« Gambling City/Almost Human | Main | Le Peril Jeune »

July 07, 2005

War of the Worlds

Steven Spielberg - 2005
35mm movie

Is there a good reason why no one has yet to do a faithful version of War of the Worlds? Why is there no one willing to make a film based on H. G. Wells' vision? It's not like no one knows the story. Still, I think that it would be interesting, and perhaps more fun, to see Victorian era Londoners attacked by creatures from outer space.

The film, written by Josh Friedman and David Koepp, while keeping to the basic Wells story, also has bits from Orson Welles' radio play and the 1953 movie produced by George Pal. I would have no problem with this except that Spielberg managed to make one of the grimmest movies of his career.
This is the least fun I've had watching a Spielberg film since I was battered with the history lesson titled Amistad. It's not simply a matter of telling the story with a straight face. By the time the film was over, I felt no cheer or excitement, but exhaustion.

I liked the last Spielberg-Tom Cruise collaboration Minority Report because it had several elements lacking in War of the Worlds. The story about future crime detection was interesting and engaging. The film moved briskly, combining Philip K. Dick's bleak vision with an equally dark streak of perverse humor.

In this new film, the first hurdle was buying the idea of Tom Cruise as the father of a teenager. Not that he's not old enough, but Cruise's boyish good looks work against taking him seriously here. This is also the first film I've seen with Dakota Fanning, the little girl with big blue eyes. She's a talented young lady, but my ears still hurt from hearing her shriek and scream multiple times. The aliens are a disappointment once you see them out and about. They look like E.T. crossed with a green chili pepper on steroids.

Where the film gets somewhat interesting is on touching on the theme of humans losing their sense of humanity in the face of disaster. There is a scene where Tom and his kids are attacked in the SUV driven from New Jersey to Boston. Everyone else is walking. A mob forms around the SUV, breaking windows and draging Cruise and his son (Justin Chatwin) out, leaving Dakota Fanning inside. Cruise tries to stop the mob by shooting a couple bullets in the air with the gun he brought for emergency situations. Another man points his gun at Cruise, forcing Cruise to drop his gun and give up his SUV. We see Cruise, Chatwin and Fanning sitting inside a diner, while outside we see, but mostly hear, the mob surrounding the SUV, shooting the carjacker, and driving off. It's not explained how Tom Cruise and the military are the only ones with motor vehicles that work, which is one of the film's most glaring plot holes. The scene made me think of a small film written and directed by David Koepp, The Trigger Effect, which was about people losing control during a power outage.

Spielberg deliberately chose not to be mindlessly entertaining like Independence Day or as supremely silly like Mars Attack. Schindler's List sobriety seemed to be hinted at, but Spielberg seems to be hedging here, perhaps to make sure he doesn't scare off the audience put off by A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Terminal. War of the Worlds is neither entertaining, silly or serious. Just big and loud.

Posted by peter at July 7, 2005 11:09 PM