Eve Of The War

War of the Worlds (Mark's Take)
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Author:  eveofthewar [ Sat Jul 30, 2005 1:39 pm ]
Post subject:  War of the Worlds (Mark's Take)

It is easier to admire than to enjoy Steven Spielberg's adaptation of The War of the Worlds, says Mark. The film is dark and bleak with little real sense of wonder - the thing that should be Spielberg's forte. The alien technology is not allowed to steal attention away from the human story, but that may not be a good thing. This is a film that is dark in just about every meaning of the word.

When H. G. Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, his intention was to show Britons what it was like to be on the receiving end of an imperialist super-power invading a country. His main interest was on the effect that such an invasion had on the English population. When the public read the book, the strange alien war machines became much more the focus than he had intended. His descriptions of alien war machines captured people's imagination and upstaged the human story. That is a problem that Steven Spielberg carefully prevented when he focused on one family in trouble. But films about families under stress are many and films about tripod alien war machines are few. His film is less in the spirit of earlier versions and more like a big-budget Signs.

Spielberg directed his version for Dreamworks (the company he partially owns) and for Paramount Pictures (who produced the 1953 George Pal version). The plot is mostly about a divorced father trying to protect his children against a very serious threat. That very serious threat just happens to come from an alien invader. Curiously enough, it is the human relations that get the most attention in the first half of the film. There is one impressive science fictional sequence in the first half, but much that I would have liked to see had been eliminated from the plot. Telling the story of War of the Worlds without having cylinders arrive from Mars and be ignored is like trying to tell the story of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA without a chandelier scene. Telling War of the Worlds without even a mention of Mars is like telling THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA without a mask. In the second half the alien invasion is more center stage.

In this version Tom Cruise plays dock-worker Ray Ferrier, himself an operator of heavy machinery, who just happens to have custody of his two estranged children on the weekend that the aliens choose to invade. His goal is to get his children to safety and hopefully to find his ex-wife who was headed for Boston. Funny things start happening when odd storms start with new sort of lightning. Its electro-magnetic pulse seems to be killing everything electrical. An SUV nearby dies along everything else electrical, but Ferrier realizes that the problem is probably just a fried solenoid, hence he ends up with a magic SUV that still drives when others have stopped. And so begins a road trip though a country under siege. Spielberg's emphasis is as much on Ferrier's problems dealing with people, both his children and the panicking hordes wherever he goes, than with his problem with the alien invaders.

The film starts with Morgan Freeman's voice reading the quote from the novel that no one would have believed at the end of the century that human events were being scrutinized. That may have been true at the beginning of the 20th century, but at the beginning of the 21st there was a whole tabloid-reading sub- culture that not only would have believed it, they probably did believe it. The film also shows some of the limitation of the alien heat ray, here transformed into more of a disintegration beam. Whatever it was, it did not have nearly the destructive power that terrorists today would have. The tripods are strong, but they hardly qualify as weapons of mass destruction. Other questions I had was why were there avid reporters going around collecting news when it did not seem there was sufficient infrastructure left to broadcast the news they were collecting. The method chosen for delivering the aliens to Earth is original but not logical and leaves too many unanswered questions.

The story is slow to get started with the early part of the film having Cruise's biggest problems being to get through to children that A) something really bad is happening and B) they have to follow his direction. Realistically A is easier than B. Later the script takes more from the situations in the novel. Lines, scenes, and situations are also taken from 1938 radio play produced by Orson Welles and the 1953 film adaptation produced by George Pal. This script owes a debt to all three versions.

I suppose that Steven Spielberg films are known for good special effects. Curiously, the only really striking effect in this film is the tripod war machines. There the film really excels over other versions. While the exact look of the war machines is not memorable, they look as formidable and frightening as any version (including the famous "Classic Illustrated" comic book's interpretation that many of the boomer generation grew up with). Wells never really says how tall a Martian war machine is and Spielberg uses this as license to portray them as very tall and very powerful. The only other really memorable image is a quick view of a destroyed train. The visualization of the aliens themselves is a disappointment with faces that look too human, much more human than the George Pal Martians or the Martians Wells describes. In general the look of the film is dismal, dark, and gray. The action seems to take place under constantly overcast skies.

Somehow Tom Cruise as a dock-worker is just not my vision of the introspective main character in the Wells novel. Dakota Fanning actually manages to out-act Cruise, or at least steal their scenes together. That is no small feat. Justin Chatwin as the son Robby is instantly forgettable. The best actor in the film is Miranda Otto who plays Mary Ann Ferrier, the divorced wife. Unfortunately she is not on the screen long enough make much of a difference.

This War of the Worlds is no more faithful to the book than was the 1953 film version. With the exception of the formidable interpretation of Wells's tripod war machines there was no strong reason to make this invasion story an adaptation of the Wells novel. I guess the fact that it was supposedly based on the Wells helped build the audience. It is a nice production with some quality touches but little besides the visual imagery to make it memorable. Disappointedly, I give it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Mark R. Leeper


Author:  oever532 [ Sat Jul 30, 2005 3:48 pm ]
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This review is slightly better in my opinion...

Author:  Leper Messiah [ Sat Jul 30, 2005 7:48 pm ]
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Mark R. Leeper?!

my secret identity could be about to come out :D

my review was better :p

Author:  oever532 [ Sun Jul 31, 2005 9:39 am ]
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Hey, he has one extra 'e' in that. Do you have a secret identity? :-s

Author:  Alland [ Tue Aug 02, 2005 11:55 pm ]
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Regarding what the reviewer said about conditions during the scenes, I remember that in the 1953 film, just about all the action took place at night or under overcast skies. I suppose it's because darkness or semidarkness adds to the horror effect.

Author:  oever532 [ Wed Aug 03, 2005 8:46 am ]
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And the Martians couldn't stand bright light of the day, so they've obviously been kept at bay during daytime...

Author:  Lonesome Crow [ Wed Aug 03, 2005 7:50 pm ]
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Plus the strings showed up more in daylight. :alien:

Author:  Loz [ Wed Aug 03, 2005 8:00 pm ]
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Timothy Hines doesn't care whether its day or night, he just colours it night, and he doesn't even bother to go right to the edge of the horizon.
What a guy! =D>

Author:  oever532 [ Wed Aug 03, 2005 8:41 pm ]
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I didn't know that! Has he really done that? :-s :-k

Author:  Loz [ Thu Aug 04, 2005 5:19 pm ]
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Oh yes indeed. Lots of nightime scenes are shot in the day and he has tinted the sky black but not right to the horizon, so you get a line of blue sky above the land and then dark. But sometimes he doesn't even bother doing that. In one bit the Journalist is pointing out which star in the sky is Mars and it is broad daylight! :shock:

Author:  oever532 [ Thu Aug 04, 2005 5:30 pm ]
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Oh brother! That are several MORE points why Hines should have taken more time in it!

Author:  Loz [ Thu Aug 04, 2005 5:31 pm ]
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Until you see it you can't imagine just how bad it is. :a009:

Author:  oever532 [ Thu Aug 04, 2005 5:33 pm ]
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Well, I don't have to see it. The screenshots were evidence enough for me. The theatrical trailer was a little better, but the decapitation of the Big Ben was fake, as if we live on half the actual gravity of this planet.

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