December 24, 2005

War of the Worlds—with Spoilers!

We finally got around to watching it tonight, and I'll just set down a few impressions before I'm tempted to peek at the reviews that came out when it was released. (I try to avoid movie buzz whenever possible before I see the films in question. Sometimes that means holding out for an extended period, as in this case, because I'm cheap cheap cheap and often prefer to see 'em on DVD. So sue me.)

1) I have the advantage of being a sort of space alien myself. At least, the previous versions of War of the Worlds all fall into one of the little lacunae in my pop culture knowledge, so I was able to go in fairly innocent: I mean, I know the premise, and I'm aware of the events surrounding the first radio broadcast. But I didn't have many details.

2) I knew I'd dig the special effects. No disappointments there. My inner 17-year-old boy was pleased. Thank you, Industrial Light and Magic. Don't ever leave me; it's a cold, cruel world.

3) I had several quarrels with the plot. One is obvious, and probably unavoidable: the original story has the aliens running afoul of Earth's native micro-organisms, rather than being overcome by our protagonist. As I understand it, that was in Wells' original, and so it probably needed to remain. But I certainly experienced a consquent letdown at the end of the movie. The screenwriters at least give us Tom Cruise besting one of the metallic monsters, so the damage to the narrative arc is limited. But it's there: an intrinsic weakness.

I als saw some apparently inexplicable actions, such as Dakota Fanning running outside just in time to be captured by space aliens, after sitting tight in the basement through many tense encounters.

(Attila the Hub: asn't it a bit odd to watch her scream as the tripod comes for her, and yet stay in one place?

Joy: At least it's a child acting in this fashion. If it were the 1960s, we'd be watching full-grown women behaving just as inteptly for no other reason than the screenwriter needed 'em to.)

It would have been nice for her to have a compelling reason to flee at this specific time. I didn't buy the one I was offered. Fact is, something prosaic like a snake in the corner of the basement might have worked better than yet more alien-related effects.

I also would have appreciated it if we'd been given a cursory explanation of how Justin Chatwin's character—the son—survives his hours offstage. Or how, despite his apparant devotion to his young sister, he has the impulse to abandon her to a biological father he doesn't really quite trust.

Nice little display of how a fatherless girl can end up looking up to her big brother. I think I'd have been happier to see him bully her just once, though. Because in real life, boys do that. They abuse this power. You can trust me on this. No complaints, but human nature—you know—rarely changes.

4) I'm aware that young Miss Fanning is getting most of the press attention, and she did a fine job, here. But the Justin Chatwin was amazing, and IMHO underappreciated. Those youngsters can both act. (Yes. A twenty-three-year-old is a "youngster." Cruise should have had himself arrested after wrestling with the kid.)

5) Is there any discernable difference between this movie and Signs? It isn't just Attila the Hub's complaint that this movie all took place in Tim Robbins' basement, just as Signs was unduly limited to Mel Gibson's farmhouse. There was the overall claustrophobic feel to it, and the neurotic little girl at its center. (Not that I have problems with nuerotic little girls: some claim I am one myself.)

As with Signs, it would have been nice to get a sense of the invasion's scope.

And I'd like to know why the casting director decided to have Tim Robbins reprise his Mystic River role here? Is there a shortage of actors? Do we need to recycle them? Can we get more of 'em from Alaska?

It was a nice little piece of eye candy. But I yearned for it to be more, and I felt like it could have really been something special with only a bit of tweaking.

But they never listen to me, do they? And now it's tragically too late.

Thanks for the visual callbacks, however, that the framing of pictures through broken glass. Joy likes. And the tripod creatures reflected by their tripod technology.

Steven, call me before the next movie. I'm a smart girl, and I can help you. It doesn't have to be this way.

Posted by Attila Girl at December 24, 2005 12:56 AM | TrackBack

I suggest you watch the 1953 version with Gene Barry. I think it is on the whole a better movie and it presciently addresses most of your concerns. Warning: May have a grown woman NOT acting like Lara Croft in times of danger...

Posted by: Darrell at December 29, 2005 08:57 PM

Oh, I did enjoy Tim Robbins last scene. It was a case of living vicariously through Tom Cruise. If I could only have a few moments alone with Tim Robbins in a locked room! Thanks for the treat for Conservatives, Steven!

Posted by: Darrell at December 29, 2005 09:02 PM

I thought that the movie paid more attention to Dakota's charecter but i thought that the movie wouldve been more interasting if they told robbies half of the story . Personally i wanted to know not what the daughter and dad were doing but what the son was doing ,there should have been 2 parts to the movie ,robbie's challenge getting to Boston and the daughter and dads part getting to Boston .And it was kinda confusing at the end to see robbie pop up aout of nowhere . sincerely ROXY!!!

Posted by: Roxy at January 10, 2006 05:46 PM

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