Movie Review: War of the Worlds

Movies and Television

As annoying, omnipresent and hard to ignore (in a gory, bloody train wreck kind of way) as TomKat have been, the movie has been getting decent notices, so I gave War of the Worlds a chance.

Sit through commercials–Someone fire the Fanta chicks–and previews and then, oh my God! They actually made, and are releasing, Transporter 2. WTF? Seriously, did Jason Statham perform some ritual animal sacrifice to get himself a movie career as an action star or what?

Moving on, I had not read too much about the movie, save for this funny review in my local paper that made fun of Tiny Tom. Tee hee.

Mr. Spielberg decided to frame his remake as a survival story. As such he focuses the movie on this small, dysfunctional family led by neglectful father Tom Cruise, bratty teen son Justin Chatwin and whiny daughter Dakota Fanning.

© 2005 Paramount Pictures

Tom is a NY working class average guy–clad in bummy clothes, a well-worn Yankees cap and an Omega, the preferred timepiece of dockworkers everywhere; I think it’s a union bylaw.

He’s more interested in his hot rod car than his kids, whom he must host while his ex-wife goes to visit his ex-in-laws in Boston. After this introduction we spend too much time establishing Tom as a bad father, and his kids as little whiny brats.

Weather reports on TV from other major world cities precede clouds brewing over casa Cruise. We see lots of lightning strikes, which Tom goes to investigate thusly leaving his terrified young daughter alone in the house. Tom quickly finds his unlicensed son, who earlier had stolen his car, out in the street and sends him inside to watch his sister. Without kicking his ass. WTF?

In classic horror movie tradition Tom runs towards the lightning and danger, to see what’s up. He and a whole bunch of curious folks mill around and just wait for the ground to open beneath their feet and spit out this (Spoiler alert) thing that quickly starts killing everyone. (Shocking wasn’t it?)

Ok. I know this is supposed to be super scary and all. Perhaps I’ve just been desensitized by too much media violence, but these early rampage scenes just are not that frightening to me. Yes it would be rather harrowing to see friends and neighbors go “poof” right in front of you, but there’s something so antiseptic about it. Just bloodless killing that seems empty.

Anyway Tom, after standing around too long, watching too much chaos and mayhem, decides its time to get the hell out of there. He packs up the kids and boosts the only working vehicle he can find, leaving behind the friend who fixed the car because it takes him (what seems like) 15 minutes (or years) to spit out that he (the friend) will die if he stays behind. The friend doesn’t buy it, and Tom drives off without him. Jerk.

As he makes tracks out of town, his son is sniping and his daughter is just shrieking in panic. I know she’s scared, but she almost refuses to calm down in that bratty sort of way. Somewhere in this scene I think my dad, apocalypse or no, would have pulled the car over to give me something to cry about, if you know what I mean.

Now we are on this long, run for our lives segment, which is just there so we can meet Tim Robbins on the back roads to Beantown. Tim is clearly a wacko. I don’t want to give away too much here, but I spent most of these scenes trying to figure out who was dumber, the aliens or Tom and company.

Then there’s this confrontation between Tom and Tim, shown off camera, because there is only so much suspension of disbelief to go around. Next there’s some scariness and gore. Then there is the ending.

Ah the ending, which has no set-up, no follow-through on anything that we’ve previously seen. It’s just the “big climax” and boom, the end, which is why I think Spielberg has Morgan Freeman do a voice over narration for the movie. The VO seems contrived, like it was just dropped in post-production after the initial screen test audiences all came out going “Huh?” Through the VO, he tries to make the out-of-left-field ending a true conclusion, and it’s book ended by his opening speech, which is meant to be foreshadowing I suppose. (I realize this doesn’t make sense, but once you see the movie it will.)

What’s here is an almost formula disaster story, focusing on some survivors as they outlive the big danger. A “similar” movie, The Day After Tomorrow , came out last year and got for the most part, fair to middling reviews. WotW has not been getting four or five star reviews, but the notices are mostly positive.

So I am left wondering what makes War of the Worlds all that much better than The Day After Tomorrow? They both have the razzle-dazzle CGI effects, the race against time element, big danger and the family dysfunction thing. TDAT does get bogged down in expositional dialogue written to brainwash, uhm, educate the audience. And there are too many folks with speaking parts, making for a few too many subplots to track. Other than that, The Day After Tomorrow was just as entertaining and I don’t see the big difference between the two movies.

Maybe it was all the hype, and my expectations were too high, but I did not like WotW that much; I didn’t hate it. I though it was sort of entertaining and at times, kind of stupid. Trying to pinpoint was wrong with the movie, I can’t think of specifics.

I can’t say the acting or script were bad. There wasn’t that much dialogue to speak of, and almost all of it were done by the major cast members, all capable actors. There are a ton of extras in this movie, but all they do is scream and run for their lives, which I’m not sure even earns them SAG cards. The effects were fine. The whole thing was a technically good movie: well financed, directed, acted, decent story, etc. It just wasn’t a great movie.

Which brings me back to the hype and all the good reviews and my suspision that many critics are compelled to, just out of habit, think, “Spielberg. Cruise. Classic HG Wells. Has to be good.” I guess my advice would be not to get your hopes up too much, or you’ll be disappointed.

Final Snark: decent enough but almost nothing to it.

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