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War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds. Feature film. (2005, 116 mins) IMDB

...Special effects alone don't make a movie....

W

ar of the Worlds is a based on an H.G. Wells' novel from about 100 years ago. More or less. During the height of radio in the US, another Welles, this time Orson Welles, lead his actors groupe in a radio broadcast based on this story. The fictional tale seemed real to listeners--as if the world was coming apart. If you're not familiar with the history, check it out.

But that was then and this is another rendition of a familiar story: superior intelligent beings from another planet come to take over earth.

I'm surprised Speilberg decided to take on this project and maybe he's wishing he hadn't.

You can summarize the film as follows. 1. We meet our working class hero. 2. There's something brewing in the air. It's impacting the world and as the menace grows, it gets closer to NYC until finally we see it's some type of alien machine killing people. 3. Our hero and his two children make a run from NYC/NJ. They are heading north to Boston where the ex-wife is. Any number of events happen between them and the aliens and other people until. 4. The aliens capture our hero and young daughter. Not all is lost, because as he's sucked inside to be eaten, he sets off hand grenades that kill the monster. 5. Then we learn the aliens are dying because they are infected by microbes. 6. Our hero reunites with his family in a teary-eyed moment.

That sums up the movie.

Act I is points 1 and 2. Act III is 4 onward.

Like so many Hollywood movies these days, it's not great, but it's not terrible. This one wanders down the middle filled with clichés relying on special effects to overwhelm the audience.

There is no question this is a well-made film with a gigantic budget, but so what. The story sucks.

We meet our hero. He works as a crane operator on a shipping dock in NYC/NJ. His boss loves him so much--nobody can do what you can do--he wants him to work longer but there's union rules and besides he wants to spend time with his family. It's all set-up made for us to like the guy, but so what. What's so special about any of that?

Then guess what? He arrives home to find his ex-wife waiting to drop off the kids because it's weekend with them. Yet another divorced father who has troubles with his ex, a teenaged son and a younger daughter. Talk about cliché. And the ex has married some wimpy, rich guy. Another cliché and completely not believable.

What's going on here is Act I filler. Because this film doesn't immediately begin with an action sequence (remember this is primarily an action movie, why else have aliens killing people), we need something else to create interest and so they manufacture this boring father and son situation and father and ex-wife situation. The father wants to help, the son doesn't want to listen etc. Please stop it. I really wish Hollywood writers would put a stop, stop, stop this banal story writing.

I digress, back to the film.

With storm clouds brewing, the major problem is just around the corner. So much for family turmoil. There's bigger problems here. It's life and death. Something is vapourizing people on the street. The electricity and electronics have been wiped out.

Our hero gathers up his two children, hijacks the only car working and drives off, heading out of town.

There's chaos and anarchy. Highways are littered with stalled cars. This is Act II and it's about them getting closer to Boston and away from the aliens and living etc. There are a number of set pieces or sequences here and they are mostly the same. It's tough sledding, the aliens look invincible and any minute we're going to die.

In one sequence I like, a mob has gathered at a ferry dock. People are in a rush to get on the boat. The hero and family arrive in their minivan where they are swarmed. Our hero pulls a revolver but to no avail. Someone else pulls a pistol and points it at his head. The pistol man takes over the minivan and the family leaves exits to a diner. In the background the mob swarms the minivan and our pistol guy is killed. The message is clear: anti-gun.

In fact, the whole notion of a military is voided with the shields the aliens have. Nothing the military can throw at them works. The only thing that defeats the aliens is microbes. As humans, we've built up immunities over the years, but the aliens are new to earth and haven't So much for being intelligent beings.

Act III is a failure. Our hero has to save the day, but given the enemy that's ridiculous. The scene where he is sucked into and out of the machine while leaving behind grenades with their pins pulled is absurd, but that's Hollywood. Than as if by magic, and time is running out for a two hour movie, the aliens die and the machines start to fail. The microbes have taken over. That's rather convenient given what's happened, but again that's Hollywood.

Never once do we leave the POV of the hero. We have no sense of what is happening with authorities or even inside the enemy. They are simply some non-stop machine that keeps going until the story says they should stop.

I'm being a great deal harsher than I expected, but that's what I saw.

And I shouldn't forget the embrace of father and son at the end. Sappy! I felt no great joy when they were reunited, not like say the ending in ROCKY. There was a story and without billions in special effects.

Finally, watch the opening credits. You'll see logos for DreamWorks and Paramount. Why are two studios making one picture? It's not to spread the financial risk as was the case with Cameron's TITANIC. Spielberg is DreamWorks and Cruise has a deal with Paramount. For some reason Spielberg must have wanted Cruise for this role. They did work together on Minority Report which is a much better film.

And not so finally. Why is such an intelligent creature unaware of life on earth that it wouldn't adapt to the conditions?

Posted 2009/02/07 at 06h49ET in Movie Commentary.

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