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War of the Worlds

In a lot of ways I believe that today is the true golden age of science fiction films. Not only are great new works like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” available, but Hollywood is revisiting old classics like this one.

This film, “War of the Worlds” is a remake of the 1953 story of the same name, based on the H.G. Wells book of the same name. Despite all that repetition, this film delivers what the previous incarnation couldn’t, but the changes in story make a number of oddball plot holes that need to be ignored if one is to enjoy this film.

I don’t want to get too far into the plethora of problems with the updates version of story, as it might act as a spoiler to the film. However, the big question that persists in my mind was “when did they bury the tripods?” In the film, the aliens are transported to their killing platforms, called “tripods” by lightning. However, that just begs the question, when were they put there? Why weren’t they detected when the subways were built, how did they know they would need shields, and how did they know where the major cities would be?

If you can get past this major point, you’ll enjoy this film. Spielberg puts forth a classic work of science fiction in a way the filmmakers of 1953 could only dream. The death ray, the aliens, the carnage, all are incredible. This is a great looking film, and the special effects are on par with any movie out there.

One of the more notable points in the movie is when the main character, Ray Ferrier, is walking with a large group of refugees when they stop at a railroad crossing that is signaling that a train is coming. Then the train crosses the screen, it’s on fire, the whole car. This glimpse of devastation (we get plenty) is rather poignant, and it ended up being rather humorous. It was a very powerful scene; it showed the total desperation in the faces of those that were taking on the mental pressure of knowing that they were being exterminated.

Another element that was enjoyable in this film was the shift from the floating craft of the 1953 film to the “tripods” that matched the described craft from the book. The movie shifts between the retro look that matches the book, to the modern aspects of war fighting. This it accomplishes quite well, like I said, it’s a good looking film.

As for the acting, there’s nothing really all that spectacular. Tom Cruise is what he always is. Dakota Fanning plays the young daughter of Mr. Cruise’s character, and does so well. There are some noteworthy performances by bit players in the film, one of whom is Camillia Sanes, who plays a TV producer that encounters the Ferrier family and fortuitously describes all the “need to know” details that would have required a narrator. Of course, the beginning and ending of the film were narrated by Morgan Freeman anyway.

This movie is not perfect, it’s not great, it’s not grand, it’s just an okay production of an aged sci-fi yarn. The special effects are spectacular, the plot holes are many, the desperation feels real, and the aliens are stolen from “Independence Day”. Have your popcorn in hand, and let you rational mind wander for awhile.

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2 Responses

  1. Marty –

    Uh. Not to be cynical, but “today” always is going to be the golden age of science fiction films. The golden age of sci-fi is always going to depend on modern technology. We can write a personal thank you note to George Lucas for that. The audience has come to expect the newest and best technology in their sci-fi (that’s why Matrix 2 and 3 flopped – unconvincing CG).

    War of the Worlds. Hmmm…. They should have left Tom Cruise out of it. The story had enough merit to stand on it’s own without the Father-Daughter thing going on. H.G. Wells managed to write an entire book – I don’t think they had to embellish the story at all – there was more than enough material. I’ve noticed a trend in movies lately – there is a “going back to the family” or a “fathers should be responsible” theme going on in a lot of them. Some filmmakers tend to feel the need to address all of the world’s social ills in their films, and frankly, it ruins it. We just want to go to the movies to have a good time.

    Great effects. Poor story. C+

  2. Although, Marty, I want to say that your reviews are splendid in writing technique. Maybe you should quit your day job as a newspaper editorialist, and join Roger Ebert instead. :-)

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