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 Post subject: There Is More Than One Way To Make 'War'
PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2005 8:48 am 
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Martian War Lord

Joined: Wed Jan 12, 2005 7:01 pm
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Location: UK
There Is More Than One Way To Make 'War'

Author: Michael Simpson
Date: 10-25-2005
Source: SyFy Portal

November is unofficially "War of the Worlds" month. By the end of it, five different takes on H.G. Wells' classic novel will be available to buy on DVD, including three films that came out this year. Of those, Stephen Spielberg's has captured the most attention and money. Not everyone was happy with his liberal adaptation, though. Are Wells' fans better served by this year's independent productions from The Asylum and Pendragon Pictures?

At its most basic, "War of the Worlds" is about one man's experiences during a Martian invasion of England at the end of the 19th century. As he attempts to avoid the invaders, the nameless narrator describes his encounters with survivors. In particular, Wells has him focus on an artilleryman and a curate, who might represent the military and religious insecurities that were troubling many Europeans at the time. It is easy to forget that the novel was written when no one had experienced a world war. Wells may have been anticipating the massive destruction and disillusionment that the first would bring less than two decades later.

Among the highlights of Well's novel are an account of the opening of one of the cylinders in which the Martians travel to Earth. Other notable events include a face-off between Martian war machines and a British battleship, the "Thunderchild," and the entrapment of the narrator and curate in a house crushed by another cylinder.

Spielberg, like Byron Haskin, who directed the original "War of the Worlds" film in 1953, updates the story and relocates it to the United States. He substantially alters the protagonist, too. Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a divorced dock-worker and is accompanied on his journey by his children. This was presumably meant to exaggerate the audience's sense of risk.

Spielberg also changes other personalities. The artilleryman and the curate are combined in the role of Ogilvy (played by Tim Robbins), whose name is taken from an astronomer in the novel whom Spielberg omits altogether.

There are no scenes of cylinders opening in Spielberg's film because the aliens emerge from underground. The "Thunderchild" sequence and another scene from the book are essentially represented by a stricken ferry. Moreover, although a house that Cruise's character is in gets demolished, it is flattened by a jet liner and the Ferrier family escapes easily.

Given that Spielberg spent millions of dollars more than Asylum and Pendragon, the odds that their productions are better versions of Wells' novel might seem slim. The former's previous output has included low budget schlock films such as "Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove," and "Alien Abduction." Pendragon's movie, meanwhile, has been mired in controversy. But don't assume that either is a dumb rip-off.

The Asylum version also updates events and moves them to the US, but the intelligent script by Carlos De Los Rios and producer/director David Michael Latt includes more of the main characters and events from the book than Spielberg did. Latt also succeeds in creating a compelling hero out of someone that spends a lot of time bemoaning his helplessness and sleeping in ditches. Thus, George Herbert (played by C. Thomas Howell, star of 80s hits such as "Red Dawn" and "The Hitcher") has more in common with the novel's narrator than the largely self-confident Ferrier.

Like Spielberg, Latt also omits the "Thunderchild" sequence. It occupies less than three pages in the book, though, and would have been expensive to recreate convincingly. That is not the only change he has made. Latt's alien fighting machines are not tripods, and the demise of the curate is harrowing in a different way. Nonetheless, that character's crisis of faith is effectively preserved. As in the novel, the Asylum movie uses microbes as the architects of the aliens' demise, but Latt finds a more proactive way to deliver them. In dramatic terms, this might have been wise, given that some viewers felt that the more faithful ending of Spielberg's movie fell flat.

Purists might take offence at Jake Busey and bare breasts in a recreation of a Wells novel. Latt has never said, however, that his film was a totally dedicated adaptation. Pendragon Pictures, by contrast, have made a virtue of exactly that.

Director Timothy Hines' homage to the book has taken heat in certain internet chat rooms for a number of issues that have been dealt with elsewhere on SyFy Portal. What has apparently precipitated them is that his film did not meet the expectations of many Wells' fans.

Pendragon's much-trumpeted devotion to its source material is both an asset and a liability. As originally released, Hines film included every event and character from the novel and lifted much of its dialogue directly. It was subsequently criticised for lacking dramatic momentum. This review is based on a "Director's Cut" that Pendragon has since released, which is 45 minutes shorter.

In terms of acting, pacing, editing and special effects, Pendragon's film is a mixed bag. The Martians are closer in appearance to those in the novel than are Spielberg's demonic aliens, although the computer graphics are not as effective. The design of the tripods, meanwhile, is more original than that in either of the other two films discussed here. Hines has evidently tried to recreate Wells' descriptions, including the "parabolic mirror" that the Martian's use to project their heat ray. In an impressive scene, a tripod foot crashes into a cannon, giving a sense that the Martian machines are huge. Yet they were realised using a combination of miniatures, puppets and computer graphics.

Some other things aren't as successful. The tripods sometimes move jerkily, and scenes of them treading on people don't work well. Computer animated sequences of the Martians feeding and the sinking of the "Thunderchild" are not up to modern movie standards. Also the use of blue screen and the matting of flames on real backgrounds are often obvious. The CGI representations of London streets don't achieve photo-realism, but they are no worse than digital environments in many highly praised fan films.

Like the effects, the performances in Hines' film are variable. The cast is composed of screen unknowns, but several have impressive theater pedigrees. Anthony Piana (the narrator) has been an artistic director for the theater company Stepping Stone Productions; Jack Clay (Ogilvy) headed the acting programs at Southern Methodist University and the University of Washington; and John Kaufmann (the curate) has devised, written and performed in a variety of solo and ensemble theater productions in the US and overseas. The cast also includes Pendragon's attorney, W. Bernard Bauman.

When none of your actors is British, accents are a potential problem. Piana and Kaufmann do well in this department and Clay makes a convincing, if rather monotonic, Ogilvy. Some other cast members, however, would probably make many Londoners cringe. There is a lack of dramatic urgency in certain crowd scenes, but that could be because that is how Wells describes them in the book. Piana and Kaufmann do create convincing tension, though, in the scenes in the demolished house, which show Hines at his best.

Pendragon's film includes some interesting cinematography. In some later scenes Hines tints the sky red, which has the neat effect of emphasising the dominion the Martians hold over the Earth as they set about terra-forming it. This might have worked even better had he made the red weed rampant. As in Latt's film, though, this appears only superficially. Some night shots appear to have been filmed during the day and adjusted with filters, which is not always convincing.

Hines has told SyFy Portal that if he made the movie again he would concentrate on several key scenes. One option would be to eliminate the detours Wells' narrative takes to describe events affecting the narrator's brother. In the book, these don't explicitly converge on those involving the narrator himself, and Hines' film looses its focus during these scenes. Eliminating them would also have negated the need for the "Thunderchild" sequence, which shows that Hines aspirations to faithfully reproduce the novel were not matched by his resources.

Despite arriving amid the hype surrounding Spielberg's adaptation, neither Latt's film nor Hines' deserves to be dismissed as exploitative. If you demand the highest Hollywood production values, you'd better stick with Spielberg. If you want to see a more literal adaptation of Wells' novel, both the Asylum and Pendragon productions show you many things that Spielberg missed.

Stephen Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" is released on DVD on Nov. 22. Byron Haskin's 1953 version, and the first season of the 1988 television series based on it, will be released on Nov. 1. Asylum's "H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds" (released as "Invasion" in some countries) and Pendragon's "H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds" are already available on DVD.

Michael Simpson is a writer and science fiction fan living in Canada. He can be reached by clicking the e-mail button in his Member Profile in the SyFy Forum.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2005 1:41 pm 
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Martian War Lord

Joined: Sun May 29, 2005 5:02 pm
Posts: 3114
Location: Ridderkerk, the Netherlands
Wow, thanks for the info. :o :D

The Tempest is an advanced assault vehicle, which carries two heavy Heat-Rays and a Canister Launcher.

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