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WAR OF THE WORLDS by Steven Spielberg

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Divorced dock worker Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) takes care of his kids Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin) while his ex-wife Mary-Ann (Miranda Otto) makes a trip to her mom with her new husband. The kids hate to be with Ray (and he’s really not a very good father), but things get worse when after a strange thunderstorm huge three-legged alien machines unearth themselves and wage war against humanity. The tripods are armed with heat rays and are big and strong enough to easily crash houses, highways and any other structure that’s in their way. In addition, the EMP’s released on their arrival have caused a total power disruption and fried any electronics (including cars), and the tripods are protected by force fields.
Ray manages to escape with his kids in the one car that has been repaired and heads for Boston where he hopes to meet Mary-Ann. But the aliens are everywhere, killing or capturing all humans they can find. Forced by a desperate mob to leave the car, and losing Robbie who is determined to see the military fight the aliens, Ray and Rachel find shelter in a cellar together with Ogilvy (Tim Robbins) who is on the verge of madness …

The latest ‘re-imagining’ of H.G. Well’s 1895’s science fiction novel that spawned a radio dramatization with Orson Welles in 1938 (which caused a panic in the USA), the musical by Jeff Wayne, the classic 1953 movie, and some less classic movies. Spielberg has updated the story (and re-located from Great Britain to the USA, of course), sets it in the present and fuels it with today’s problems – divorce, educational problems, loss of respect, terrorism, while the original beginning is still here:

“We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s, and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood which, by chance or design, man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space.
Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

The trailers for this film and the fact that Steven Spielberg directed it raised high expectations, and it does start decent with this reference to the original. But can it meet this expectations? Not when you know and love the Jeff Wayne-musical and expect WAR OF THE WORLDS – it starts more like WAR OF THE ROSES, and while i like some characterization in my action-movies, it’s better to have none than to have this bunch of clichés: not only is Ray late to pick up his kids, he also doesn’t have any food at home and doesn’t care to get some for them, his kitchen looks more like a garage than a kitchen, he doesn’t know his daughter suffers from an allergy, and of course he tries half-heartedly to connect to his teenage son by throwing a baseball at him.
The kids themselves are so obnoxious you’ll wish the aliens get them – the sooner, the better – and if you don’t care a lot for Tom Cruise, you’ll wish they get him, too. Maybe Steven directed them too well!
And though i resent the display of American Heroism (TM) in your typical Hollywood disaster movie (such as INDEPENDENCE DAY), Spielberg shows us – always through the eyes of our ‘heros’ – the worst things war brings forth in humankind: panic, ruthless mobs, disintegrating minds. And also throws in some indifference and stupidity: although there are news reports of similar events in other areas of the world already, nobody cares to watch them, but people can’t keep from getting as close as possible to their doom until the world blows up around them (must be that highway accident-watcher thing).
A good study of where humanity stands, but not what you would have expected from the marketing hype!
Throughout the film, the audience is stuck with Tom Cruise’s point of view, so we get to see only a couple of exciting action sequences (and there are some great money shots, no doubt about that), but a lot of bitching and bickering and cowering in the basement instead.
And none of the acts of courage that do happen in times of war, and that gave you the chills in the musical – like the six lonesome gunners taking on the alien tripods, or the battleship Thunderchild which sacrifices itself to save a passenger ship:

“The steamer began to move slowly away, but on the landward horizon appeared the silhouette of a fighting machine. Another came, and another, striding over hills and trees, plunging far out to sea and blocking the exit of the steamer. Between them lay the silent, gray, ironclad Thunderchild. Slowly it moved towards shore, then with a deafening roar and whoosh of spray it swung about and drove at full speed towards the waiting Martians.
The Martians released their black smoke, but the ship sped on, cutting down one of the tripod figures. Instantly, the others raised their heat rays, and melted the Thunderchild’s valiant heart.
When the smoke cleared, the little steamer had reached the misty horizon, and Carrie was safe. But the Thunderchild had vanished forever, taking with her man’s last hope of victory. The leaden sky was lit by green flashes, cylinder following cylinder, and no one and nothing was left now to fight them. The earth belonged to the Martians.”

The end, however, is like in the original play – the aliens get killed by bacteria. Which may have been a somewhat believable solution 100 years ago, but is it today? Those aliens whose minds, science and technology are so much more advanced than ours still don’t know about bacteria? Vaccines? Protective clothing? When the story needed some updating, this really should have included the climax!

So if you want to see some martians conquering earth, i recommend you get some friends and some booze and watch INDEPENDENCE DAY on DVD (if you like it with some action and lots of American Heroism (TM), or even better watch MARS ATTACKS by Tim Burton – there you have all the action and all the fun you need!

One Response to “WAR OF THE WORLDS by Steven Spielberg”

  1. Administrator Says:

    Here is the original H.G. Wells-script: http://members.aol.com/skyyeyes/wow.txt
    here is the Jeff Wayne musical script: http://members.aol.com/skyyeyes/jwwow.htm

    and here is some cool fan-movie: http://www.richardbarnard.net/wotw/index.htm

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