So we today we saw the Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise production of War of the Worlds. As I've said in these pages previously, I had some real trepidation about this one. But after reading an article in Wired magazine, it is not unreasonable to: (a) change the date because everyone know the countryside wasn't laid waste in 1890s or whenever the original work was set and (b) NASA probes and satellites pretty much don't show any civilizations on Mars, so we'll skip the whole Martian invasion angle.
It's Got Morgan Freeman In It!
Well, at least for the opening and closing narration.
Tom, despite his recent meltdown on the NBC Today show, does a credible Tom Cruise blockbuster roll -- competent, but not quite believable as a dad with kids this old -- he's going to be haunted by his boyish good looks when he's eighty. And I suppose in the beginning he got to get around the insurance company trying to keep him from freeclimbing by having to climb up to that traveling crane control cab "all by himself." Dakota Fanning, who has showed up in a number of big roles, including Spielberg's alien abduction mini-series Taken on SciFi Channel last year, does a good job and hopefully doesn't get any nightmares from the movies she makes. The brother is adequate as a teenaged boy knocking heads with Tom Cruise. The mother -- oh dear god do we need another yuppie scum all-natural homeopathic what-did-she-ever-see-in-the-dad-before-t
The Jaws Effect
Steven Spielberg made blockbuster history with his release of Jaws back in the 70s. And a lot of it had to do with timing -- you didn't see the shark for the longest time. Of course back then, it had to do with the fact that his mechanical shark didn't work worth a damn and wasn't available until they were out on the Orca.
Here Spielberg makes effective good use of a street intersection, which seemingly heaves and dips and breaks open and splits apart in full-sized glory and really looks pretty good -- it felt like twenty minutes before we finally saw the newly envisioned tripod walkers, but that's only because we were having so much fun.
Okay, Scare Us Already
Elsewhere we spend a lot of time hiding behind and below things, and so only get to see the escalation in waves. Horrific things happen to buildings, houses, cars, trucks, trains, planes, tanks and ships -- these are played up in a myriad of differing ways and add to the hopelessness of the situation.
Tom Cruise loses, at various times, the members of his traveling party -- they mix it up in good ways to add to the tension.
There are good variations in terrain heights, allowing us to interact with the excellent tripod walkers from different levels.
I'm Sorry Though...
Some of the scenes just look like they were done on a soundstage -- whether they were or not. The front yard of the one abandoned country house, with the pond and the footbridge and the dead cow carcass -- just doesn't feel right on the big screen. Reminds me too much of scenes in The Wizard of Oz which you knew were crowded onto the limited depth of a soundstage.
And the aliens look crabby, sort of like the sourpuss alien faces I've seen in the commercials for a new video game titled, I think, All Humans Must Die!.
And the catch baskets for collecting humans for the aliens' inhuman projects, just remind me too much of the hunting scene leading up to the Flesh Fair in the Kubrick/Spielberg A.I.
The Dumb Physics Awards
**** Includes Spoiler Info ****
Thankfully, they didn't make the family steal a Hummer or other Seriously All-Terrain vehicle to try to drive from New York to Boston... but as my wife pointed out, if she'd tried to drive a boring minivan through any of the debris strewn streets, she'd have a flat tire in about fifty-five seconds. And isn't it convenient how when all the vehicles died on the freeway, that they managed to pull mostly out of the way in little clumps, so Tom Cruise could have a clear path for miles of highway. Yikes.
And correct me if I'm wrong, but if there EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) with an overvoltage high enough to stop an electronic watch and everything else, I think you'd need to be replacing both the lead-acid car batteries and the computer chips controlling the motor before you'd get a modern car to run. "Every" survivalist knows you need either a hand-cranked diesel or a old non-computerized carburetted gasoline engine to even have a chance -- no electronic fuel injection here...
Thankfully the crashed 747, which I think is cut up from a real 747 and not just leftover from the beachfront of Lost, can toast a neighborhood, take out half of the house our family is hiding in the basement -- and miss that one damned lucky minivan.
Then there's the killing ray/beam from the tripod walkers. Just what kind of power supply are they running to be able to fire that many times with that much power. I mean we're vaporizing humans into dust in seconds here, folks.
On the other hand, I guess we're not spending too much time trying to destroy Boston, because all these idiots from New York are forever trying to get into Boston. I guess Beantown wasn't on the invader's AAA TripTik map.
And if the empty machines have been buried under our cities for A Long Time (10 to 1,000,000 years -- you figure it out), don't you think that with all the water, sewer, electrical, communication, gas, pneumatic and subway tunnels and piping under New York City, et al, that someone would've unearthed at least one of these damned things in all that time?
... in the end I have to say that they pulled this off far better than I thought. If you're a fan of any of the earlier incarnations of this story, I'll bet you'll still have your previous favorites intact afterwards. But I think some of the impressive moves in this version make it worth seeing.
Elizabethtown refers to the city of that name in Kentucky. A father dies and a son from the city has to take the body back to the relatives who never left Kentucky. Clash of cultures will ensue, for sure, but "to bring balance back to the Force" we have an interested airline flight attendant who helps our social misfit achieve all his goals -- or something like that. Has some potential, as long as they don't go Next of Kin on us.
First theatrical trailer for The Island, but surely not the last. They'll be flogging this hard. Orlando Bloom and Scarlett Johanson, both of whom are in everything the last couple of years. Some of the early references to this I've seen talk about it's connections to the The Matrix, but it really has much more in common with Logan's Run and the plethora of movies/stories about growing sentient full-body clones for the purposes of organ/limb harvesting for rich clients. (This isn't a spoiler, it's in the trailer...)
And in the More Remakes We Didn't Knew Needed To Be Remade Department, Billy Bob Thornton is showing up in The Bad News Bears.