War of the Worlds

War of the WorldsSynopsis: An earth-shattering adventure that both “rivets and amazes” (Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune), War of the Worlds reunites superstar Tom Cruise and Academy Award®-winning director Steven Spielberg for one of the most awe-inspiring cinematic experiences of all time!

A contemporary retelling of H.G. Wells’ classic, the sci-fi thriller reveals the extraordinary battle for the future of humankind through the eyes of one American family. Fleeing from an extraterrestrial army of killer Tripods that annihilate everything in their path, Ray Ferrier (Cruise) races to keep his family safe. War of the Worlds is an action packed adventure that explodes with spectacular special effects!

War of the Worlds 6.75

eyelights: the phenomenal DTS soundtrack. the relative realism.
eyesores: Morgan Freeman’s phoned-in narration. the aliens. the cgi. the Hollywood ending.

I had absolutely no intention of seeing ‘War of the Worlds’ again. I was terribly underwhelmed by it the first time around, and it was one of the many films that sealed the deal for me with respect to Steven Spielberg: in my mind, he’s an iconic director who’s lost his lustre a long time ago. It’s not to say that he hasn’t made a decent film of late, it’s just that, since the early ’90s, it’s become such a hit or miss affair that I can’t even be bothered anymore.

But I had just watched the remake of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still‘ the night before, and I figured that I might as well bring closure to things by watching another adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel (it wouldn’t be fair to call this a remake of the 1953 movie, despite their obvious similarities). It seemed like the proper course of action, given all the movies I’d been watching of late: remakes, alternate cuts, that sort of thing.

So I grudgingly went ahead with it.

Frankly, I was quite surprised by how much I liked the film – at first, in the set-up phase of the picture. Granted, Tom Cruise’s character was a real douche and there was an unnecessary attempt at making a grand entrance, what with the scale of the docks and the massiveness of the work that Cruise’s character does, followed by having him drive around recklessly in a macho sports car – this was basically supposed to be an advertisement for a real man‘s life.

“Look at me. I’m so cool and full of awesomeness”, it says.


Thankfully, they cut him down to size soon thereafter, showing his massive shortcomings as a family man: his interactions with his ex were polite but standoffish, and his relationship with his children was wobbly at best – they could only barely tolerate the man, while he made half-hearted efforts to connect with them. This is where ‘War of the Worlds’ worked best: as with other Spielberg films, showing the dysfunction in everyday lives often feels more realistic, more relatable.

Of course, this is before Cruise goes into action man mode – which is what he tends to do best. The role permitted him to emote frequently enough, and I must admit that Cruise did quite alright for himself in ‘War of the Worlds’: he wasn’t merely all grin and cockiness this time – he also expressed fear, anxiety, sadness and many other otherwise rare displays emotions. I’m always a little surprised to find him okay, because I’ve despised his acting “talent” for so long. He was alright here, actually.

Unfortunately, the movie took a nose-dive after the opening salvo.

From the moment that the aliens (not specifically Martians, in this version!) make their arrival, things seems to come apart. That’s when throngs of people huddle together around the location of the landings, which they incorrectly assume was simply struck by lightning. I have no idea why they would congregate around a hole in the ground, but they did. En masse. But not tightly enough that Cruise couldn’t make his way to the center with ease, despite being the last one there. Obviously.

What really riled me was that, when the ground started to shake, when the pavement started to crack and the ground began to lift and open up before them, they all just froze there, unconcerned for their safety. Perhaps it was just that segment of the American population that had more balls than the average panic-stricken horde, but I couldn’t believe one bit that it took until the aliens started to vaporize everyone before they began to scatter. Seriously? Are urban folks so jaded? If so, why are they there at all?

From there, we are taken on the adventures of Cruise and his kids, as he tries to get them back to his ex’s home, being incapable of dealing with them and the situation himself. There are some decent moments along the way, most notably the scale of the incredible suburban plane crash, but it’s a journey as emotionally unsatisfying as it is somehow unexciting. I really can’t explain it, but at no point did I connect with any of the characters nor did I feel involved in their plight; I can’t remember feeling gripped at any point.

And, by the time that we are speedily led to the final sequence, when the aliens die (I’m not spoiling anything: anyone remotely familiar with ‘The War of the Worlds’ knows this), and we got our much-anticipated Hollywood ending, I was left completely incapable of feeling anything; I felt jipped, ripped off by the facile and clichéd way in which Spielberg wrapped up the proceedings:

-All the humans captured along with Cruise escape when their “basket” is dropped to the ground from a tremendous height. Not only is this pretty paltry craftsmanship on these otherwise well-organized aliens’ part (oh, sure, Cruise had just lobbed grenades inside the alien ship – but the ensuing explosion should not have loosened the baskets nor caused as much damage as it did), but it was hard to imagine that not one human was harmed in the process – they all just scampered out as if nothing had happened. Um… suuuuuure!

-The next thing we know, Cruise and his daughter are walking into a town in daylight. We don’t know where they are or how they got there, but we know that they escaped the aliens with some ease, apparently. They weren’t chased, recaptured or harmed in the process. But they are tired. Slightly. And dirty. Slightly. For heightened realism, of course.

-We were then treated to a few parting shots by the U.S. military forces, in the face of a faltering enemy. Obviously, this was done for no better reason than to add some fireworks and to provide some artificial sense of victory. Granted, this may be human nature: in a real-life setting, this may actually happen (we’re weird that way). But all I could think was: The aliens are dying, for goodness’ sake! Just let them die and stop destroying stuff, you gun-toting maniacs! This is total overkill on Spielberg’s part, but one can’t have a soft ending can we?

By the way, as a side-note, just because the aliens are dying there is no reason  why their force fields would suddenly no longer be operational. I mean, it’s the pilots that were sick, not the machines! I mean, if you were driving around in your car, and you were feeling ill and you stopped by the side of the road, your car would still work, right? The wind-shield wipers wouldn’t suddenly stop operating, would they? What-ever…

-Then there’s our convenient little family gathering at the end. How quaint! And how unrealistic! Firstly, it’s impossible for all of them to have survived the onslaught (case-in-point: Tim Robbins’ character lost everyone he knew), but the fact that Cruise’s son made it to his grandparents’ home before Cruise did -and unscathed, at that- is a total joke. Even if he had survived, he would have been hurt – and his injuries would have prevented him from outpacing Cruise. IF he had survived.

But we just have to have a Hollywood ending: everything has to be okay and everyone has to be happy. Especially in a Spielberg film.

Gag… I just couldn’t swallow it down at that point. Enough already!

Up until then, I had been able to tag along: the film is hardly realistic to start off with (it’s an alien invaders movie… c’mon!), but, given the context and the fact that it’s also a Hollywood (a.k.a. Tinseltown) picture, it did a credible job of detailing the impact of an invasion on a small family unit – it was, after all, created in the shadows of the World Trade Centre attacks and the influence is all over the picture. But these final moments made me choke on my popcorn, swallow it down, barf it back up and then swallow it all over again. Needless to say, it left a terrible taste in my mouth.

It was bad enough that Spielberg had taken it upon himself to alter the invasion by having the aliens transport themselves to Earth into their waiting ships (which had been planted around the world centuries ago – conveniently enough, no modern civilization had ever noticed these buried treasures during any of their excavation/construction work through the years!) and by “sanitizing” the original tale’s violence by using humans to “seed” the new landscapes instead of killing them outright (a ridiculous concept to say the least), but Spielberg also saw fit to bring the movie to a close with a Hallmark card. Give me a break.

If there was anything that impressed me about this picture, it was the DTS audio track that is featured on the DVD. Holy criminey did that track ever have “oomph”!!! Even before my neighbours came to complain (for the first time in our many years of sharing the same dividing wall!), I was sliding down into my seat: the bass rumbles from that track were unbelievable – so much so that, even at a much lower volume than normal, the room still shook from it! And I don’t even have a subwoofer!!!. I would recommend this phenomenal track to anyone who doesn’t have neighbours. Of course, I soon switched to the paltry Dolby Digital track for the sake of my neighbour.

But, aside from this, there’s not that much to recommend in ‘War of the Worlds’. It’s an okay sci-fi/action film, featuring okay performances, with some interesting special effects and action sequences, but not many. It’s hard to imagine that the hokey 1953 version ends up being a better overall picture, but it is. Somehow, with all the money and wizardry at hand, Spielberg and company have managed to serve up nothing more than warmed themes and plot points with absolutely no innovation behind any of it. ‘War of the Worlds’ is middle-of-the-road entertainment. It’s certainly nothing out of this world..

Date of viewing: December 4, 2012

2 responses to “War of the Worlds

  1. 6.75 … you’re too kind!!!

    I still remember going to see that movie with a friend. Once we came out of the theater, my friend was LIVID. “What the FUCK was this SHIT!!!!” Yeah, worst sci-fi movie ever! This is “War of the Worlds” and Spielberg goes for a Disney-like child point-of-view treatment. WTF!!! WTF!!!! Who wrote that dumbass script???? The whole movie is a goddamned mess – it’s frankly up there with the last 30 minutes of A.I. with the frackin’ Blue Fairy.

    Years later, Hollywood redeemed itself with “Battle: Los Angeles” … “War of the Worlds” makes “Armageddon” look like a masterpiece.

    And don’t get me started on the current 3-hour movie fiasco that is “The Hobbit” … My venom bags are bursting to destroy that “franchise”.

    • You’ve mentioned ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ a couple of times before. At first, I thought you were being sarcastic, but evidently you’re not. I guess I should put it on my list of things to see, then…?

      As for ‘The Hobbit’… well, if it were up to me, I’d wait until the three films (three!!!) are released to see it. i hate having to watch one story develop over the course of two-three years. For instance, I crammed all of the Harry Potters this year, in anticipation of the last chapter.

      Did you like the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy at all?

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