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No one would have believed...
1/10 just how badly Spielberg was going to screw this up.4 years ago
A few thoughts:
If a town centre cracked open in broad daylight, revealing a 500ft metal flower of death, you'd know about it a mile away. However, when Cruise and his appallingly unsympathetic kids (including the interminably shrieking girl-woman that is known as Dakota Fanning, who surely slid straight from the birth canal clutching an agent) flee to the 'burbs, it's as if the news hasn't filtered through, with by-standers milling about doing nothing much of anything.
Imagine a lightning storm ripping through Clapham, followed by an immense metal tripod, vaporising everything in its path. (No clothes, mind just the people inside them. Perhaps these aliens are after our laundry. Actually, there's a Woody Allen routine about that, and it makes a lot more sense.) Imagine the noise. The smell. Were you in Balham, you'd know about it. Worlds would have us believe you wouldn't lift an eyebrow. Simply, when Cruise and co aren't in immediate shot, these tripods don't appear to exist. The only reason we know they do, is because a TV crew has a video a VHS! of them eating up some buildings somewhere else. Europe, apparently, has already been mostly decimated. Well, how incredibly lucky that massive landmass called the United States merely suffered a flesh wound in Boston. Although Europe, admittedly, is the subject of the movie's one decent joke.
Worse is to come: a pinch of Cameron here, a steal of Bruckheimer there, this is one of the most derivative movies yet - albeit one with obvious stage sets and pound-shop CGI. It's as if Spielberg has sunk down under the weight of so much shoulder perching, and has been reduced to foraging for ideas in the mud. The aliens, when they finally emerge from their tripods, are duffers: neither scary, not convincing while their reconnaissance 'tendril' sports a couple of plastic reflectors that wouldn't look out of place on a mountain bike.
On that note, the one effort to bamboozle the uni-eyed tendril is laughable too: they place a mirror in its way. Surely something of this power and capacity isn't going to fooled by a bunch of reconstituted silica? The acting, as you'd expect, is uniformly awful Cruise (who specialises in playing gormless obnoxious assholes) is especially bad his two facial expressions wavering from "shock" to "delayed shock" at inopportune moments.
The pacing's terrible it just suddenly ends, bang. The aliens catch colds and die. Film over. And most surprisingly in a Spielberg flick, there's no emotional clout here at one point, the elder son begs his dad to let him go and see the front-line military action not to join them in the fighting, just to have a gawp. "If you love me, you'll let me go" he says. It's supposed to be one of the Big Emotional Highpoints, but just comes across as a surly teenager (who hitherto was not surly) throwing a tantrum because he wants a better view of the fireworks.
The final shot of Ray delivering the kids back to mum and new boyfriend (in a bizarrely peaceful and untouched street) may as well be the culmination of having successfully delivered them home from a particularly lengthy snarl-up round the one-way gyratory system.
There's not one sympathetic character in the entire film, and by the end of the movie Ray's still an a**hole. No redemption, no lessons learned other than aliens should carry a packet of fisherman's friends with them before they set out.
4/10 Having never seen the original, my point of view is going to be based on the movie itself, not its history. And my negative review is in no way tarnished by Cruise's strange behavior. Cruise and Jacko are probably brothers separated at birth but don't know it, but that's another issue.4 years ago
I'm not sure who's to blame for this movie. Perhaps Spielberg had too many yes-men around him (or yes-women, let's be inclusive here). Perhaps the original WOTW is a lot like this and Spielberg liked it so much, this was meant to be his tribute. Whatever. This one stinks. Tributes shouldn't stink.
This movie had potential (and lotsa hype) but was utterly ruined by the "I'm-a-bad-father" subplot that the movie kept diverting to all throughout the film. Spielberg poured on the syrup at these points and it really did make me roll my eyes after awhile. The scene on the hill where the brother, for reasons that were not at all explained, just -had- to see what was going on on the other side of the hill actually made me squirm. His line about "if you love me you'll let me go" was straight out of the cornfields. Awful.
Dakota did a decent job but this certainly pales in comparison to other movies I've seen her in, like Man on Fire. As usual, Dakota and her brother play the smart-ass kids to the inept father. Never seen that before, have we Steve? Turn on the TV and there's hundreds of shows with characters like that already on.
Don't get me started on the basement scene. Completely unnecessary and went on WAY too long. The bit with the proboscis was just completely silly. Spielberg's version of horror/suspense I guess. One minute the aliens are out there tilling up the earth on a global scale with a horrific ferocity, the next minute they send this little wormy proboscis thing down into the basement to ever-so-gently poke around. Ooh, be careful, don't touch anything! Not to mention Farmer Ted thinking he's going to kill these things with a SHOTGUN of all things. Tim Robbins never could do scenes well with high levels of emotion, and he does it again here. Anytime he has to show intense emotion, the corners of his mouth curl down in a frown and that's as far as it goes. Like clockwork.
When the ship starts to come out of the ground, and even after it has come completely out of the ground, the people around it largely stay in the same spot and are STANDING THERE STARING AT IT. A three-legged behemoth... just came out of the ground from nowhere... 200+ feet tall with arms for days... and these geniuses are standing around waiting to see what it will do next? Only when it starts putting the smack down on everyone do they seem to give up any hope that it's E.T. and start to run away. Did they expect some sort of welcoming party instead?
The idea that thousands of those things, as huge as they are, could lie dormant under the ground without being detected. To accept that you would have to perform far more than suspension of disbelief and go straight for the alternate universe explanation. Pure laziness if you ask me, like Spielberg didn't give a damn about providing a plausible background for these creatures.
Lots and lots of little events that dead-end into nowhere. The friends who miss the boat. Who are they? Why should we care that they didn't make it? The reporters who are scrounging around for scraps of food as though they haven't eaten in weeks when the aliens just showed up LESS THAN A DAY AGO. We care that her sidekick is deaf why? The airplane. Why is it such a huge deal that one has crashed? Their minivan must have a protective shield of its own because the neighborhood-razing plane didn't put a scratch on their getaway car. Oh look! There's a neat little path for them to drive the minivan out of this mess.
For a bunch of alien invaders, talk about poor planning.... They sent waves of tripods to select locations and no ships to other locations, thereby offering people a place to run away to. And if they've "been watching us" for so long, wouldn't they have figured out beforehand that there are things on our planet that will kill them? Apparently not. They're smart enough to build these monstrous craft but not smart enough to build leak-free suits (or any suits for that matter) in case there's some icky bugs that might kill them? Brilliant!
Ah anyway, I'd like my money back please. What a stinker! Spielberg blew it with this one by once again making the meat and potatoes of the film take a back seat to some sort of dysfunctional family crisis resolution. If Cruise had been the only main character, if his character had been more of a hero-type, if they'd thrown out the whole family bit, this would've been a lot better. But they didn't.
Did Steve just give up on this movie at one point and say to hell with it, this movie's too far gone to achieve redemption? It certainly looks that way. This film doesn't even look like a finished product. This looks like a whole bunch of plots thrown together before a good editor comes along and puts together a cohesive film.
People were laughing after the screening
3/10 After the screening, some people cheered and clapped, others sat in disgust and laughed. I felt cheated. Spielberg was not even playing within his own rules. When the attack begins, every piece of electronic equipment stops working. There is even a nice shot of Tom Cruise's watch, stopped, of course. However, moments later when the Tripod rises from the earth, people are snapping pictures on digital cameras and one person is videotaping everything on a camcorder.4 years ago
The movie does have some great effects but the storyline is seriously lacking. The part of the movie that left me feeling cheated is the end. We have just seen the destruction of millions of humans, but Cruise is able to make it to Boston, a large city, where the streets are deserted. We focus in on a row of Brownstones where a single family emerges. The family looks as if they are about to go to a wedding. Everyone is clean, well dressed, and Tom Cruise's ex-mother-in-law looks like she just had a manicure. We are supposed to believe that after this horrible attack, this one family is unscathed and reunited in a major city? Don't be ridiculous. I hoped this movie would be a blockbuster. Something to make me believe Hollywood is generating creative, and innovative stories to take me away from reality for a couple of hours. This movie was a serious disappointment.
A brilliant alien invasion film for the first two acts
6/10 What Spielberg, Cruise, and Koepp accomplish here in the first two acts is nothing short of revolutionary. They've made a big-budget summer blockbuster about massive destruction and action that manages to studiously avoid every cliche and expectation of such films. It stays resolutely on the characters' points of view, showing us almost nothing they don't see, even to the point of coming tantalizingly close to a raging battle, then avoiding showing it. It keeps its focus on character instead of spectacle. The "hero" of the piece remains decidedly unheroic, wanting only to escape, and trying to talk others out of fighting back. The purpose of every piece of action is to frighten and disturb rather than thrill, making ingenious use of familiar 9/11 imagery. At the end of the second act, it is hands-down the best alien invasion film ever made, and perhaps one of the best sci-films of all time.4 years ago
Then something strange happens. The filmmakers lose their nerve, and remember that this is an extremely expensive summer film financed by two studios. Or perhaps it was the fact that it stars Tom Cruise, who up to this point has spent almost two hours doing nothing but run for his life. Suddenly, and tragically, the film changes, violating not only its carefully established tone, but its own internal logic. Suddenly, Cruise begins to act like a hero, and summer action cliches force their way into the story like a worm into an apple. The transition is jarring, and it creates a serious disconnect from the story.
While it's true that Wells' original ending creates a problem for a movie, here they try to remain faithful to it, while still shoehorning moments of triumph into the conclusion. Unfortunately, these moments come off as alternately false, unbelievable, and meaningless, since it isn't mankind that defeats the invaders in the end.
Is it recommendable? Well, I suppose that depends on what kind of viewer you are. If you feel that 75% brilliant material overshadows the 25% that falls apart, then you'll enjoy it. If, however, you're the kind of viewer who feels that the final impression a movie makes is its ultimate stamp on your memory, you may be in for a crushing disappointment. On the other hand, if you're the kind of viewer who just likes the cliche of the boom-boom summer action spectacle, you're likely to be bored and frustrated with the first two acts, and only engage in the end. It is confused about what audience it's trying to reach, and consequently, isn't likely to satisfy any of them.
Spielberg's "eye" of terror.
7/10 James Cameron and Stephen Spielberg famously ushered forward the CGI revolution in the early 90's with films like "Terminator 2" and "Jurassic Park". They set a trend, and since the late 90's we've been hit with one CGI adventure movie after the other.4 years ago
But Spielberg had his fun with his CGI dinosaurs, and soon moved on. While lesser directors scrambled onto the CGI bandwagon, churning out soulless nonsense like "Resident Evil" and "Tomb Raider", Spielberg changed gears and directed "Saving Private Ryan", "Minority Report", "The Terminal", "AI" etc. Argue about the quality of those movies all you want, but what I'm trying to get at is that this guy tries his best to stay ahead of the game. Ahead of the trends.
"Saving Private Ryan" broke new ground. I think it's a bad film, but nevertheless, it now serves as a template for all future war movies. Look at "Black Hawk Down". Can you imagine it shot with the static feel of, say, "Platoon"?
So here we have "War of the Worlds", and again we see Spielberg developing a new "eye". And that is what fascinates me most about this film. The camera stays fixed on Cruise and his family. We catch fleeting glimpses of the alien invaders and their war machines. The destruction and special effects whir by in the background, ominous and looming but never dominating the screen.
Spielberg's camera is always running away, frantic, afraid to look at the destruction, panning away from the effects, terrified! And what's terrific is that this new eye suits the story.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before a director decided to consciously play down special effects for dramatic purposes. Spielberg treats his CGI as though it isn't special. It doesn't hog the limelight. Instead we catch fleeting glimpses, too scared to look at the horror. Of course this filming style is not new. But like "Ryan", no other movie has ever used this technique from start to finish with such intensity.
Aisde from this "eye", the movie is actually pretty standard. Instead of children hiding from Raptors in cupboards, we have Cruise hiding from invaders in basements. Spielberg handles the tension well, but its all stuff you've seen him and others do before.
Like "Jurassic Park", the human drama is slight and the characters are never believable, but this is a popcorn movie and so we don't demand such things. That Spielberg quickly sketches relatively three dimensional characters in such brisk time is admirable. And of course there are numerous iconic set pieces. The night sequences in particular have a nightmarish quality and the first hour is very engaging.
The film's big flaw, however, is it's final act. Tom Cruise battles a Tripod in silly a 1 on 1 showdown, before the plot slowly fizzles into nothingness. Spielberg also misfires by choosing to show the alien invaders. His aliens are unimaginative and badly designed. But what do you expect? Here's the guy who couldn't resist showing us inside the UFO in "Close Encounters". Sometimes too much imagination denotes a lack of imagination.
The choice to "show" so much during the last act also goes against the aesthetic rules of the film. Early in the film, Robby runs up a hill yelling that he "wants to see!" the battle on the other side. "I need to see this!" he screams. His father holds him down and says "I know it seems like you have to see this, but you don't!" Meanwhile all around them, extras run about chanting "turn around!". Spielberg acknowledges that his camera is always "turned around", running from the creatures. The irony is that Spielberg, like Robby, isn't strong enough to hold himself back. By the final act, he loses strength and undoes all the brilliance he set up.
Still, the camera work here is worthy of De Palma. I suspect within the next few years, everybody will be copying the style of this film. It will be interesting to see how Spielberg chooses to shoot his next movie.
8/10 - Worth multiple viewings. Despite it's flaws, this is excellent popcorn fun. In the wake of 9/11 the film can also be read as another propagandistic Spielberg movie, America under attack by technologically advanced "sleeper cell terrorists" buried within the homeland and waiting to strike. Thank God Spielberg didn't put beards on his aliens.
Note: People complain that the "red blood" sets at the end of the film are fake, but this is a homage to Menzies' expressionistic work on "Invaders from Mars". Those who hate the fact that Cruise's son lives, should see "The Mist", Frank Darabond's brilliant re-imagining of Spielberg's film.