« David Gilmour - On An Island | Main | The Traveller - John Twelve Hawks »

March 24, 2006

War of the Worlds

*** Spoilers ***

This is quite a good film, but misses the mark in several ways to stop it being great.

First, it's a science fiction story, and yet the science just isn't explained at all. Even some fanciful hocus pocus would be enough, but there isn't a character smart enough, or with enough imagination, to even make up a reason why the aliens would stay buried underground for millions of years.

Next, though some of the special effects are good, some look really low-tech to me. The scene where Ray is captured by a tripod looks like it was made as the money was running out. And the red weed didn't look biological at all. Maybe this was a deliberate ploy - I've read that this might be the case - less glossy, more real. It doesn't work.

The worst thing though is the pace. There are a few long scenes - the arrival of the marticns, the drive out of the city, the boat, hiding in the cellar. The links between them happen sometimes with no build up, and no warning. Suddenly things are different, and everyone accepts the new situation far too readily. This is particularly true near the end - the final scenes were just too abrupt. We could have done without some of the character buildup earlier on to make way for a bit better plot development.

Actually, the really, really, worst thing is Tom Cruise trying to sing a lullaby. What editor let that one though? I nearly cried, it was so painful.

There were some good points though. It is genuinely scary in places. This has turned out to be a better horror film than science fiction, with some sustained suspense. The mobs look real and menacing. People die, lots of people, and the army are powerless. All this comes across as real; a powerful enemy would not be overcome easily, or at all, by the conventional weapons we have. Tom Cruise is not bad in the role of Ray, but I was never really convinced by him. There is a lot made of his character progression from absent father, to hero, but I don't see it. He just reacts to situations, and is the same person at the end as at the start. He's just a normal father who loves his children but can't relate to them, and hates his ex-wife. If any character changes during the movie, it's his son, who finally grows up a bit and shows his dad some respect. Dakota Fanning as the daughter looks scared and screams a lot - she's a better actress than this film allowed her to be. Go and watch 'Dark Skies, the TV series, she is much younger there, but much better.

As a long time fan of the Jeff Wayne musical version of this book, I was always hoping for Richard Burton to come on as narrator and let us know what was happening. I also wanted to hear Wayne's fantastic music. John Williams' score was forgettable, and the aliens made a noise that sounded just like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park - odd that! And Morgan Freeman doesnt have a resonant enough voice to add the gravitas that was needed. Wasn't James Earl Jones available?

If you've read the book, you'll have fun working out which bits they have used, and what they changed. It's all set in the United States of course, and is present day instead of 19th century England. I guess that's understandable. But the artilleryman and the preacher are combined into the Tim Robbins role, and their madness and motives are not clearly conveyed in his character. The boat 'Thunderchild' is there, but Ray's dash across the country to find his ex-wife is implausable, whereas the hero's search for his missing Carrie in the book is really emotional. I have no idea why they decided to change the way the aliens arrived on Earth - what was wrong with a series of spaceships?

It's certainly not boring, it's a good length, and it'll have you on the edge of your seat in places. But it's a missed opportunity to tell the story clearly. Spielberg, once more, is far too busy trying to tell us about dysfunctional families. This is something that I think 'E.T.' and 'Close Encounters' both also suffered from, and it's a shame he's done it again here.

Posted by se71 at March 24, 2006 05:58 PM


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?