‘War’ not as bad as it looks
From the trailer, “War of the Worlds” looks like “The Terminator” on steroids. Towering alien machines explode. Buildings crumble. Tom Cruise looks scared. I wished radio shows were back in vogue and big screens had never been invented.H.G. Wells wrote a compelling science fiction story – so convincing that on Oct. 30, 1938, Americans hid in cellars, loaded guns and wrapped their heads in wet towels to protect themselves from Martians reported over airwaves to possess citizens by osmosis. The mass hysteria began when newscasters interrupted dance music with news bulletins saying that a huge flaming object had landed near Grovers Mill, N.J.
As the broadcaster shouted, “Good heavens, something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it’s another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing’s body. It’s large as a bear, and it glistens like wet leather. But that face. It … it’s indescribable,” scores of people panicked, missing the brief explanation that the broadcast was Orson Welles’ adaptation of Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.”The historical mass hysteria is legendary, which makes the story itself legendary. And it looked like Hollywood was about to reduce it to a series of special effects that left nothing to the imagination.It’s true that “War of the Worlds” went all out in recreating the wet-leathery aliens and the overpowering tripod machinery. But directors shot it artistically rather than gratuitously. So artistically, in fact, that I’d love to see an oversized picture book of shots from the movie: The blood-red skies, the girl behind the screen, the unusual angles and viewpoints.
The introduction effectively hypnotized me, using the original recording by Welles’ radio version (albeit updated). The rhythmic language complements the stunning visuals. And to its credit, the story takes time to introduce a deadbeat dad and his two kids before the world around them explodes. In fact, I would have probably been just as interested in the family’s story had aliens not started exterminating the human race.But, that would be a chick flick, and this is an action-packed, sci-fi flick. Which brings us to the cheesy part.
I don’t know about you, but when huge machines emerge from the ground, I’m gonna start running. But apparently East Coasters are different. They stare. Then they stare some more as the machines stagger toward them. Cruise masters the stare.Cruise’s performance waxes and wanes (plus, his character’s name is Ray, which distracted me with thoughts of “Rain Man” and how Kmart sucks). But youngster Dakota Fanning, who plays his daughter, shows remarkable acting ability ranging from content to traumatized expressions.In the end, I reconsidered my earlier radio wish and decided cinema wasn’t so bad after all.
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