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.