"...intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with
envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us."
Herbert George Wells,
Chapter 1 – The Eve of the War from War of the Worlds (1898)
you have the same reaction to the early Spielberg teaser trailer
as I did? "...intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic?"
Why was it necessary to rewrite Wells' text? I swiftly and
unashamedly stood corrected. Spielberg's marketing folks dutifully
did go back to Wells. The rewrite (and subsequent erroneous
'correction') was due to the voice over featured in Jeff Wayne's
'concept' double album, a recording still a sprightly seller
after many years (and soon to be again). On the disc, it's
Richard Burton's velvet, chocolate delivery, the very essence
of 'the last word' which fooled me into thinking it must be
genuine Wells. Of course his re-write was "minds immeasurably
superior to ours..." which has a ring to it but always
go for the real thing. That used to be a mantra of mine. That
was until sugar water purveyors, Coca Cola, soiled the association.
It is the real thing if you advertise ten teaspoons of sugar
in every can.
why aren't we going for The War Of The Worlds,
(the 'real thing'?) a Pendragon production directed by Timothy
Hines? Well, probably because it was rushed to DVD bypassing
the theatrical run to ride on Spielberg's coat-tails. I've
not seen it but by accounts, it's faithful (and therefore
very long) and the CG is eminently enthusiastic but evidently
'not as expensive as ILM'. The Internet Movie Database contributors
have been somewhat harsh. Its selling points are accuracy
(it's set at the turn of the 19th century) and the afore mentioned
faithfulness to Wells' source novel. This is such a credible
and potent example of what really drives movies these days.
What's the marketing budget?
had announced after 9/11 that their updated version of Worlds (get that? ...their updated version) had been shelved
but many urged them on to shoot the film as written in the
novel. Even Paramount gave their lawyerly blessing previous
to knowledge of the Spielberg/Cruise involvement. And it has
been about five years in development and pre-production. But
then Timothy Hines (with all due real respect) is not Steven
in early 2004, David Koepp delivered his screenplay – an update
of the same novel – to Spielberg who, apparently, was so,
so taken with it, he had to make it NOW. Tom Cruise loved
the script and his usually booked-years-in-advance schedule
became free enough for the two, true Hollywood superstars
to bang out their version in an inordinately small amount
of time. Suspicions are merely suspicions but the speed at
which the project was mooted and 'shooted' does point towards
wanting to get 'their version' out before Pendragon's but
here is the rub. Who has the larger marketing budget? End
of argument. If anything, Pendragon will ride some free publicity.
But Spielberg and Cruise could not possibly have been phased
by a faithful retelling of the story, even if it was to be
released in the same year.
of this writing, I have not seen Spielberg's version but I
have dangerously high hopes. This man gave us Jaws and Close Encounters. After going Color (sic) Purple faced for Oscar recognition
and then following on with what seemed to be a whimsical and
peer-acceptance baiting line of choices, he announced War
of the Worlds. I accept Spielberg's place in the
current Hollywood pantheon but I long for him to return to
his roots, his almost evangelical zeal in telling hugely entertaining
stories with wit and flair without entertaining perceptible
Oscar ambitions. When he referred to his Schindler double
Oscar win as a thirst quenching experience after a long period
of drought, I had to question his motives. Audiences loved
his work and the Academy seemed to deem his work slight in
comparison to more worthy works and subjects. To hell with
the Academy (but peer recognition must be high on Spielberg's
agenda). It seems extraordinary to think of Spielberg as insecure
but I guess it dogs us all. I am fervently hoping Steven Spielberg
has returned to us. I am hopeful. I am bursting at the seams
to see War of the Worlds and in about 48
hours, I will have.
"...slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest
things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.
Herbert George Wells,
Chapter 8 – Dead London from WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898)
hours later... I don't know about God's wisdom...
it's wonderful! Steven Spielberg, welcome back to doing what
you do best – ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
I've just come back from a screening and I'm buzzing. I'm
44 years old, whining on about a film-maker whose work I used
to adore as a youngster and he's re-ignited that same giddy
passion that had me first in line twenty five years ago. If
I had to praise in order, the Koepp (and the co-credited Josh
Friedman) screenplay is taut, funny and completely realistic.
The direction is first class (the 'big' money moments are
all peripheral to the family unit attempting to stay together)
but the production design and special effects are exemplary.
I single those out because Spielberg can't hog all the credit.
Yes, it's his decision to use that design and not this design
but I once saw George Lucas okaying an alien design at Skywalker
Ranch (in a documentary you understand though I have shook
his hand and exchanged a grunt or two) and it hit me like
a solar plexus punch. He pays very creative people to do all
the work – and then some – and the 'genius' goes in and picks
what he likes. I know film is an intensely collaborative art-form
(and dear George can't fill all those pixels by himself) but
it depressed me. This is why I have to single out ILM's contribution
and the production designer, Rick Carter. Their work is faultless.
the reality of the fantasy that's so beguiling. The tripods
(which we'll come to in a moment) interact with absolute believability
in the suburbs and town centres of New Jersey. Whenever they
are seen, there is no question of their utter reality. Even
the malign extraterrestrials (which Spielberg is obliged,
nay forced to show us) feel like they belong in the environment
despite their alien nature. Yes, we are absorbed in what 'they'
might look like (Paramount and Dreamworks did a phenomenal
job, in a world of file sharing and leaky web sites, at keeping
a lid on these designs). In the trailer you see what appears
to be a tripod. Nope. It's only the foot of the tripod (also
a three legged structure). These machines are huge and although
they don't cry 'Uuuulaaa', they do emit a sound perilously
close in nature to Spielberg's benign mothership's first blast
of communication in Close Encounters. But
here it's chilling. The tripods are malevolent in a way that
a steamroller is malevolent to an ant. They give the air of
being utterly invincible and it's a sign of secure and confident
film-making when anyone you ever care for in the film is taken
aboard one of them. They have to be dead or certainly soon
to be dead, don't they?
creatures are tri-pedal and feature certain design elements
for which we have to nod very aggressively to Patrick Tatopolous's
reworking of Giger's alien for Independence Day.
But they work. They are suitably scary, suitably alien and
in no way do they invite derision or laughter. Even the homage
(call it what you will, it's a steal from Byron Haskins fifties' War of the Worlds) of the sick alien groping
down the ramp at the climax works very well. At least the
soldier didn't feel for a pulse – which is a plus. This is
CG in absolute deference to the story being told – just
as it should be. Bravo.
pluses: Cruise is not exactly stretched (a good character
actor could have played this role effortlessly) but credit
where credit's due. Cruise (as a dysfunctional dad who, over
the course of the film, becomes ever so aware of his lackadaisical
definition of fatherhood) is very convincing. He doesn't have
an arc in the rather hackneyed Hollywood definition of the
term. Thank Christ for that. It was what I was really afraid
of. It's his selfless actions and not the reactions from those
around him that earn him brownie points from the audience.
In a protracted scene of great tension in a madman's cellar,
you expect the precocious but effortlessly natural Dakota
Fanning (Cruise's movie daughter) to 'give in' and say what
a wonderful dad she has really. But she never does and it's
to the film's credit that it lets the audience decide how
good a father Cruise's character ends up being. There is a
decision made in that cellar that is never shown or made clear
that would change any man forever but as it's based on the
paternal instinct, whatever was done behind the closed door
seems eminently right. That it's accompanied by Fanning's
whispered rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's
'Hushabye Mountain' makes the scene enormously compelling.
are stand out shots and scenes, some of which beg to be revisited
and pored over on DVD. Fleeing from the first glorious (and
vicious) attack, the threesome of Cruise, his son and daughter,
bicker and panic in the only working vehicle in the state.
No one knows what's really going on. The kids are scared (as
they should be) and Cruise is not up for explaining what he
saw. He has the ash of those burned to a crisp by the alien's
heat-ray in his hair. He just needs to get away. It's a scene
inside a car that takes place outside and inside it over a
long period of time. In one shot. Yeah. In one shot. I have
no idea how it was achieved (I'm a smart-ass and could guess
throwing terms about like digital stitching and CG backgrounds)
but it's tremendously affecting. You are in that family. You
are asking the same questions. But there are no answers. Aliens?
Schmaliens! There is also a surreal scene in which items of
clothing fall from the skies. Your imagination runs riot (which
I suppose is the intention). The aliens are grabbing human
beings and doing what to them? All is revealed but...
Boy, was that image pregnant with exquisitely terrifying possibilities.
The only nod to what's going on in the wider world is provided
by a news team that has recorded images of the Independence
Day variety. It's also a great throwaway that all
the fan-boy scenes of tripod mayhem are played out for Cruise's
benefit on a tiny TV monitor inside a mobile news gathering
story is very simple. Cruise is given custody of his kids
(son and daughter) while ex-wife and new husband go on holiday.
The kids aren't happy. Cruise witnesses the rise, from underground,
a tripod alien machine that proceeds to incinerate every living
thing in the vicinity (Cruise does make a few miraculous escapes
but then, he's Tom Cruise, what did we expect?). He bundles
his family into the only working car and drives to his wife's
house. No one there (they are, as was said, on holiday). After
a huge disaster outside the front door, the family move on
to catch a ride on a ferry out of state (not a great idea
considering current events) and after giving up his son, anxious
to fight, father and daughter hole up in a cellar.
go from worse to even moreso as the aliens secure the cellar
(again direct quotes from Wells and Haskin's movie). The denouement
(which I'd hate to spoil for those unfamiliar with the source
novel, the album and the Pendragon version) – so look away
now – is identical to the novel that comes as both a welcome
surprise and a somewhat frustrating experience. The very first
thought that entered my head when I knew that Spielberg was
planning his remake was "How is he going to conclude
the story given the aliens' invincibility?" Well, with
deference and respect, he does what Wells did. No bad thing
but the movie does end on a "Oh, OK." Rather than
a rousing rout of alien ass. To be fair, that's Roland Emmerich's
take on things. I admire and respect Spielberg's movie for
sticking with the original despite how much I was looking
forward to seeing how they may have ended it differently.
just go and see it. It's about as entertaining a two hours
you could expect from a summer Hollywood movie. It may not
go down as a classic in times to come but it goes down as
a damn good night out. That's the No. 3 summer movie in the
TICK "Yes!" for good... What's going on? Hollywood
is 'working' again.
me scared but inordinately pleased...