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
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