War of the Worlds (2005)

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*. Another remake. Why? Because they could. Because CGI makes everything better.
*. Why Steven Spielberg wanted to do it is harder to figure out. He just takes the material and overlays his abiding preoccupation with the suburban nuclear family under siege. That’s an angle that’s unnecessary here and doesn’t work.
*. I don’t want to hate on Spielberg, but has it come to this? What we have here is the kind of project you assign to a J. J. Abrams or a Paul W. S. Anderson, and expect them to do a better job of it. There’s no magic here at all.
*. I don’t want to hate on Tom Cruise, but he seems to just be posing all the time now. Not only does he have a strut to his walk, he even looks awkward just standing in place. I get the same vibe from Brad Pitt at times. There’s something self-conscious and un-actorly about it. They have the look of flowers that are being looked at.

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*. The special effects look much like every other CGI movie. I wonder when audiences are going to get tired of it, having reached a point where they’ve seen it all before. We’ve seen cities destroyed, bodies torn apart, and monsters and robots of all shapes and sizes. Next!
*. In the featurette “Designing the Enemy” the animators throw around the word “iconic” a lot to describe what they wanted their aliens to be. I suppose because the aliens in the 1953 edition really were iconic. But here there doesn’t seem to be any particularly bold conception to them. If anything they appear retro. The only thing I liked was their foghorn trumpeting (suitable for what appear to be walking lighthouses).
*. This made me wonder: what was the last truly “iconic” SF design? Giger’s Alien? And that was a long time ago.
*. I thought it was a mistake to show the Martians in the original, in part because they didn’t look very convincing. Here they had more time and money but the aliens still look silly. This is taking homage too far.
*. I do think the art direction and photography are nice. There’s something painterly about the proceedings, like vintage SF cover art. And the colour schemes are nice. For some reason Hollywood in the first decade of the twenty-first century had a love affair with washed-out and earth-tone palettes, but mixed with a lot of flashing lights they really work well here.

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*. Of course it’s ludicrous that the highway is jammed but a convenient lane has been left so that Tom Cruise can slalom through the hordes of refugees at top speed. It comes with the genre. Like a lot of end-of-the-world movies, only one person (and anyone else who happens to be holding on to him at the time) matters. Here, that person is Tom Cruise. He must be the last person on the ferry. He must be the only survivor. He must be the only one who can observe the birds landing on the tripod and understand what this means. And so it goes. We’re not that far from the solipsism of the zombie genre.
*. Poor Dakota Fanning. She has talent, but she’s given too large a role here and not nearly enough help from the script. Most of the time she’s left to scream.
*. Ray kills Ogilvy? For what? For digging a tunnel? For talking too loud? For just being crazy? Did I miss something, because that seemed way out of line.
*. The script is idiotic, the drama so forced and artificial it physically hurts. Take the scene where they lose Robbie. Why does Robbie want to run away and join the army when he can see they’re just getting nuked? He doesn’t even have a gun! Why does he have to yoke his father’s abandonment of him into his reasoning? Why is that couple so insistent on dragging Rachel off when she (a) clearly doesn’t want to go with them; (b) is pointing to her father, who is right over there; and (c) they may have other things they should have been thinking of, like running away from the tripods.
*. The bloody business of turning humans into mulch surprised me. In Wells’s novel the Martians are vampires from outer space, feeding on human blood, but there’s no basis for this twist. And it doesn’t make sense. The value of human offal as fertilizer would be negligible and the Martians just seem to be spraying it around everywhere anyway.
*. This has to be one of the most contrived endings in all of film history. First, it’s not enough that the aliens are killed by bacteria. No, we have to see their shields go down and let the U.S. Army blow one of the tripods up with their rocket launchers, just to show that they can! Think about it: there’s no point to that scene at all except to give the audience an excuse to cheer.
*. And then the reunion. Robbie is alive! How did he survive getting blasted by the tripods and make it all the way to his mom’s house? Don’t ask because there is no credible answer. But do note that he calls Ray “Dad” now. And also note how mom’s new boyfriend Tim has been shoved into the background. How convenient!

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