Aug. 5, 2005
War of the Worlds
Every time I think that I have totally gotten past caring about how bad movies have become, I end up seeing a stupid, insulting, pernicious piece of crap like Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, and I find myself as angry as ever. It seemed that both the reviews and the word-of-mouth on this film were perfectly okay, which I find slightly horrifying.
Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman termed all sequels and remakes “whore’s movies,” meaning they’re made explicitly for money and nothing more —not our enjoyment, not our fulfillment, and certainly not our edification. The film was made to get us to pay our money, and nothing more. Well, this remake of War of the Worlds is truly a whore’s movie, or more accurately, two whores: Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, both desperate for a hit after big stinky bombs like: The Terminal, The Last Samurai, and Minority Report (a combined bomb for both of them). But why would these two guys who are rich beyond our wildest dreams be desperate for anything, and yet they clearly are? Let’s face it, when you’re on top there’s nowhere to go but down.
Even if these words were never spoken, there was a script meeting on this War of the Worlds that went something like this:
SS: I’m bored to death with aliens attacking from the sky.
DK: Well, where else can alien invaders invade from?
SS (thinks he has a good idea): How about from underground?
DK (confused): Why would aliens come from underground?
SS: Who gives a shit? Every single person who pays money to see this film is a fucking asshole anyway, so fuck them! Make the aliens come up out of the ground.
DK: How do I explain it?
SS: Don’t even bother, anyone stupid enough to pay for this kind of shit isn’t worthy of an explanation. Fuck ‘em! Just do it.
As I say, although those exact words probably weren’t spoken, those were the sentiments.
Having alien tripods buried underground all over the Earth completely undermines H.G. Wells’ basic concept, which they still ridiculously stick with, except now it no longer makes any sense at all. How can the bacteria in our atmosphere surprise the aliens, let alone kill them, when they have absolutely been here before? They were here long enough to bury thousands of these retro ‘30s tripods, right? And why, may I ask, would anyone bury tripods all over a planet, then wait a million years to suddenly appear and kill everybody? That’s just asinine, and an insult to H.G. Wells who had come up with a perfectly workable plot.
Meanwhile, the moment by moment dramatic logic of this film makes even less sense then the hole they’ve punched in the plot, and truly must have been conceived by people who consider us all to be complete morons.
The aliens have made all of the cars stop running—a direct steal from The Day the Earth Stood Still, where the aliens have stopped the flow of all electricity, including cars, as a display of their power—but in this film the aliens have somehow just burned out the starters and the solenoids, though not the rest of the electrical systems, and the only human being to figure this out is everyman crane-operator Tom Cruise? So now he’s the only person in the world with a running automobile? Fuck you!
Then, for no understandable reason, everyone is trying to get onboard a crowded ferryboat, which doesn’t seem like a good idea, and very quickly proves not to be. Then, in the middle of being attacked by aliens, Tom Cruise’s son must suddenly go off on his own to become a man or find himself or something, and Tom lets him go. This seemed so absurd and improbable that I could only think, “This is to set up the son coming back at the end as a big sentimental moment,” and of course that’s exactly what it was, the only difference is that when he finally returns at the end the sentimental moment is not only not big, it’s a great big nothing.
Dennis Murren’s special effects are state-of-the-art, even if the alien tripods look like they’re out of the retro World of Tomorrow ride at Disneyland. However, the effect of the death ray vaporizing people is surprisingly similar to the utterly silly effect Monty Python always used for people blowing up (like in Time Bandits), where just the clothes going flying away, and it’s anything but scary. The old, now considered cheesy, special effects in the original, 1953 version of the film, were much scarier, at least to me. Nor is there anything nearly as good in this remake as the priest getting vaporized in the original.
Meanwhile, somewhere about a third to halfway into this movie, Cruise and his shrieking daughter find themselves in a house with a goofy Tim Robbins. Whatever kinetic energy the film had built up until this point, it suddenly loses completely and the momentum just drops dead. Okay, now get this—the aliens send into the house their snake-like periscopes, but they can’t hear anything, nor even see you unless you’re standing directly in front of them. You can seemingly hide behind a broom handle and they can’t see you. You can outrun them, duck under them, or just go around them—these snake periscopes are nearly worthless.
Then you get to see the actual devil-faced, spider-like aliens themselves running around outside without space suits, who are obviously deaf and blind, too, since they can’t see or hear anything the humans do. And even though they are technically far advanced of us, they still haven’t taken a tricorder reading of the atmosphere they’re foolishly breathing.
Now forgive me if everybody understands this and it was just my lack of attention, or intelligence, that’s got me confused—the aliens are catching people, sticking them with needles, then spraying their blood all over the place, then the blood somehow becomes growing red tendrils? Is that what was happening? It’s like I went out to take a leak and missed something, only I didn’t.
But for me what’s worst about this film, and a betrayal on some level, is that it was made by Steven Spielberg, the guy who introduced the idea of friendly aliens in Close Encounters and ET. That Spielberg has stooped to making thoughtless monster killer alien movies is depressing. Steven Spielberg, who once told us that the future was inviting and friendly, has now himself succumbed to the paranoid, fatalistic view that we’re surrounded by enemies who all want to kill us. “Exterminate us,” as Tim Robbins says. Robbins also makes an offhanded comment about “Occupation, which never works.” So, are the aliens a metaphor for Muslim terrorists? Or are Americans the aliens? Or are the aliens Nazis? Most likely, though, there’s no meaning to any of it.
Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake of War of the Worlds is a stupid, insulting, ugly, severely repetitious, wearisome, shit-ass-poor excuse of a movie, and worst of all it’s no damn fun. A movie like Independence Day, which is a ridiculous piece of crap, is much better than War of the Worlds. That’s a testament to just how bad movies have gotten in just the last ten years, let alone in the last thirty years.
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