Review: War Of The Worlds

So, Anthony and I went to see Spielberg’s “War Of The Worlds” last night. It’s really odd. The film for me has a conflict at its core that it derives from its dual ancestry: one the one side, Wells’ novel and his fascination with the stuff of science and and on the other, the Hollywood ego-centric film-making tradition.

(warning: there are minor spoilers and the ending is betrayed to anyone who hasn’t seen a prior version or read the book)

The core of Wells’ narrative is the conflict between two biospheres, Mars and Earth, in which the former residents of Mars are defeated by Gaia itself acting through its most numerous organisms. Fascinating stuff that helped ordinary folk develop an understanding of natural selection and germ theory, both of which were not commonly held or grasped at the time.

The human beings in the story are bystanders, forced to watch the greater events at play around them, and helplessly subject to them. Because of that problem of mismatched might, the movie becomes a kind of disaster movie in which the concern is the survival of our troubled protagonist (Cruise) and his unlikable children. Fundamentally though the forces at work are so vast that nothing they do is really of much consequence.

And so Spielberg’s movie becomes a story about an estranged father trying to connect with his rarely-seen children against a backdrop of the near-extinction of his species. There’s no real connection between the human drama in the foreground and actual war. Everyone’s so busy “grabbing and running and ducking and hiding” that there’s not a lot of time to find out much about the characters.

There’s an inexplicable amount of trauma about cars: which get stolen, stop, get fixed, get stolen, get stolen again and (in a somewhat bizarre father-daughter lullaby moment) get sung about – this is natural for folks form southern California, I’m guessing. There are a couple of magical shots, one in particular involving a burning train, that are jaw-dropping cinema.

Finally, as the invaders are being laid low by bacteria of some kind, the bold US soldiers have to be shown tearing off a couple of shots with a rocket launcher – I guess to insert a little triumphal human involvement.

And really… in the end… that’s what never really happens in this film… it’s strangely boring for all the excitement, I never really got involved. You get tense, you get nervous, you get a little relieved, but you never really get involved and you leave the cinema with the sneaking suspicion that for all the money and effects… it just really wasn’t very good.

Rating: Wait until it gets off the first release shelf at the DVD rental shop.

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