Wednesday, June 29, 2005

War of the Worlds

Warm and toasty, just out of the oven, the new War of the Worlds is here (or as I prefer to call it: Independence Day 2).

Directed by Steven Spielberg, this new version of H. G. Wells' classic opens up with a little prologe narrated by Morgan Freeman. This little touch tries to tie the movie to the book's introduction which relates the musings of the lead character about mankind's everyday customs being watched by intelligent, envious martians. The movie centers on Ray (Tom Cruise) a divorced father who has to take care of his two kids for the weekend, one, Robbie, a teenager who doesn't want anything to do with his father and calls him by his first name; the other, Rachel, a (too) cute young girl who is intelligent, considerate, gets humus delivered for dinner and dresses in lots of colors. Although the baseline for the "not-involved-enough" father has been done millions of times, some of the dialogue says much more about this family than their actions. While hiding out in the mother's house, Ray makes some peanut butter sandwiches until Rachel says she is allergic. When an upset Ray asks her "since when?" she simply answers "Birth". Later, when they are on the run and Robbie wants to follow the army and kill one of the aliens for a change, Rachel screams at him that he can't leave because if he does there will be no one to take care of her.

But going back to what we're here for... aliens and lots of f/x. Similar to it's cousin Independence Day, people stop and heads tilt up when the skies begin to darken and a whirlpool forms. All of a sudden lightning starts to fall, only it falls exactly in the same place for 26 times. The result is something growing under the road. And then the destruction begins. From the place of impact emerges an enormous mechanical being. The interesting thing is that what this thing brings to mind are the huge mosquito legged shooters from the game Half Life 2. After just standing menacing but idle the machine begins to walk and emits bolts of light that destroy everything in their path and pulverizes any human beings it touches. This is just the first of many for after a while we find out that there are lots of these things all over the world. Thus, the War of the Worlds begins, although this war looks more like an annihilation (the actual fighting back from the humans happens in a very limited number of scenes). The aliens (no mention of martians of course) are here and they want to wipe us out, harvest our blood, spew our remains and fill our land with some red vein-like stuff.

Confession: I have never read the novel by H. G. Wells, though I am about to do so. For this reason I cannot compare much. One thing I do believe however, is that the events in the book take place over a number of days, while this movie gives the impression of happening over a period of one or two days tops. I did have the opportunity to see the original movie however many years ago, though I must say I can't remember much. I also had the chance to watch the TV series from the 8Os. In any case there are some classic elements and visuals to War of the Worlds, the most famous of course being the alien hand with the three fingers that ended in this sort of suction cups. You won't be disappointed, the hand appears in all it's glory. However we not only get to see the hand. Even though the trailers have been very secretive about the lok of the new aliens, they actually have some scenes. As you can expect, a lot of money and time in a digital studio went into the creation of these beings (which again have a drift of similarity to the aliens in ID4). This can be a problem however, because this is one of those movies that proves that the less you shw, the more you scare. Even though the scenes of destruction are visually striking, Spielberg accomplishes the more scary moments when the characters are hiding in their basement. They hear a lot of noise, they see ots f lights outside, we know something is happening, we know we are in the middle of chaos and destruction... but we can't see. We don't know what is actually happening. It is that not knowing what makes the moment scary. Personally I would have preferred to see only the alien hand and not the alien itself.

Other classical elements like the peculiar sound of the alien rays being fired are not in this movie.

However one of the most interesting things is that the new War of the Worlds has been brought up to our present day in more ways than just technological. The best example of this is that when Ray grabs his kids and flees while everything is exploding behind him, little Rachel starts screaming and asks the hallmark questions of the movie: "Is it the terrorists?"

I want to say a few things about the ending without actually spoiling it. I'm not sure how the book ends, I imagine the same. I do remember the ending of the original movie. They are basically the same. Once again we have Morgan Freeman with a little epilogue. The only thing I would like to say is... you might be disappointed. You might find the ending sudden and even stupid. But this is it. It's supposed to be ironic. All I can say is, don't expect a huge super fight that takes the final half hour.

Since I compared this movie to Independence Day I must also mention the diferences. This movie is more about the survival of mankind from the point of view of this family. There are no loud, funny heroes in this movie and no one will be punching any aliens in the face and carrying their carcass through the desert a-la-Will Smith. Spielberg manages to keep this adventure within the two hour boundary thus avoiding to stretch the story more than needed as in the first collaboration with Cruise, Minority Report.

War of the Worlds is great visually and has great moments of tension, but it is the claustrophobic moments, the times of waiting in the dark which are more effective than the aliens destroying everything in front of them. A great example of this takes place in a confrontation with Ray and a crazy survivor played by Tim Robbins. Their struggle takes place behind a closed door. We never get to see what happens. Yet, it is a powerful.

A new War of the Worlds, a modern version with lots of eye candy and some tense scenes. The ending might have too many rose shades for some, I particularly would have accepted a grimmer outcome for Ray and his family.

This was after all a war.


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