version of a movie anyway -- especially considering that War of the Worlds will be out on DVD by Christmas? 

Anyway, on to the movie.  Tom Cruise stars in this re-make of a 1953 film starring Gene Barry, based on a radio drama by Orson Welles, based on a book by H.G. Wells (no relation to Orson).  It seems impossible that anyone going to this movie would have no idea what it's about.  "War of the Worlds" was a major source material for sci-fi, much like "Lord of the Rings" was heavily influential on fantasy.

In the book, the alien invaders were Martian...but, Steven Spielberg doesn't get into their origins.  In fact, there are a lot of things he doesn't get into.  Who are they?  Why are they here?  What will it take to stop them?  What is the red stuff growing all over the place?  Fans of sci-fi usually fall into two categories: those who like to have a plausible scientific explanation for what's happening, and those who like to make up their own explanations for why stuff is happening.  If you're in the first group, you'll find War of the Worlds to be quite frustrating.

The movie puts much more emphasis on horror than on sci-fi.  There's very little sci in this fi.  The story is told from Tom Cruise's character's point of view...that of Average Q. Everyman.  Along with his daughter (played by the talented Dakota Fanning, who you may remember from every movie that's starred a young girl in the last four years) and his son (played by some young guy), Tom Cruise just tries to survive.  Stuff blows up.  Aliens chase people.  They hide.  They try not to make a sound.

In the end, Tom Cruise doesn't have much to do with the so-called "war".  It's more like The Towering Inferno than Independence Day, in that the aliens are just a disaster to survive, from Tom Cruise's point of view.

Tim Robbins is the only other star in the film.  He plays a wide-eyed crazy guy with a shotgun.  He gives, perhaps, the most over-the-top performance in a Steven Spielberg film.  His first appearance on screen got a big laugh from the crowd, but...you can't help but think he wasn't supposed to be getting a laugh there.  His expressions are, well, funny...and they don't fit in. 

The comparisons the film draws between itself and real-life terrorism will, undoubtedly, unsettle and offend some people.  It almost seems as though a political statement is about to be made, but...apparently not (other than "aliens are bad"). 

The movie is actually compelling and edgy...right up until Tom Cruise and family meets Tim Robbins.  From there, it takes a noticeable twist.  In the beginning, the set up is pretty good.  Tension builds.  Characters are developed.  Relationships are established.  The alien threat is introduced, and with big-budget special effects, things start blowing up.  This is all good.

Then, when they meet Tim Robbins, things change.  It loses steam.  Characters don't move forward.  The story becomes one-dimensional.  The scariness goes away.  It gets kind of dull.  It's a bad sign when a movie gets dull before the climax. 

The end of the movie is...well...it's spectacularly lame.  It almost seems like Steven Spielberg wanted to go for a "Twilight Zone" kind of ending.  The Masked Reviewer won't spoil it here, but that won't be much of a challenge, because it's so pathetic, it would be hard to spoil.  It just sort of stops.  It isn't dramatically interesting, it isn't intellectually interesting, and it will bug the hell out of sci-fi fans who think about things.  Let's just say that the all-powerful invading aliens apparently don't know nothin' about evolutionary biology.  But that's a bit misleading.  Some readers may try to think how that could lead to a lame ending of the film, but...whatever you come up with will certainly be more interesting than the real end of the movie.

This is quite a shame.  The first part of the movie is quite enjoyable.  It's actually kind of scary and exciting in the beginning -- the sound, in particular, is thunderous and nerve-wracking.  The scenes of destruction are big and well done.  It seems like it's going to go somewhere, and then...it doesn't.  Tom Cruise is good.  Dakota Fanning is good (although, she screams a lot, and she does have a piercing scream that will grate on anyone's nerves quickly).  The lighting and camera work are good.  It all gets wasted on a movie that collapses towards the end. 

Sci-fi fans will be hugely frustrated by the bad science and lameness.  It's better than AI, but then again, everything is better than AI.  If you ever wondered what Independence Day would be like if Steven Spielberg directed it, BEHOLD War of the Worlds.  It's much worse than you might expect.  Some people will certainly like it...if you just want an empty horror movie that isn't at all scary (much less than any Jurassic Park, for example) that's filled with special effects, this will be a movie you'll enjoy.  But people who expect something more or are real sci-fi fans will likely have some problems with War of the Worlds.  It's the kind of movie that you'll sit around and say "...yeah!  And what about that?  Why did that happen?"  and no one will have an answer.  It's not the worst movie in the world(s) but the only panic-inspired rioting that this film is likely to generate is after Tim Robbins appears on screen.

Expectation from the Title: A poorly titled film about a young girl (played by Dakota Fanning) who spent her summer spent picking strawberries in the Hamptons and bonding with her estranged poet father.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  The sound effects are very alien like.

The Pros: Great sound, very good first half, some great special effects.

The Cons: Much more of a disaster film than sci-fi or horror.  The science is awful.  The end of the film is terrible.  Tim Robbins is over the top.  The movie loses steam and grinds to a halt.  Seems tired and done too many times before. 

Steven Speilberg, Steven Spielburg, Tom Cruse, Dakota Faning, Tom Robbins, War of the World, H.G. Welles, Orson Wells, AI, Independents Day, all these things are here but spelled right.

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