What In The World?
I'm about to write on War Of The Worlds. Since I'm not a daily reviewer, I don't care if I give away the plot. So if you haven't seen it and you don't want to know too much, stop reading here.
The reviews were fairly positive and I figured this is Spielberg's metier, so I had high hopes. The theatre was crowded, but hardly packed, which surprised me. Is word getting out already, or are people just tired of Tom Cruise? Still, it is Wednesday and this isn't a sequel, so how much can you expect.
Anyway, the film was a disappointment. Spielberg still knows how to direct wonderful sequences, but when they don't add up to anything, who cares. The design and shooting of the aliens wreaking havoc is a lot of fun, but there's no forward motion in the film.
To avoid cliches, Spielberg, Cruise and writers Josh Friedman and David Koepp give us the limited viewpoint of one man and his kids, amidst worldwide devastation. The trouble is, nothing Cruise does matters--he has no real plan, so for all his movement he might just as well stay in one place. (Spielberg's AI--don't get me started--has the same problem: the protagonist goes on a mission that makes no sense. That both films have the protagonist succeed in the mission only insults the audience's intelligence.)
And though I suppose the screenwriters could explain the aliens' actions, I sure can't. At first they vaporize humans wholesale, which makes sense to me, since they're out to exterminate us. Later, they capture humans one by one and hold onto them--even if they're doing this for future anal-probing, I still don't get the mixed strategy. Also, they'll kill thousands at a time, then tool around way too long in a musty basement.
When the action slows down, Cruise bickers with his son and tries to calm down his daughter. This is so tiresome you wish he'd just leave them behind.
The dialogue is bad throughout. Early on, we find the son is writing a paper on the French occupation of Algeria. Yeah, that's a common high school subject (in films that try to connect their story with terrorism and insurgency--too bad nothing in this film actually reflects the real world, because then this would just be bad foreshadowing rather than confused foreshadowing). Worse, the daughter doesn't want a sliver removed because she explains when the body is ready, the foreign matter will be expelled. I almost walked out. It's the worst line of the decade so far, and I don't see it being topped.
I read somewhere there was a different ending this time around, but it's the same ending all versions have--the aliens die due to microbiological infection. (For once an actual parallel with the real world--the aliens die like American Indians did when Europeans came here.) How did anyone not understand this is the classic ending? It reminds me of how several people wrote that Sleepy Hollow had a Scooby Doo ending, and how disappointed I was when it had the exact opposite.
Cruise and kids go through all sorts of dangerous situations and do nothing special to protect themselves. Luckily, Cruise is armed with enough star power to protect anyone in his family circle. But even he can't save this film.