Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Bored of the Worlds
I did say that there was the possibility that Steven Spielberg might still save it by creating a, well, Cruise-proof vehicle. In a sense, that's what has happened. War of The Worlds is a Spielberg vehicle from beginning to end.
The only thing that I couldn't have anticipated is that Steven Spielberg -- an Academy Award-winning director of million-ticket selling films that have action, heart and style -- could have created this emotionally empty cinematic mess.
This is a bad movie, folks. And, given the talent of the people involved, this is a very bad movie.
No, to give him his due, Cruise is not the distraction Holmes was in Batman Begins. He gives a performance as divorced father Ray Ferrier that is as serviceable as it is disposable. There's some nice interaction between himself and Dakota Fanning as his daughter Rachel. On the contrary, the scenes between Cruise and Justin Chatwin (as son Robbie) are cringe-inducing. Indeed, one wonders what Chatwin is doing in the movie except for his remarkable resemblance to a young Tom Cruise.
But the chief problem is that there is no heart in the movie. You can't feel anything for the characters because they don't act like anyone you've ever met in real life. The fault for that may be that they anchored down in a preposterous script.
Logic? Move along, folks, nothing to see here.
Oh, how is it that an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) effect takes out all electronic equipment -- including lights, cell phone, cars -- except for one video camcorder (the disposable camera I can accept)? As a buddy who saw it with me said, "The camcorder is protected from EMP by product-placement." Which, given some of the multiple commercial tie-ins, is probably the likeliest explanation.
Quick question: If you've been subject to a bizarre attack from strange machines that have destroyed your home and you finally manage to escape to a place that has power, wouldn't you try to check the TV or computer to find out what the hell is going on?
Yeah, you would, except in this movie. Instead, a la Tom Cruise, you wait until the house is destroyed and a TV crew conveniently shows up to (sort of) explain everything to you.
Spielberg has always been gimmick/FX-crazy, but this movie is over-the-top. The viewer is subject to blatant rehashing of just about every gimmick from previous efforts. Count how many did you find yourself thinking, "Oh, this is like X from Jaws..or Close Encounters...or Jurassic Park." Once or twice, it can be a cute homage. But, when it happens repeatedly, you start thinking that you've somehow been trapped in some uber-Spielberg disco remix.
No, this isn't a snobbish slam against a "mindless" summer popcorn movie. The movie is a failure even by the standards of the genre. Cruise's character isn't even a hero. He's a protagonist, but hardly saves the day (though he is forced into an ethically questionable action to save his daughter and he does take out one of the marauding machines).
But to underscore how disappointing WOTW is even by summer blockbuster standards, consider this: Nine years ago, an alien invasion was thwarted by a "coalition" that included a Jewish computer nerd, a black brash-talking fighter pilot -- and a white U.S. president who was a war veteran. There were some real, memorable, characters, a pretty good plot and a fair bit of emotional depth for an action-adventure science-fiction flick.
A decade later, the biggest WASP actor on the planet (indeed, the original "brash-talking fighter pilot") can do little more than run for his life while "nature" takes its course.
Provocative? Hardly. Maybe the fault lies with the H.G. Wells source material. Whatever the case, it doesn't translate into an interesting movie.
Of course, War of The Worlds should easily clear the $100 million mark in its first five days, but that's only from the star power of its director and lead (though that same combination didn't produce record-setting b.o. for the vastly superior Minority Report). One would be hard-pressed to believe that word-of-mouth could draw many people after the first weekend.
Save your money, people. Fantastic Four, at least looks interesting.
UPDATE: My friend Harry, who also saw the screening (and generally agreed with my take) said that I should mention the post-9/11 vibe that ran through the movie. He's right. "Terror" as an explanation for what was going on did pop up a few times. One intentionally funny line had Europe as its punch line. And, when Cruise's character survives the initial attack, his ash-covered face is evocative of Wall Street workers who fled the collapse of the Towers. However, in the mess of the rest of the movie, these little touches seem more cheap than "realistic."
UPDATE: Mr. Drudge gives a handy preview of significant WOTW reviews:
VARIETY RAVE FOR 'WAR OF THE WORLDS'...SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER: ALIENS IMPRESS, BUT LACKS HUMAN IDENTITY...SACRAMENTO BEE: DOESN'T SET ITSELF APART...LA DAILY NEWS: THRILLING, BUT REMAKE EVENTUALLY RUNS OUT OF AMMO...NEW YORK TIMES: 'REASONABLY ENTERTAINING RENDERING'...SAN JOSE MERC: 'A PICTURE WITHOUT A THOUGHT IN ITS PRETTY HEAD; NOT END OF WORLD, JUST WISH IT WERE BY END OF MOVIE'...AP: DISJOINTED AND EPISODIC, ALIENS LOOK 'BEGGED, BORROWED AND STOLEN FROM EVERY RECENT MOVIE'...ORLANDO SENTINEL: 'GRIM, HEAVY AND PONDEROUS'...
Ah, got to love those San Jose Mercury News guys!