War of the Worlds (2005) (plus bonus review! Independence Day (1996))

ATTACK OF THE SCI-FI SOAP OPERA SERIAL
PART THREE

By Sean Ledden

sci fi part 3

War of the Worlds – or – quality time with the kids

And now, regrettably, we come back full-circle to Monsieur Spielberg. Remember how I complained in Close Encounters of the Third Kind of our long immersion into Neary household trauma? Well, now that stuff’s the entire movie! In a weird, Bizarro World sort of way, for everything is now reversed. In Close Encounters a visit by benign aliens destroys the Neary family. But in this 2005 remake of the H.G. Wells classic, evil invading aliens inspire the healing of the Ferrier family. I guess there’s nothing like the end of the world to help you reconnect with annoying teens and hysterical children. And gosh, isn’t that what it’s all about?

True, there’s a lot of post- 9/11 political subtext, and I give the filmmakers credit for trying, but even that isn’t Topic A. Like Contact and Mission to Mars, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds tries to make sci-fi relevant by making it (gag) personal. The real subject isn’t an alien invasion of planet earth, but the stress a “typical” (meaning dysfunctional) American family undergoes when confronted with danger. From start to finish we’re handcuffed to self-absorbed “everyman” Tom Cruise, his bratty teenage son and traumatized daughter, as they scream, run, and hide from various forms of alien peril – often fighting amongst themselves as they do so. Imagine being locked in a car with an arguing family from New York to California and you get the picture. On the plus side, there’s lots of sweaty exercise thrown in, as Cruise gets a killer workout carrying poor little Dakota Fanning over 167 miles of open country. Just watching him made my lower back hurt.

THE PLOT:

Our story begins in New Jersey, (probably a reference to Orson Welle’s famous radio adaptation, which also took place there) where dockworker and generic man-boy Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise – super intense as ever) is having a tough time dealing with “life issues.” First, his surprisingly elegant ex-wife is now with a prosperous WASPY kind of Prince Charming, which makes him feel threatened and insecure. Then there’s his sullen, angst-filled teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin), who makes him feel threatened and insecure. Finally, there’s his “wise beyond her years” daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning), who makes him feel threatened and insecure. And as if that weren’t enough, it’s the weekend he’s stuck with the kids that the aliens choose to invade. This makes him feel – threatened and insecure. – Who wants to bet me the movie doesn’t end with him hugging his kids?

To their credit, Spielberg and writers Josh Friedmand and David Koepp get the set-up over with pretty quickly, and 14 minutes into the movie we get two big set pieces of the kind Spielberg excels in. First is a weird, stormy cloud formation that sends down strange lightening. Then it’s a dynamite showstopper as a giant alien war machine heaves itself out from under the ground. (Here I’d like to note the cool use of sound effects as we hear the machine gear up. And John William’s score, a kind of Machine March of Doom, is also very effective.) After incinerating scores of innocent by-standers the giant alien tripod lumbers off, as does the best part of the movie.

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The very cool alien war machine.

Then it’s, gulp, into the car with Tom and the kids. (“No, no!” I scream, but when I lunge for the doors they’re locked. Robbie’s up in the front seat, seething with pent up resentment and pretending he doesn’t hear my frantic efforts to escape. Rachel’s in the seat beside me, eyes bugging out, and it looks like she’s getting ready to scream. Outside an alien death ray is blowing up the Bayonne Bridge, but I make another frantic effort to open the doors…)

Viewers who have been following the movie closely will realize that every car in the world has been knocked out by an electro-magnetic something-or-other from the aliens. Yet this car works. Because “everyman” Ray is our star and he figured out how to fix them. So he told his buddy the mechanic, who fixed the one Ray just jumped into. Great! Only Mr. Mechanic, bizarrely unaware that the world is ending around him, insists that Ray get out of the car because it doesn’t belong to him. And thus we come to the first MORAL CRISIS this movie throws at our distressed family. Like every MORAL CRISIS to come, this one is drawn out and rammed down our throats with a kitchen plunger. Will Ray steal the car? – Would I? Let me see, a 200-foot tall alien war machine is killing everyone with a death ray, and the only chance of escape is someone else’s car. Someone who isn’t there. It’s a no-brainer. The answer is Yes! – But the movie treats this like the temptation of Christ!

Back to Mr. Mechanic who, as I said, isn’t aware of the fleeing extras in the background, or the buildings blowing up down the street. Why doesn’t Ray just explain that they are all in danger and tell the idiot to jump in? Isn’t Mr. Mechanic worth saving along with the kids?….I guess not, and he is disintegrated a second after Ray pulls away. – You know, I want to reward movies that raise difficult ethical questions, but the set up is all-important. Are we really looking at an agonizing moral choice, or an easy chance for some cheap melodrama? … Well, let’s just move on. Speaking of moving, wouldn’t a working car attract the attention of the alien tripods?

Answer – not if it’s driven by a star! And so onto a New Jersey highway clogged with stalled cars and refugees. Oh, I do want to stop and compliment Dakota Fanning’s portrayal of a little girl freaking out from fear – she’s great. The only trouble is, that’s all she has to do for the rest of the movie – panic and be rescued by dad – who, sigh, realizes how important a parent’s responsibility is to his child – once the world is being destroyed by invading aliens. Awwwww. Who says every cloud doesn’t have a silver lining?

Justin Chatwin also does a good job with Robbie. So good that there’s rarely a scene he appears in that I didn’t want to slap him. His role is to be an aggravating, sulking weight around his intensely insecure dad’s neck. No wait, there is that time he leaps up onto a ferry ramp and rescues some people – causing Ray to look on with wonder and pride. It took a world-ending alien invasion to do it, but now he realizes his son isn’t a complete asshole. Awwww. That is, until Robbie abandons his sister and father to run over a ridge because he just has to see the army attack the war machines – and thereby gets himself all blowed up in a huge fireball. Welcome to another CRISIS POINT. Here too, the scene where Robbie tells his frantic dad he just has to “see this,” while sis is off sobbing by a nearby tree, and some friendly strangers start to drag her off, because they think she’s an orphan, is really, really, really drawn out. Honestly, it’s a relief when Robbie gets himself all blowed up. At least we don’t have to watch him sulk anymore, and dad can now concentrate on Rachael.

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The alien attack on a Ferryboat begins.

Except that Robbie is immediately replaced by another emotionally unstable male – Tim Robbins giving a tour-de-force performance as Harlan Ogilvy, a crazed, gun-wielding survivalist-type who’s holed up in a basement. And so, after the forced march through an increasingly desolate countryside with possibly the most annoying father-son combo of all time, we’re now locked in a confined space with the ever-intense Ray, the aggravatingly hysterical Ogilvy, and traumatized daughter Rachael. Great.

We’re stuck down in the dark, cluttered basement for a pretty long time. This gives Spielberg the chance to dazzle with another set piece, this one a cat and mouse game as first a robotic tentacle loaded with sensors, and then some of the aliens themselves, come down to investigate the basement. It’s beautifully staged and edited, but the aliens themselves prove to be a problem. First, their look is very creepy – but haven’t we seen them before? More on that later. Second, they aren’t intelligent alien beings, but demons from a nightmare. Demons without a spoken language – or clothing for that matter. (Trivia note: My guess is that the CGI animators based the movements and body language of the aliens on baboons.)

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The creepy, strangely familiar aliens

Throughout all of this Ogilvy becomes more and more hysterically nutty, to the point where he is endangering everyone’s safety. The icing on the cake is an icky little scene that suggests he might put the moves on little Rachael – and the dank allusion to child abuse fits in perfectly with the punishingly bleak atmosphere of the entire movie. This leads us to a high point of sorts, the ultimate MORAL CRISIS. Unable to think of an alternative, like knocking Ogilvy out, tying him up and then gagging him, Ray murders the man in the presence of his daughter…Just remember people, thinking won’t get you out of trouble, violence will. – No matter what those namby-pamby liberal elitists might try to tell you.

Now that he’s a murderer Ray drifts off into a peaceful nap with the little daughter he just saved. Only she gets spooked, runs outside and gets captured by an alien war machine. Oh well, I’m sure that Ogilvy had it coming to him anyways. And, not that I care, Ray runs out screaming and hurls a grenade he happened to find lying on the ground at the machine. A super high tech energy shield protects the aliens from the grenade, but not alas, from their own stupidity. For they capture Ray, a man they know to be armed with high explosives, and dump him into a big basket thingee attached to the outside of the war machine. It’s filled with all sorts of people who are periodically drawn into the war machine itself – there to be drained of their blood. (Insert Boris Karloff-style laughter here.) But Ray manages to get a live grenade into the machine, causing it to get all blowed up. And the audience cheers as the little guy finally hits back! Oh, and the captive people aren’t killed because everyone falls into a convenient tree. Just like a cartoon! Whatever. I look at my watch and wonder how much more time I have to spend with the murderer and his progeny.

Not that much! We’re almost to Boston, where Rachel’s mom should be. Once there Ray and Rachael, along with a horde of extras, discover that the machines are wondering around aimlessly or falling down. The aliens, it turns out, are dead – killed by earth bacteria they didn’t know to protect themselves from. Phew!

Now we come to the big, moist finale that’s full of (oh God, not again!) “uplift.” Ray and Rachael finally make it to the elegantly upscale and untouched townhouse of his ex-wife’s parents. (Not only did their block escape any kind of damage, but the house even has electricity!) Mom, her parents, and the WASP prince are untouched too, and we get Big Hug Scene Number One as mom and daughter cling to one another. Big Hug Scene Number Two comes a moment later when, in an utterly unbelievable and barf-inducing miracle, Robby shows up alive as well. As they cling to one another Tom Cruise gives the kid one of his super intense looks that either means a) he loves him, b) he wants to kill him, or c) both. It’s the only scary element to pop out as the movie sinks into a swamp of saccharine artifice.

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As if the fires weren’t bad enough, Boston is now littered with alien war tripods too!

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Fortunately, Cruise’s ex-in-laws still look FABULOUS! (Speaking of fabulous, Grandma and Grandpa are played by none other than Ann Robinson and Gene Barry – stars of the 1953 version… They don’t have single line of dialogue.)

Afterthoughts

Since War of the Worlds is a star vehicle, I need to begin with Tom Cruise. It’s apparent that he worked really, really hard to put Ray Ferrier over. But his performance reminded me of some later work by Elizabeth Taylor – their too real effort and technical skill were present, but the result was completely artificial. Maybe after 20 or so years of worldwide fame it became nearly impossible for either of them to appear genuine. But whatever the cause, this is a disaster for the movie because if we don’t root for Ray it all falls apart. He and his troubled relationships with his children are all we have. We learn nothing about the aliens, and we’re never in on humanity’s doomed efforts to resist them. But it’s not all Cruise’s fault. Banking on his star appeal, Spielberg & Co. get shamefully lazy and don’t bother to give Ray any personal qualities, except some faults he has to overcome. OK, so he’s supposed to be some sort of anti-hero. That could have worked if you had a star that could suggest a potentially admirable, or even lovable man inside the oaf. But Cruise is essentially a hard-edged glamour boy, so warmth isn’t his forte. Neither is psychological complexity. Instead he compensates by projecting all of Ray’s one-note emotions REALLY, REALLY INTENSELY. And while I give Cruise an A for effort, it’s still a failed performance.

Much was made of the post 9/11 context when this movie was released in 2005, but for me all that is pretty easy to ignore – except for two things. One is that, like many critics noticed, and even screenwriter David Koepp admitted, the occupation of the U.S. by the technologically invincible aliens brings to mind the American occupation of Iraq. That was a brave point to make, and is probably the movie’s main virtue, in that it tries to get its audience to imagine what it would be like to have one’s home over-run by a much more powerful force. But the other thing that hits me goes in the opposite direction, and it’s Ray’s decision to murder Ogilvy. Sure Ray doesn’t like it, the movie shouts at us, but he has to do it. Yes, has to! – I could be wrong, but this strikes me as a justification of the post-9/11 policy of “taking the gloves off” in general, and torture in particular. Sure we don’t like it, but we have to do it. – Only Ray didn’t need to kill, and we didn’t need to torture.

This faulty moral compass leads to an inability to properly set up the big crisis points. And this cripples the movie’s ambition to be a serious take on the human condition in times of peril. Alfred Hitchcock did it much better in 1966’s Torn Curtain. In that film Paul Newman plays a western scientist trying to get at some vital information behind the Iron Curtain. When a communist agent learns what’s up, Newman and a woman accomplice realize that they have to kill the man. They do so in a long and brutal sequence that realistically portrays how horrible it would be to actually murder someone. But since the set up was probably done I came away feeling they had no choice, and I was still with the hero. In War of the Worlds the murder is off-screen, but all I felt was disgust. A further bit of sleazy manipulation is Spielberg’s focus on Rachael’s terror as she tries to ignore what’s happening in the next room. But as I noted above, Ray had other options so this “tragic” justification for brutality is completely bogus.

Equally bogus is the “science fiction” – because the invasion itself isn’t even remotely creditable. The giant machines that the aliens use were all buried in the ground a long, long time ago. That means the invaders once went to all the trouble of traveling here and burying a huge number of huge machines deep in the dirt, only to go home again and wait! For what? For the machines to rust, or get crushed in an earthquake? For an ever advancing mankind to discover them? (And how could we not have discovered them? We’ve been probing underground for oil, gold, and what not for years and years and years.) Finally, the aliens come all the way back to earth and invade with a bunch of antique (for them) weaponry. It makes no sense. And then there’s H.G. Well’s original ending, where the invaders die when exposed to earth germs. That was a great idea when he wrote it back in 1898. But for a contemporary science fiction tale about super advanced aliens it’s just unbelievable. So unbelievable, in fact, that the only ending that could possibly make sense is that hoary old cliché – “And he woke up to discover it was all a dream!”

And that’s what the movie is, a dream. Or rather, a self-absorbed Bush-era nightmare soaked in fear and other dark emotions. For despite the liberal pedigree of the filmmakers, I think they end up supporting the culture of fear that Bush and Cheney exploited so brilliantly. They give us a broken American family that stands in for a broken American society. It then gets its keester kicked into shape when we’re invaded by an all-powerful and all-evil foreign force. This forces the immature Ray to grow into a man and a father – by breaking one moral code after another in his fight to save himself and his kids. The determination to think clearly and avoid needless brutality in the face of a crisis is a nice ideal, but this movie implies that they are pretty luxuries that must be dropped when the going gets tough. Yes, brutality is the answer. Just look how well it has served America since 9/11!

Read more about War of the Worlds at

IMDB

If you’re as depressed as I am after this feast of sour despair topped with saccharine uplift, I think you’ll agree that we need a pick-me-up and some genuine fun. And that can be had with a (gasp) big-budget American remake of War of the Worlds. Hold on to your hats, it’s Independence Day!

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Independence Day? Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day?? Yup. Believe me, I’m not a groupie. Stargate was a hackneyed mess that left me frustrated and bored, and Godzilla was a perversely, enragingly incompetent fiasco – but Independence Day is a big B-Movie blast with one great shining virtue; it’s a terrifying alien invasion movie that’s about, get this, a terrifying alien invasion! And before you throw a shoe at my head let me explain.

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Warships Away!

Independence Day hits the ground running with the arrival of a gigantic spaceship that has one quarter the mass of the moon. Soon dozens of saucer shaped ships, each 14 miles in diameter, detach themselves from the Mothership and descend into the atmosphere to hover menacingly, and spectacularly, over the cities of mankind. This sets off a large and varied cast of characters led by fighter pilots (Will Smith & Harry Connick Jr.), ex-fighter pilots who are now drunken crop dusters (Randy Quaid), and ex-fighter pilots who are now president of the United States (Bill Pullman). Joining the fighter pilots, both current and ex, is a delightfully old-school assortment of eggheads, soldiers, and politicians all scrambling to react. But that’s not all. We also get ditzy strippers, gay cable executives, and an adorable Golden Lab Retriever as well. (Guess which one escapes the alien fireball!)

Once genius scientist guy David Levinson (Jeff Goldbum) figures out that the aliens have set off a count down that in 12 hours will result in “checkmate,” he races off to Washington to sound the alarm. His warning comes in time to save the president and Air Force One, but it doesn’t prevent the destruction of New York, Washington, and L.A. in one of the best pulp spectacles to come out of Hollywood. It’s the “wow” moment that won Independence Day the 1996 Oscar for special effects.

Is mankind going to take such villainy sitting down? Of course not, and the Air Force launches a huge counter attack. But the courage and the missiles of the pilots are to no avail because of those ever-present high tech energy shields that invading aliens always seem to have. The sneaky, cowardly fiends! This utter failure seems to herald the end of mankind, until an old government secret, one that everybody’s heard about, presents a new hope. Air Force One then races to the fabled “Area 51” and a certain secret something that’s been under study there for 50 or so years. Once inside we discover that Area 51 looks like the ultra-cool headquarters of a James Bond super-villain. Just like we always knew it would. Yeah! Even more satisfyingly, once there everybody focuses on the invaders, and not their long dead fathers, ex-wives, or troubled children. Good gracious!

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So a weather balloon crashed near Roswell? Yeah, right.

Amazingly, this focus on the problem at hand actually brings results, and brilliant science guy David comes up with an idea! It’s a one in a million shot – but it’s just crazy enough that it might work. Only, it requires a probably suicidal mission into the gigantic heart of the invading Mothership itself…

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The evil mothership lurks in orbit above the earth.

Afterthoughts

I remember Dean & Devlin being quoted as saying they created Independence Day by throwing in everything they had ever wanted to see in a space invasion picture; including humoungous flying saucers, alien abductions, and UFO-related government cover-ups. It’s this personal enthusiasm that powers a sense of genuine fun. But they don’t take the scenario too seriously, so the scenes where the cities get destroyed are spectacular, but not genuinely disturbing.

The spectacle itself is also paced out in a satisfying way. Right at the start we get the arrival of the massive alien war ships. But we have to wait for the fatal attack, which allows the tension to grow. We all know what’s coming, but having to wait for it increases the impact when it does arrive. Then we get the Air Force’s counter attack, which is staged in colorful sunlight, and not made to be “serious” by shooting everything in gloomy blues and greys. The lavish underground facilities of Area 51 provide just the right kind of hi-tech background as mankind (well, OK, what’s left of the U.S. government) discovers the nature of the invaders. And finally we get a fly-through tour of the immense mothership before the “explosive” victory over the alien fleet.

Not only are the spectacle scenes nicely spaced out, each one actually advances the story, with mankind’s plight growing worse and worse until the final reversal. I mentioned earlier how Independence Day won the special effects Oscar. To do so it beat out Jan DeBont’s tornado epic Twister. Watch both movies, and you’ll notice that Twister’s effects are technically better, and there’s plenty of them as five (count’em, five!) tornadoes roar through the script. But while there’s lots of picturesque destruction, each storm feels kind of samey-samey, and none of them has any real impact on the characters or the story. Which leads to a ho-hum feeling whenever the clouds start to darken. Which is every 5 minutes. And this, I think, lost them the Oscar.

Independence Day has plenty of love interests and troubled family relationships, but it isn’t about them. Take one example. David Levinson’s ex-wife (Margaret Colin) just happens to be a long-time aid to the president. It was jealousy over a possible romantic relationship between them that led David to punch the future president and divorce her. Now he has to go to them with the warning of the imminent alien attack. Pretty awkward, but given the dire situation everyone puts the past aside and scrambles to defend the world. And happily, the movie doesn’t spend too much time on this potential obstacle, because it isn’t about David Levinson’s love life – it’s about an invasion from outer space! This is incredibly refreshing compared to the other movies I reviewed, where the alien presence, whether evil or benign, is merely used to heighten the focus on the character’s personal, and often boring, relationships.

ndependence Day is no masterpiece: the humor is too corny, some of the machismo is way over the top, and mankind’s victory is just, just barely believable. But it does what it sets out to do with verve, and it doesn’t over-reach. So compared with the massive cop-out of Contact, the hopeless incompetence of Mission to Mars, or the bogus tragedy of War of the Worlds, it’s an enjoyable success.

Read more about Independence Day at

IMDB

MONSTER SHACK EXTRA SPECIAL PHOTO BONUS
Now I remember where I saw the aliens from War of the Worlds before!

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Independence Day Alien

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War of the Worlds Aliens

14 comments to War of the Worlds (2005) (plus bonus review! Independence Day (1996))

  • I really enjoyed Sean’s review of War of the Worlds and offered these comments to him via email. He responded in kind, so I thought I’d post our short conversation and see what you thought: (I hope it’s easy to follow it…I tried to clean it up)

    —————————

    From Review:

    “Yet this car works. Because “everyman” Ray is our star and he figured
    out how to fix them. So he told his buddy the mechanic, who fixed the
    one Ray just jumped into. Great!”

    Dennis responds:

    Actually, there is a brief throw-away line from the mechanic as Tom
    is walking downtown to see what’s going on. The mechanic mentions that they have
    are in progress with replacing the car’s electronics which is what the
    aliens fried in all the other cars that had them in place.

    Sean replies back:

    Yeah, there’s that scene – but didn’t Ray tell the mechanic, “Why
    don’t you try blah blah blah?” – thus giving the mechanic the idea of
    how to fix the car? And by the way, if it was so easy to fix cars,
    why don’t we some a few others on the road?

    ————————

    From Review:

    “The icing on the cake is an icky little scene that suggests he might
    put the moves on little Rachael”

    Dennis responds:

    I didn’t take it that way. I thought that he was trying to
    replaced his dead child with a “new” daughter.

    Sean replies back:

    You know, it could go that way. It was kind of ambivalent, but as
    with the earlier scene Spielberg keeps putting Rachel in threat from
    other adults. And what with the news saturated by coverage of sexual
    predators….

    —————————————–

    From Review:

    “Unable to think of an alternative, like knocking Ogilvy out,
    tying….”

    Dennis responds:

    He didn’t really have time to “think”? The guy was going nuts,
    shouting, and banging away with a shovel in the other room and was
    putting everybody in mortal danger. I thought that Ray made the only
    rational dicision: Eliminate the threat to himself and his
    daughter. He didn’t have the luxory of time to discuss it with him or think of
    anything else.

    Sean replies back:

    Well, I stand by my, uh, stance, that Ray could have conked the guy
    on the head without killing him – then tied him up and gagged him.

    —————————————-

    From the Review:

    “It’s filled with all sorts of people who are periodically drawn into
    the war machine itself – there to be drained of their blood.”

    Dennis responds:

    I thought the whole “blood as fertilizer” concept, altough provider
    striking visuals, was a bit over much. I mean, c’mon! Blood as
    fertilizer? What the hell? It would have made more sense, and been
    even more disgusting, if they ground people up and used their bodies as
    mulch.

    Sean replies back:

    Good point. And while I didn’t go into it in the review, if human
    blood is a fertilizer than people would be a precious resource. So
    why then do the tripods often vaporize scores of people with their
    heat ray? Talk about a wasteful economy!

    —————————————–

    From the Review:

    “I look at my watch and wonder how much more time I have to spend with
    the murderer and his progeny”

    Dennis responds:

    Once again, I think you’re judging him way to harshly as a murderer.
    What would you have done?

    Sean replies back:

    Conked the guy on the head, then tied him up and gagged him. (Or,
    even better, I would have turned into the Incredible Hulk!)

    —————————————–

    Dennis responds:

    Some more quick thoughts,

    I never thought about the Iraq connection. Interesting, but I think
    it’s too far of a leap.

    Sean replies back:

    It is kind of a stretch – but lots of people talked about it when the
    film came out, so I included it in my review.

    ——————————————-

    Dennis responds:

    The “germ” ending had to be there, this _is_ a remake after all, even
    though they took some artistic liberties in order to make it more
    palatable to a modern audience. What other ending _could_ they have
    chosen and still be “faithful” to the book?

    Sean replies back:

    Good question, and I have no easy answer. Usually I’m all for being
    faithful to an original story – but at this point in the early 21st
    century I simply can’t buy the assertion that super-advanced aliens
    wouldn’t plan for earth bacteria. – Maybe Spielberg could have done
    another invasion story?

  • oneeye

    I haven’t seen the new War of the Worlds yet, although, I own the original. I guess I didn’t want to contaminate the way I felt about the original, plus I went thru a phase where I didn’t want to see anything with Tom Cruise in it. Now Independence Day, I’ve seen, (including the director’s cut, which didn’t add a whole lot) and I agree that it was a terrific movie, even with its copious amounts of cheese and a few moments of pure, “oh that would NEVER happen”. Everything from the strippers that don’t strip, to the inferno in the tunnel that somehow didn’t suck all the oxygen out or produce enough heat to kill the dog or the girl and her kid behind a simple door. My absolute favorite moment tho, has to be when jeff g.’s laptop links up effortlessly with the alien spaceship. The only real downside for me was the speech that Bill Pullman made right before the final offensive, I remember squirming in my seat, just wanting him to shut-up and get to explosions.

  • Sean

    Thanks to oneeye for the comments – all the moments he points to are certainly Bad Movie Gems! (A confession here – I would have been much more upset if the adorable golden lab retriever had bought it.) And oh boy, that magic lap top. With the magic computer virus. That crashes the ENTIRE alien computer network!

    Speaking of which, when I first saw ID4 I thought that the computer virus idea was a clever update on H.G. Well’s idea of germs killing the invaders, and I approved. But then I read somewhere that Devlin and Dean got all huffy and claimed this was an original idea and that they weren’t referencing Wells. I didn’t see the need to protest, and looking back I think this points to their central flaw as filmmakers. I mean, neither of these guys are original or deeply creative, but they seem to crave respect for being so. So it appears to me that when they were dragged kicking and screaming into Godzilla, they completely ruined it with your “original take” on the project. Sigh. If there is any justice, they will spend a good amount of time down in Hell watching, and re-watching, what is possibly the limpest, dullest, dreariest mega-budget-monster-movie of all time.

  • ImpudentInfidel

    You do realize that trying to knock someone out with a blow to the head would probably be fatal, right? Even if it wasn’t there would be bleeding in the brain, and no access to medical facilities, so permanent brain damage would result.

    Even if he had found a way to tie him up, gag him, and leave him behind (unless you’re suggesting he drag him along with them) without killing him outright, it would still be murder. The guy would die of dehydration, if he was lucky and the aliens didn’t find him first.

  • Sean

    Uh oh. I seemed to have struck a nerve. Hopefully it’s not fatal! And let me say right off that I’m totally OK if you disagree with me. I will, however, stick to my guns, pardon the phrase, and say that I think a non-lethal solution should at least have been attempted.

    You mention that conking someone on the noggin can be fatal, and that’s right. But it isn’t always, and interestingly, I’m living proof. When I was 7 years old I was run over by a bigger kid on a bicycle, causing me to crack my head on the sidewalk. I actually remember this. I turned around and saw the kid coming at me, and then everything went black. I woke up in the hospital with a concussion and, thankfully, no serious harm. 40 years later I’m still alive, so it wasn’t fatal. At least, not yet.

    Finally, your comment also reminded me of a Clint Eastwood movie called Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, from 1974. In the last act Eastwood and Jeff Bridges are double-crossed by a bad guy who knocks them both out with a blunt instrument. Eastwood’s character recovers but Bridges’ suffers real damage, with spreading paralysis leading to death. Jeff played it really well and it was quite a powerful and awful scene.

  • One thing that really bugged me, even though it seems really minor, is at the very end when Ray and his son go through the motions of the requisite Emotional Yet Manly Resolution scene, Ray’s kid (forgot his name) has the same dirt markings on his face that he had when he ran off to do battle with the Martians. I mean, c’mon! He’s been staying at his grandmparents house for how long and he still has the same dirt on his face?!

    I guess this sounds like a petty complaint, but it really irritates me; such small details can ruin so much.

    Meh.

  • guts3d

    I’ll throw my two cents in and complain about “War of the Worlds”, as the aliens get close to Tom Cruise and family, we don’t see the aliens, but see Tom reacting to them with terror and awe. I remember sitting in the theater ( I know, but I like seeing movies on the silver screen as opposed to my tiny 46″ lcd at home ) and almost shouting ” Who cares about Cruises’ reaction? Let US see the %$#@! alien!!! ”

    As for the whole controversy about knocking Tim Robbins out or killing him, I would have tried to K.O. him first, if he survived, fine. But if he didn’t shut up and was still endangering my kids, I would have had no choice, him or us.

    Independence Day was mindless fun, at least for me. But when they used a laptop to infect the entire alien network, all I could think of was ” If they can do this, why can’t we get Mac’s and P.C.’s to play nice together? ” Also, I guess the aliens have no teen aliens sitting around in the equivalent of their parents’ basemant coming up with viruses to make them feel important, so the aliens had no need of anti-virus software.

    Kudos to Sean, both reviews are top notch and I really enjoyed them!

  • Sardu

    At the end of WotW I was POSITIVE the camera would pull back to reveal Tom Cruise drooling in a chair while Mr. Helpmann turns to Jack Lint and says “He’s got away from us, Jack”. Didn’t happen though.

  • Stubob

    The ending with the bacteria didn’t bother me until just now. It isn’t that the bacteria killed them, but that it did so now. Why didn’t it kill them off when they came to bury their war machines? I had never thought of that till reading this review.

  • guts3d

    Here’s a thought; why didn’t they try to take over when they buried the war machines hundreds of years ago when there was just a few settlements scattered about? It would be much easier to take over and farm humans then, and effectively zero resistance and technology to fight against. I would also point out that their spaceships that they obviously used to get them tyhrough space from their home planet to Earth were definitely sealed against the vacuum of space. Did these seals not stop Eath atmosphere from leaking into their crafts? Or did those dopes open up the proverbial windows to let in a little fresh Earth air?

  • Ev

    A milestone of sorts: for the first time, I find myself disagreeing with you, Sean. (Awww, and here I’d thought I’d found my online soulmate!)

    In your review of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, you harp on your difficulty with Robbie’s (Justin Chatwin) sullenness. However, I found that part of the movie more believeable — and the character considerably more likeable! — than the character Ray (Tom Cruise), and in a fashion unusually subtle for anything associated with Spielberg.

    If you pay attention to the scenes between Robbie and his sister Rachel (Dakota Fanning), you will notice that he shows a tender, quite unsullen side that, based on her reactions, appears to be his normal self. Robbie also demonstrates the sort of forced maturity of a boy forced to be a father figure at too young an age, due to the utter ineptitude of his own real life father.

    Of course, Robbie is sullen around Ray — who wouldn’t be? He finds himself forced to spend the weekend with a lowbrow, self-absorbed, aggressively stagnant man who is a failure as an adult on almost every level but still demands a respect he doesn’t deserve because he is bigger, older, and can probably hit harder. Robbie has every reason to be ashamed of Ray and no reason to feel any genuine respect or affection for a man who comes very close to being a playground bully with his own offspring.

    Worse yet, Robbie has been forced by Ray’s immaturity to take a father’s responsibility for Rachel and himself, yet Ray demands a father’s authority and respect that he steadfastly has refused to earn. Ray spends much of the movie attempting to replace Robbie in Rachel’s life, and he’s fairly obvious about his rivalry. It makes sense that Robbie is sullen around an adult male who tries to disrupt his bond with his sister so that the adult can play at “fatherhood” whenever it’s convenient for him.

    At the same time, Robbie is clearly young enough to realize he needs an adult’s protection in this world. Instead, he is expected to turn for protection on a man who understands so little about people or the world. Robbie is not only sullen, he has every reason to feel hopeless when forced to rely on someone like Ray.

    The least believeable moment for me involved Robbie’s willingness to embrace Ray in the end even though Ray had still failed to earn Robbie’s respect. My assumption is that he was grateful to Ray for protecting his sister Rachel.

    The second least believable moment for me involved Robbie’s leaving Rachel behind with Ray to join the soldiers. I’ve watched that scene repeatedly on DVD, and as best I can tell, Robbie is in some sort of state of shock, like the stuntperson or firefighter who makes it through a flaming building then suddenly turns around and enters it again and again until stopped or dead. The fact that Ray let him go makes sense in a Spielberg film but would be a highly irresponsible thing for any parent to do in real life. In real life, a responsible adult does not abandon a child to a “rapture of the deep” moment.

    The movie had other flaws, but your review and its responses cover them fairly well. For all its flaws, the movie had some very good moments. Either way, as always, I enjoyed your review overall, Sean.

  • Sean

    Does this mean the honeymoon is over? I hope not! And your comments on Robbie are fair. A father like Ray would indeed be a heavy cross to bear.

  • Night-Gaunt

    Don’t forget the giant space ships hovering over major cities have been lifted from the powerful novel “Childhood’s End” by many and yet its story has not been told. Just imagine when the ships do appear people will shout “rip off” in their ignorance. When will someone film it?

    I do give kudos to Spielberg for actually using scenes from the original 1898 novel by H. G. Wells. Wish he had made it a period piece. And I am sorry that Ray Harryhausen was never able to make his version. He did shoot a test of the Martian ship unscrewing then one of the big head aliens slither out. (Would love to see that footage.)

  • Guts3d

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0JSLY3sEKA

    Is this it? ( Almost 3 years later! )

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