War Of The Worlds (9/10)
The sci-fi nerd in me has been looking forward to this movie for a while now. Spielberg takes the opportunity to remake the classic and slam his Close Encounters and Jurassic Park styles into one film. Was I disappointed with this new remake? No, not really. It’s quite fun. Is it perfect? No, not really, but that’s OK. The absolute highlight of this film is the rock-solid production quality. The guys at ILM got to have an absolute field day with the visual effects in this film. The big action sequences in the first act of the film are breathtaking. They feature some amazingly long single-take sequences (which I’m sure had some digital manipulation to make them seem that way – I hope). Frankly, this is one of those films where I’m watching some of the huge visual effects sequences and I couldn’t tell you what methods they used to accomplish the sequences. I know a pretty good amount about visual effects (I like to read industry magazines, like the brilliant Cinefex), and I can usually tell what approach was taken for particular sequences in movies. Watching stuff like the scene of them driving down the highway in the mini-van, I really couldn’t tell you what all is going on to accomplish the shot. It’s nothing easy, I can tell you that much. Frankly, it’s amazing how easy Spielberg can make all this stuff look in his films. He’s one of the elite directors that can mount something of this scale and make it all look easy. There are only a few other directors with that talent (James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, and to some extent George Lucas). I must also praise the sound designers. I really loved the sound in this film – including the rather simple but effective and cool sounds of the tripod machines. I was pretty surprised how closely they stuck to the original story for this remake. The era has changed, and the main characters have been replaced with a new approach, but pretty much all of the rest of the story happening around them is right out of the original. The story frontloads much of the action, playing out the more sci-fi and suspense elements later in the film (this shouldn’t come as much of a spoiler shock to anyone who’s familiar with the story). Tom Cruise does a good job in the film. It’s a tough role if for no other reason than the fact that the story is told in the first person, and I doubt there’s a scene in this film that doesn’t have Cruise on screen. Dakota Fanning, who always impresses me, is in nearly as many scenes. While she doesn’t get much of a chance to stray from the average “little girl” kinds of material (scream at the monster), she still manages to find some wonderful moments to add depth to her character. This isn’t as incredible as a few of her previous performances, but she makes it work. So, after saying all that, what do I think didn’t quite work? Well, there’s one thing in particular that didn’t work – the character of the son. It’s played by an actor I can’t remember, and with good reason. This character is mildly annoying and completely useless to the plot (more on him at the end of the review). I would have also changed the pacing of the second half of the film a bit. He lingers on the “raptor scene” of them trapped in the cellar a bit too long. It’s not a big problem, but it does get a little sluggish in that area of the film. My last couple comments to follow are going to contain some spoilers, so read at your own risk. You have been warned. The one point that annoyed me more than anything in this film is that the idiot son was shown alive at the end. After being so stupid and running off into the fight so defiantly, there’s no way he should have survived that. It’s a total cop-out to have him alive at the end. That is by far my biggest sore spot about this film. I do want to single out one brilliant little moment in the film that I absolutely loved. The scene with the passenger train flying by engulfed in flames was brilliant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that in a movie before. I love the fact that they toss it into the scene as almost an afterthought and pay little attention to it. I mean, even the crowd of people just stop and watch it go by, then continue on their way. It’s one of those cleverly brilliant moments that’s partly depressing reality and also sadistically humorous. On that note, actually, it was interesting to observe the audience laughing out loud during the scene of all the bodies floating by on the river in front of Dakota Fanning’s little girl character. I’m wondering what Spielberg thinks of that audience reaction. I’m guessing it’s unintentionally funny (even I had to chuckle at it a bit).