At the Movies

While I’ve never read War of the Worlds, I was fascinated by the story ever since I heard a re-broadcast of the Mercury Radio Theatre’s adaptation from 1938. I also really liked George Pal’s interpretation from 1953. So I was predisposed toward liking the current movie.

Deb and I finally got to see it last night and we were surprised by our strong dislike of the final product. Since it’s been out for weeks, I’m going to speak freely about it.

As written, the Tom Cruise character is an asshole. But also apparently, the only smart guy around. He seems to be the only one to figure out there’s something amiss, adding up a clue here and a clue there so he always knows how to get out of trouble while his fellow humans get trashed.

As written, the Tom Cruise character is an asshole. But also, apparently, an idiot. When he gets to Eowyn’s home, he immediately pulls out his old peanut butter to feed the kids. He’s standing in a kitchen, complains about the crap Robbie packed, and starts making PB sandwiches. He’s standing in a kitchen and doesn’t take time to restock his food supplies And as he watches the TV people stock up on bottled water from the crashed airplane, he doesn’t think to take any for him and the kids.

The way the aliens operate is also wildly inconsistent. Established early on, we get the storm, the EMP pulse and the lightning which is actually shooting the aliens to their craft. It happens several times. Except at the Ferry when the alien craft just rises out of the water without any of the above and we know that because the Ferry manages to work. So, these aliens seem to require human organic matter to operate the machines or live on while they begin terraforming the world. But early on, all we see them do is zap people into dust, we don’t see the collection process until much later nor do we see those underside collection baskets until Tom and Rachel are captured. Didn’t the earlier ships require organics? And if they want to eradicate life as we know it, boy are the inefficient seeing as how many people are still surviving in each town we pass through.

Apparently, in the America depicted in this movie, people would rather stand stock still in stupefaction or work as a mob. Except for our hero. He seems to be the only one to think and act about self-preservation (well, except of course stocking up on food and water more than once). When the car is stopped by the mob, I found it odd that in small town America; people had all of one pistol among them. This in a country where people vigorously fight to keep arms and yet…where were the rifles, the bullies appointing themselves in charge and other aspects of American life as we know it? Missing.

The storytelling is also not at the same level one would expect from a Steven Spielberg production. We, the viewer, can add two and two about the EMPs around the world and odd lightning, but apparently, no one in the movie can when it begins to happen in New Jersey. And the whole conversation between Tom Cruise and the TV truck people is an info dump that brings the movie to a grinding halt. Similarly, Robbie vanishes and somehow makes it to Boston unscathed and we aren’t told how, just a pat Hollywood ending. So, Boston is trashed, except for this one upscale section of town. And those streets are deserted o why on Earth is Eowyn at the door, when Tom and Rachel make it to the street? And how did they know to stay in their home rather than flee for safety?

(A peevish aside: just the day before, I read Ann Robinson’s interview in Starlog, where she extolled the magnitude of the role she and Gene Barry – stars of the original film – played, comparing it as more significant than the Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill cameo in Superman—the Movie. Then I saw the movie and they stand in the doorway, waving at the camera for about as long as Alyn and Neill sat on the train watching a speedy Clark run by them. Boy, talk about self-delusional.)

We don’t know a thing about what drove Tom and Eowyn apart, what makes Tom tick, why he’s a bad father (and sorry, no father would ever forget a peanut butter allergy since his daughter’s birth), why Robbie is a jerk to everyone but Rachel and so on. Lots of screaming and yelling, “Little Deuce Coupe” in lieu of a lullaby (awww), and running but nothing that tells us who these people are and why we should care.

The movie does a nice job building suspense and creating a sense of terror but that’s about it.

8 comments

  • Jeffrey Hardy Quah

    A lot of those things you mentioned didn’t really occur to me while I was watching it. Probably why I enjoyed it a bit more than you did. I actually liked that they didn’t spell out why Tom and Eowyn separated, etc.; I got a strong sense of history between them, and I find it more fun to fill in the blanks myself.

    But damn, the token angsty teenager character sure was annoying.

  • Iain Gibson

    As a movie I thought War of the Worlds would make an excellent theme park ride, but as a story it seemed to forget about story logic, good characterisation and just about everything that writers should have been picking up from the moment they started reading.

    The worst crime of all though – when you want someone to play a blue collar worker, you don’t pick Tom Cruise, you go for Kevin Bacon.

  • Mike

    Yeah, the film forgot about story logic, but I guess I did too while watching it. I had fun and I thought it was scary.

    Why I’m writing this tho’: Ann Robinson may have filmed a lot more than actually ended up in the final film. Maybe there was a whole subplot that Spielberg eventually discarded? I wouldn’t call her names right off the bat. That kind of thing happens a lot in movies, e.g. Kevin Costner getting edited out completely from The Big Chill, which should have been his big screen debut.

  • John

    More plotholes than plot in this movie. Cruise as the genius to figure out how to restore car motors to working condition. Cruise as the bad father, but also the most popular guy in his neighborhood.
    Death rays that don’t destroy clothing. Buried alien machines that have never been discovered. An unobstructed route to drive through. Nobody trying to hitch a ride until the plot said it was time. Cliched reptilian aliens.
    How cool would it have been if Spielberg had chosen a variant of his cuddly aliens from CE3K to be the invading force? Or if he had come up with a different way to defeat the aliens. About the only thing all the interpretations of Wells’ novel have in common is the death by common germs.

  • m

    “Evil Twin of Close Encounters of the Third Kind” — i mean, “War of the Worlds” — was a classic Spielberg extravaganza, replete with the sort of twisted (tortured) plot “logic” that Spielberg uses when he can’t think of any honest way to manipulate his audience.

    There are at least three important sequences that are real-world impossible — that is, they involve normal everyday objects that already exist acting in ways that are flatly impossible.

    The alien ray changes its effect almost every time it is used; i particularly like the sequences in which it disintegrates people but leaves their clothing essentially untouched.

    There are two places (at least) where Major Weird Events happen exactly at the time and place to give the protagonists (and the viewer) maximum emotional jolts — one of which is one of those Impossible Events.

    The first time we see what they are Doing To The Humans They Capture it’s done one way so that we can see, and after that, it’s apparently done another way where we can’t see.

    Which reminds me, make that four real-world-impossibles — anyone who tries to pull the pin from a hand grenade — or, worse yet, several — without straightening them out in advance, with his teeth is probably going to need dental work.

    I kept waiting for his daughter to find a red coat and put it on.

    And could the set outside the farmhouse have been any more blatantly a soundstage?

    Which is not to say that i didn’t mostly enjoy it in a sort of guilty-pleasure way..

    Let’s face it, for all the hoopla surrounding the man, the only really GOOD (genre; “Schindler’s List” is another can of worms, entirely) films Spileberg’s been involved with are (as director) “Duel”, “Jws” and “Raiders” and (as producer) the original “Gremlins”.

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