Sunday, July 10, 2005

this image would be hilarious if I could get it to show up the right size. Click for full-sized hilarity.



Since The League was a wee tot, he's been a bit interested in HG Wells' tale of horrific panic, War of the Worlds. I confess that my interest hasn't really been in the novel (which I finally attempted to read this spring to, uh... mixed results), but in the 1938 radio broadcast and 1953 film versions of WoW.

In 7th grade I had initially heard about the mad panic caused by Orson Welles' broadcast, and located tapes of the show. For those of you unfamiliar with the 1938 broadcast and ensuing panic, I HIGHLY suggest you read up on the broadcast here. The radio broadcast is absolutely worth listening to for more than nostalgia reasons. Just imagine tuning in a few minutes late and it sort of boggles the mind.

In 1988, a TV series based upon the 1953 movie was released. Staying mostly in continuity with the movie, WoW: The TV series suggested that the 1953 attack had been a scouting mission of some sort, and in 1988 the aliens were finally getting off their duff and getting serious about taking over the planet. The show was 1) not that great, 2) got real weird real fast, and 3) was on at some awkward time, so I didn't catch it all that often.

It DID lead me to rent the 1953 movie which, along with the debut of MST3K, led me to a love affair with classic sci-fi, good and bad, which continues to this day. (It is no coincidence that both War of the Worlds and MST3K both have characters named Dr. Clayton Forrester.)

I still watch the original film about once a year. Sure, it's a bit dated and sexist, but it's good at what it does, and I can still remember how it scared me the first time I saw it. The ship design is still excellent. Sound FX, alien FX and force field FX still hold up remarkably well.

War of the Worlds relies on poking and prodding your fight or flight responses. Unlike Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, or even the aliens from ID4, the aliens in WoW can't be fought, can't be slowed, can't be tricked with some nice flying and a Mac with a wireless connection. They're pure unstoppable force with no points of weakness. To see a tri-pod is to see death arriving.

So how does Spielberg's War of the World's stack up?

Pretty well, I guess.

It should be no surprise that the special effects, sound design, set design, etc... are all top notch. The tripods look and sound phenomenal. Scary, monstrous stuff, taking cues from both the novel and the 1950's film (sound FX and the look of the force fields). And while I like the gliders from the 1953 version, it's no secret that the gliders were there because the special FX folks couldn't animate a 3 legged vehicle without it tumbling over. This crew makes it work.

The tripods seemed to have more of a functional purpose in previous incarnations, given the aliens' physiology. There's nothing really wrong with the current look of the aliens, but by taking away the fact that the aliens are using the tripods for tasks (ie, violence) their bodies can't perform, it somehow takes away the cold thuggishness of the three-eyed blobs as they go about their business.

Oh, three eyes? Not in this movie, baby. These joyriders are all about stereoscopic vision. Seemingly the love child of tea aliens from AI and ID4, it's all elbows, long limbs and beady little eyes. It's a nice design, but I sincerely liked the squat blobs of the 1953 version a bit better. Not to mention that the horrible three-part eye was about all you really saw of them. (creepy little three-eyed bastards).

The film uses images of devastation with great effect. Unlike the fireball devastation of, say ID4, Spielberg's WoW tears apart freeways and overpasses, blasts apart intersections and disintegrates buildings, brick by brick.

Tom Cruise is, and I hate to say this, pretty darn good. As much as he annoyed the hell out of The League in The Last Samurai, Tom uses that cocky charm to good effect in this film (for maybe five minutes when things go boom). Yes, he is a jack-ass, but in this movie, he's our jack-ass.

Dakota Fanning is good, I guess. I've read some reviews which talk about her giving an Oscar-worthy performance, but I don't know if that's quite how I see it. Sure, she's good, but, you know...

The story flows along at a good pace, although it does eliminate the familiar "standing around the spaceship until bad stuff happens" scene which found it's way into the book, radio show and movie. The script definitely borrows elements from the book and 1953 film (avoiding detection in the house) to good effect.

The movie does a fairly good job of propelling itself along (at breakneck pace) while integrating memorable character moments. Some of these are Spielbergian character moments of goofy sentimentality, but it's not that they don't work or even necessarily insincere. They're just... sort of... Squishy.

A lot of items remain unnecessarily unexplained. And while War of the Worlds has never gone out of it's way to get into the minds and motivations of the aliens, some items simply could have used a little clearing up.


Unsurprisingly, the points at which the script strays furthest from the original concepts are where the story runs into trouble. Innovations like the aliens inserting themselves via lightning strike goes beyond defying physics to defying logic. Were the aliens just floating around in a cumulonimbus for the past million years? Is there a mother ship or not?

The film suggests that the tripods sat dormant for millions of years. How on earth were the tripods not identified under the streets of NYC, Boston, Chicago? Why did the aliens wait a million years?

Waiting a million years suggests that the aliens had been to earth before. Wouldn't they be aware that they were going to keel over if they'd visited earth before?

Further, this Modus Operandai suggests that this was most likely not the first time the aliens had used this MO for invasion. Have the aliens not yet learned the value of a good, sealed space suit?

And if they had a million years, why didn't they just nuke earth from orbit and come back when the radiation was gone? Or use cows for their evil schemes instead of people?

end spoilers

The movie makes more sense in the context of Mars invading earth, and while the movie never explicitly says where the aliens come from, the logic behind the original movie, radio show, etc... somehow seems to add up slightly better.

That said, the movie is a good popcorn movie. It may, in fact, win some academy awards for sound and visual FX. And while WoW will most likely continue to be interpreted for film, TV and who-knows where else, this version certainly won't do the general property that is WoW any disservice.

Anyway, all in all, fairly enjoyable.

I also saw the trailer for Peter Jackson's King Kong. People (I'm looking at you, SGH) seem bent out of shape about this movie being made. I'm not really sure why.

Look, I love the original King Kong. I think it's a great adventure movie, but, let's be honest, it's not 1933 anymore. The story should still work for audiences today, and today's effects are a direct descendant of the original Kong.

It's got a gorilla and dinosaurs. Thus, it has already earned my $8.00.

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