Wednesday, July 06, 2005

War of the Worlds; or Oh, Shut Up and Die Already!


Are they gone? Can we talk? Good. Okay. Let me just say that I really usually like Steven Speilberg. Really. And I so wanted to like this movie. I love the original story by Wells, I even loved the quasi-campy 50's movie. So, this weekend, I saw it. I was deeply, deeply disappointed. There were a couple of interesting moments when you really thought something fascinating was going to happen. And then, they just.... didn't.

Nothing fascinating happens in this movie. Well, no, I take that back. Some really fascinating stuff seemed to be going on... off camera.There is so much wrong with this movie, it's just hard to know where to start. The biggest problem is with the script. The credited writers are Josh Friedman and David Koepp. That big, fat and is there for a reason. It signifies that Friedman and Koepp were most likely never in the same room at the same time. If they had been writing as a team, there would have been a big, fat & between their names instead. No, my guess is, Josh wrote the earliest accepted draft, and they brought Koepp in to doctor it per Spielberg's specifications. I am not sure why Spielberg is so in love with Koepp. I find most of the movies he works on to be full of formulaic, antiquated cinema clich├ęs that grate on my nerves. A graduate of UCLA Film School, he's learned all the tricks of the trade, and he uses them at every turn. I'd love to read one of his screenplays. I'm sure it reads like a textbook on "how to write a screenplay that sells."

Here's one trick he missed in WotW, though. Act II. A movie lives or dies on it's Second Act. In the First Act, we learn who we're dealing with and why we should care -- a guy who is so self-centered that he's totally detached from his children and their lives. He doesn't know his daughter is a claustrophobe. He can't talk to his son without provoking him. Blah, blah, blah. You've seen it a hundred times. Which wouldn't be so bad, since a lot of real-life dads are like that, and I'm sure every one of them handles it in a different way. But Friedman and Koepp don't handle it in a different way. They handle it in the same way. Tired, worn out scenes of father facing off with angry, beligerent teenage son. Tired, worn out scenes of ex-spouses facing off against each other -- she's remarried to Mr. Wealthy Nice Guy and pregnant now, and presumably has the life that our (anti) hero could never give her. Blah, blah and more blah. But Act II is supposed to set us up for the Big Climax. You know, that moment when our heroes are in "the box" -- the inescapable, insurmountable, unsolvable dilemma that must be escaped, surmounted and solved by Act III. In WotW, there is no dilemma. There's just Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Disgruntled Teen Boy Actor. Running. And running. Then driving. And driving. Then doing a little swimming. Then running some more. Which begs the question....

So the fuck what?

At no time, ever, do you really learn about these aliens. Clearly, the spaceships were buried, as the Narrator (Morgan Freeman) tells us, "before there were even people here." Why? If people weren't here yet, why bury the damn ships? Why not just take the damn planet then? Did the aliens stop and ask themselves, "Ya know... it's been a bad milennium, we're kind of cranky. This planet's empty. We could just take it over, but where's the sport in that? Why don't we wait until these little nute-like creatures sprout legs, learn to walk upright, and then we'll come back, shoot down to our buries tripods and beat the living crap out of them before we drain their blood to spray all over the countryside. Just for fun. Cuz we aliens, we're wacky and capricious like that?"

An audience shouldn't have to work so hard to fill in the blanks, to make excuses for lame-ass scripts full of holes and white space.I mean, maybe there is a story here. But you'd never know it. Because we don't get a whole lot of story. We get some GORGEOUS special effects.  But then, Minority Report was a movie full of gorgeous effects without any storytelling glue to hold it together, too. Which begs the other question... Will Speilberg and Cruise top making movies now? Please? Because, really, it's not a mutually beneficial partnership. And I say that from a place of love... if not for Cruise, then certainly for Spielberg.

Anyway, I felt it was generally a waste of $10.50. It will make money because, as I discovered on Monday, the 4th, while searching for a movie to take the bitter WotW aftertaste away that it isn't up against anything. Bewitched (don't even get me started on that piece of drek), Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, Cinderella Man.... ugh! Please. Is it any wonder that moviegoers are staying way from the multiplex in droves? So this movie will make money for Paramount and Dreamworks.

And there is one bright spot in an otherwise dismal fare -- Dakota Fanning. She's a phenomenal little actress, and one that constantly surprises. She's your Jodie Foster. She'll grow up to be a first-class movie star. If you want to see Dakota Fanning, rent I Am Sam, Hide and Seek, or Man on Fire. Not that the latter two are too much better than WotW, but you don't have to pay $10.50 for the privilege.

Rant over... I'll wait for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Please don't be a disappointment... please don't be a disappointment... please don't be a disappointme... ) Good grief, are you guys still here? Get out of here. In the immortal words of Tracey Ullman...

"Go home!"



  1. Great review - I guess it can stay on the rental cue and I'll save my 10.50 - and I completely agree with you on the wickedly talented Dakota Fanning - though hearing her interviewed is rather frightening due to the fact that there is no discernible child in that child's body....I have to disagree on "Batman Begins", which I very much enjoyed - art direction, casting (though Ms. Holmes character could have been interchangeable with just about anyone) and particularly the fact that they stuck to the original premise, tone and spirit of the comic books and graphic novel - which Mr. Burton did not do - and I respect the hell out of Christian Bale's madness immersion into each character. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is probably one of those movies that Manpants and I will rent for the unintentional comedy potential, like we did with "Gigli".

  2. Boy, am I with you on this. We went to see WotW as a way of keeping cool on a hot day, and in that function it was all right. Paid 6.50 for the barg mat. For the record, I wanted Tim Robbins dead the moment I laid eyes on him; you could just tell we were in for some dreadful shit by the look in his eyes.

    At the end, when the unbelievably clean family is standing in that Beacon Hill doorway, my wife leaned over and said, "Why'd they trot Gene Barry in just to stand there looking senile?" Then I remembered that Gene Barry was the star of the '50s WotW!

    Stevie's private joke. Funny, huh?

  3. Yeah, Brother Kenya, hilarious. I didn't even notice that, so thanks for mentioning it. But that's something else I forgot to mention in my review -- how the movie comes to grinding, hissing stop when they meet the Tim Robbins character. Also, how is it those aliens manage to blast the shit out of New York, Tokyo, London, D.C., etc., and yet, Boston remains untouched. See? Those aliens... capricious, I tell you. You can't trust them as far as you can throw them.

    Mil -- I didn't mean to imply that Batman was a bad movie. I haven't seen it. But it's not much of a draw compared to WotW. Good luck with Mr. and Mrs. Smith. We made it, and I haven't seen it yet. The very idea just makes me want to jump up and punch that Angelina Jolie in the nose, for Jennifer Aniston's sake.


  4. Once again my laziness precludes my ability to drive to the theatre (across the street) to see this. Thank God for Catharine. If you hated it...I know I would too. Fuck Spielberg and his Alien worshiping thetan12 or whatever Tom Cruise believes himself to be.
    I think Dakota Fanning needs to be smacked and told not to sound so big for her britches (missy!). But that's the southern mamma in me.

  5. Oh..and I'm Johnny Depp the way you are Jude Law. Mmmmmmmmm. I don't think it could suck. I get to sit there and watch HIM for two hours don't I? Who needs a plot!

  6. Oh, I'm all about Johnny Depp, too. I've been cheating on Jude Law with Johnny Depp, in fact.


  7. Thanks for sending people my way, Catharine. Don't short change your feisty, passionate reviewing powers... they're wonderful. it's YOU with whom Johnny has been sneaking around! I was going to be mad... but since it's you, I guess we'll just have to share.