War of the Worlds review by The Grim Ringler
Strange as it may seem, coming from a dyed-in-the-wool horror movie nerd, this was the movie I was most excited for this summer. I loved the original film and love the Orson Welles radio play so I figured Spielberg, aliens, end of the world, I am THERE. What can I say? I am a sucker for the end of the world. And it was also the idea that this was a remake I could get behind. Some remakes you look at and shake your head when you hear about them, like, why the hell bother to remake a thriller, or a drama, even a comedy? Horror and science fiction remakes work many times because you can 1. Utilize new special effects that might better encompass the original ideas that had been presented to begin with OR 2. You can focus on new aspects of that old horror or science fiction menace. Look at the Body Snatcher movies, all three films (is there a fourth now? I cant remember) are about the loss of the self, but each focuses on the bugaboo of that era. The first has the threat of Communism behind it, the threat of THEM, the second is the threat of losing freedom and trust after the Nixon era, and the third is about losing freedom to a military monster. Each film brings with it a new take on a well worn story, and at its heart, each story is the same and is about the loss of self, a fear that is one of Mans deepest, but each film looked at the material in a new way. And you get a similar approach with this WOW remake its the same general story, but Spielberg takes what he has learned from Saving Private Ryan and gives us a realistic look at the horror of invasion. A horror that is all the more terrifying thanks to modern special effects.
An imperfect father (Tom Cruise proving why he gets paid the big money) is late getting home for a weekend visit from his kids and its obvious he isnt father of the year material. His son hates him and his daughter seems to be the real parent when she is around him. After a weak attempt at connecting with his son while playing catch, the father gives up on trying to be the good dad and lumbers off to bed after working a night shift. When he awakes his underage son has stolen his car and a nasty storm is brewing outside. A storm that will change the world. The father, first wanting to know where his son is, becomes mesmerized, like so many others, by the storm that is looming on the horizon. A storm that draws wind towards it. A storm that excites everyone who beholds (everyone save for the young daughter) it until the lightning begins to hit, striking in the same spot over and over and over again against all laws of nature anyone can imagine. But this is no simple storm because with the lightning come strange visitors that have been planning dire actions against mankind for thousands of years. For off on the planet Mars there is a race that has come to the end of their days and needs a new world, and the earth, still in its prime, is the perfect place for themif they can only rid it of its pesky inhabitants. From the ground come great, awful machines with tentacles and heat rays and before anyone knows what is happening people are obliterated, the only things remaining of them being their clothes, which float slowly to the ground after the person has been destroyed. Seeing the deaths these machines deliver firsthand, father Ray runs home, barely able to escape himself, and, covered in the dust of the dead, gathers up his daughter and son (who has reappeared) in the hopes of escaping these strange creatures. Ray steals a van, the only one that still works after the rise of the alien machines, and he and his family leave New Jersey in search of the childrens mother and stepfather, and hopefully safety. What they find is a world at war, and that no place is safe from the machines and their invasion. An invasion the human military can barely slow, let alone stop. And when Rays son wants to leave to help fight, to try and stop the machines, Ray must choose whether or not to let his son go, to let him make his own choice, or to fight him and make him stay. But this is only the first of many awful choices Ray shall have to make if he and his daughter and son are to survive this nightmare. And hope is in short supply in this growing wasteland.
Bringing the intensity of the war scenes of Saving Private Ryan into play, director Spielberg has created a brutal science fiction thriller that will truly steal the audiences breath. Keeping the heart of the story firmly planted in the family, the horror of the film is all the more real because we see it through the eyes of a mediocre father as he is trying to make sure his family remains safe. The martians and their machines become boogeymen we hear more of than we see. We see what they do, not them doing it. The movie takes a page from Signs (who prolly took a page from the novel of The War of the Worlds themselves) and creates more terror by making us wait, with the family, as the world ends. Sure, we have great, sweeping moments of horror that are the scariest things Spielberg has ever done before, but the vast whole is more about one mans horror, and one familys horror. What this film does as well is to take the world that we live in post September 11th and to force us to see that there are more terrible things than we can ever imagine, be they martians or whatever. Whatever horror we can imaginethere is worse out there. A sobering notion, and one that fits with the themes of the book and the first film and radio drama. Make no mistake, War is exactly as its title says, a war film, but is not one in which the humans are apt to be the victors.
I love how brutal and mean this film is. I love that Spielberg makes this a heart wrenching film. I love the acting, which is spot on all the way through. I love the chemistry between Dakota Fanning and Tom Cruise and how well Cruise does in this role. Its funny because when he plays a jerk, he is so damned good. And the special effects are fantastic and add to the feeling of desperation and fear in the film. How do you fight things that know nothing of mercy and are so relentlessly cruel? The biggest thing you take away from this film if you see it in a theater though is how damned LOUD it is, and how much that effects how you react. This is a big, loud film, and one that is perfect for a theater.
The big quibble I have with the film is not what most people will have, and I will address that in a moment. The big issue I have is that the Martians, when revealed, are anything BUT scary. They are cute, if you want my opinion. They are creepy, but still cute. The film is far more effective when we see only the machines, and this is something the first film, in its limitations, worked more effectively. We see one alien, briefly, and its a horrifying image, and aside from the arm at the end of that film, that was all we saw. The martians here look good as far as effects, but they didnt fill me with dread or fear. They looked too much like an amalgam of several recent movie aliens and here, in this film, there was a way to do them, and to follow the book, that would have made them horrors, but, alas, they went their own path and it didnt work out so well. But thats the biggest grudge I can hold. The film didnt wow me as much as a lot of people, but I really liked it, and the aliens didnt ruin the movie for me in the least.
Now, from what I could tell with the audience, it was the ending that bothered them, and that frustrates me. I cant tell you the who what where or whatever of the ending as that isnt what I do. I am not here to ruin movies for you. But I will say this if people would think about things, and would not demand that a film spell every last thing out, then I think wed all be happier. And sometimes man, the movie ends, as it ends. Sure, sometimes that means the movie is all but ruined, and that sucks, but sometimes, like here, the ending fits, and you either dig it or not. I just marvel at how many good movies I go to see where people hate the endings. I mean, someone is going to all these movies, so, if everyone hates endings all of a sudden, whos going?
Not a great film at all, at least to me, but my favorite post Ryan film from director Steven Spielberg. A solid, scary sci-fi/horror film that really connects and leaves you with a lot of things to think about. Being bored and watching drek like Armageddon as I am right now, I shake my head in shame at the notion that that was what can pass as a good summer movie, when, truly, this year has produced three solid summer movies that are as good as you could ask for. So go see a movie, dammit.
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