Sunday, July 23, 2006

movie review: War of the Worlds 1 Caban 10 Xul
I don't like Tom Cruise anymore. I never liked him much, except in that movie where he runs around in his underwear singing Bob Segar. I thought he ruined Interview with the Vampire (he was totally wrong for the part of Lestat) and after he started in on Scientology and jumping on Oprah's couch and all that, forget it.
So I didn't see the Spielberg version of War of the Worlds until last night, when it came on HBO. I wasted 2 hours of my life watching it and I wish I could get those 2 hours back to do something constructive. Like sleep. Or watch South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut again.
I'm sure HG Wells probably rolled over in his grave to see what they did to his story. (Spoilers ahead, but be grateful because you won't have to watch this piece of garbage.) The part that was most true, the aliens dying basically of colds, seemed tacked-on and fake and a deux ex machina. The internal premises of the movie, things the movie was careful to set up, didn't stay consistent.
The alien invasion starts with a weird storm and a bunch of lightning striking one spot repeatedly. All the power goes out. Cars stop working. Phones stop working. This is implied to be due to an EMP (based on news reports playing on the TV before the storm hits, which is a reasonable and clever way to get scientific and background information into the movie, since the main character was demoted from scientist to scientologist...I mean crane operator. And another thing, why waste the opening minutes on the character's crane operating skills if they never come into play again? Why not just show him arriving late to pick up his children?). If you go to the movie mistakes website, many of the posters explain that EMP only works on items that are TURNED ON at the time of the pulse. That's how people can be taking photos and movies of the tripods as they come out and start frying people. All right, fine, I understand that. But not every car in that city would have been turned on and running when the EMP happened, so why don't any of those cars start?
Tom Cruise's character (I already forget his name) tells the garage to put a solenoid into a van and that makes the van restart, proving that unused solenoids were not affected by the pulse. It would take no time at all for him to give out this information to the people who are walking and freaking that they don't have cars that run. Many mechanics had to have survived, and many auto parts stores and repair shops. He could have told the people in the news van, whose van and equipment survived unscathed, to put that report out over the air so when the EMP did hit, people would know what do to.
The tripods have a death ray that turns people into ashes, but their clothes remain intact. How does the ray know what to vaporize? And unless the ash is another type of fertilizer, this seems very wasteful. Later on they are grinding up live humans and using their blood to water plants--but most of the humans have already been ashed.
And that brings us back to the machines. Supposedly these have been buried all over the earth since before mankind evolved. So these aliens are very patient--they knew some kind of life would evolve here that they could exploit later to grow red weeds. (Why do they want to grow red weeds? I don't know. The movie doesn't say. I am holding off re-reading the short story, until I finish the review.)
But why couldn't they use dinosaurs as fertilizer? Why wait for humans? Ash is ash (assuming they used the ash) and blood is blood.
My husband raised the point--why were the tripods only buried in major cities? How did the aliens know where the cities would be millions of years later? I suggested that the tripods were buried EVERYWHERE (one does come out of a lake) and only those in major cities were activated. But that begs the question....why didn't we ever find one? With all our ground-penetrating radar and deeply buried subways and oil drilling, how come we never found even one sleeping tripod? Someone on the movie mistakes site suggested that the tripods crawled underground into place. That would have shown as seismic activity though, and the TV wasn't talking about recent low-key world-wide earthquakes.
Tom Cruise has a limited acting range. Aw-shucks gee whizz doofus, angry stern commander, and blank-faced. He tried toward the end to play the loving daddy but it fell flat and wasn't believable. His spoiled and pampered daughter was so shrill, that I didn't care if she lived or died. She added nothing to the plot except making the movie longer and louder. At one point he claims she's ten, but she acts much younger. The son was a more interesting character. He had his dad's measure as an uncaring slacker. He showed his father how to really help, not just stand around--when he ran to save the people on the boat ramp and when he repeatedly tried to join the military convoys. I don't remember the son questioning how they had a running vehicle, but he would have been the one telling people if he knew.
The plane got hit by the EMP and fell from the sky when they were hiding in the basement of Cruise's ex-wife's new house. But their van still started and amazingly did not get hit by any plane debris. The plane's occupants should have been splattered all over, but there were none.
The aliens in the basement were too cute. They had big eyes. Big eyes make humans sympathetic. Also, shouldn't they have had 3 eyes evenly spaced around their heads? They have 3 3-fingered appendages so why not 3 eyes? Obviously these creatures are NOT bi-laterally symmetrical. 3 eyes (even if large) would be gross to humans. The way they bumbled around, knocking things over, being in amazement over the bike wheel, makes them seem like endearing and harmless creatures, along the lines of ET. If one of them had been coughing or sneezing or showing signs of illness, that would have set up the ending. But they blow their chance there.
By the time Tom Cruise and his screaming monster of a daughter get to Boston, the tripods are dropping dead, the alien red weeds are dying and being eaten by crows. The soldier tells him the tripods started walking in circles and then fell over. Birds land all over a still-upright tripod which alerts Tom Cruise, the vigilant crane operator, that the shields are down. This makes NO sense. The tripods aren't alive. It's the aliens inside. And the sick aliens wouldn't turn off the shields and continue to blast things.

Now I am re-reading War of the Worlds online, and I will comment on what was changed in the movie, concentrating on the things I brought up in my review.
  • Book: meteors containing tripods landed. Tripods were not pre-buried.
  • Book: aliens have 2 huge eyes and "Gorgon groups of tentacles"--movie: aliens have 2 large eyes and but only 3 3-fingered appendendges. Since they changed the appearance in other ways, why not change the eyes too?
  • Book: no electronics in the world, thus no EMP and all the associated plot problems
  • Book: death-ray simply burns people, trees, and animals. Not selective to human flesh as in the movie and does not turn them to instant ash. "However it is done, it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam."
  • There is a train, but it's not on fire. " Over the Maybury arch a train, a billowing tumult of white, firelit smoke, and a long caterpillar of lighted windows, went flying south--clatter, clatter, clap, rap, and it had gone....It was all so real and so familiar." Later on in the book there is a wrecked train, but it's not on fire, and it's not moving.
  • Book: aliens are "sluggish" and unable to move in our gravity. Movie: they walk about, not only freely, but clamor up and over walls like spiders.
  • Book: Narrator/protagonist is a married philosophy writer with no children. Movie: divorced crane operator with 2 kids.
  • Book: main character wants to be there when the Martians are killed. Movie: protagonist doesn't want to be there but his son does.
  • Book: artillery shells destroy a tripod with a direct hit. Movie: tripods have elaborate, invisible shields.
  • Book: dying tripods squirt "ruddy brown fluid". Movie: dying tripods excrete reddish orange fluid.

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