A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 364 – War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds (2005) – February 27th, 2011

Going into this movie I knew it was going to be bad. I hadn’t heard anything good about it, after all. I’d heard it was an explosion-fest with a lot of screaming and a ridiculous ending. But I figured it would be sort of like a Michael Bay movie. It wouldn’t wow me, but I’d come out of it unscathed. And I was wrong. I was so very wrong. I think this movie actively hated me, or rather, hated its audience. Pretty sure of it. I can’t think of why it is the way it is otherwise, because technically speaking it’s well made. It just also sucks.

Right from the outset it’s clear that the main character, Ray, is a jackass. I’m not sure if the movie wants you to hate unions or what, but do you really think that telling his boss he can’t do a double shift because of union rules was in there to make him likable? Because personally I think telling his boss he had to meet his kids would have been not only a better plan but accurate as well. He’s late to meet his ex dropping the kids off for the weekend, he’s still got his teenage son sleeping in a tiny race car bed. He has no food in the house, his ex is understandably reticent about leaving the kids there and the kids don’t seem thrilled about it either. And in movies when you see this sort of set-up it’s usually either to show you just how bad the dad is and you’re not supposed to like him, or you already know he’s not that horrible and you’re supposed to feel bad that he’s getting such treatment. And here? No. Ray really is a jerk. He really doesn’t seem to be invested in either of his kids. But then, with these kids? I guess I get it.

And see, here is more of the problem with the movie. The three people we’re supposed to care about and follow from the beginning of the film to the end are Ray and his two kids, Robbie and Rachel. And I don’t like any of them! It’s not just Ray. It’s sullen and seemingly hard of hearing Robbie, who ignores everything his father says at all times unless they’re screaming at each other in aimless arguments that go nowhere over and over. It’s shrill and critical Rachel who is sort of a shouty and less obviously intelligent Lisa Simpson and who shrieks for the vast majority of the movie unless her brother is leading her through “this is your space” breathing exercises or she’s criticizing something. And when the aliens touch down and there’s lightning and explosions and their father comes home covered in ash and clearly panicked when he’s been ridiculously laid back thus far? The kids won’t believe him that something bad is happening and they need to leave until they all have a nice sit-down and chat. What is wrong with these people? If the aim of the movie is to have me want to see these folks through it to the end when the aliens inevitably bite it then it fails. It fails spectacularly.

Andy has told me that when he watches this movie he roots for the aliens, and you know what? I can see why. They’re not fleshed out characters, but then barely anyone else is either and the ones who are aren’t really anyone I care about. And that frustrates me, because while I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan and I don’t really know Justin Chatwin from anything else he’s done, I like Dakota Fanning and I just wanted her to shut up in this movie. I wanted everyone to shut up. They run from the aliens and the family argues. They run some more and argue some more. Ray and Robbie yell at each other over Robbie wanting to join the army somehow or follow them like a groupie and Rachel screams and then they all love each other only to scream and yell more later. It’s miserable. And while I could excuse some of that as being the tensions of having to run for their lives from these gigantic and terrifying alien tripods of death, no. This is how they started out and this is how they’re going to continue. It’s a sad portrayal of the average American family in the middle of a disaster.

At about fifty minutes into the movie I became actively angry at owning it. The plot holes are horrendous, but I’ll come back to them and I’ve already lambasted the main characters and I will continue to do so in a moment when I get to Tim Robbins. At fifty minutes in, however, Ray and his kids encounter a town where no one has a working car and a mob sets on them, rocking the car, smashing the windows, dragging Robbie and Ray out, etc. And when Ray pulls a gun on the mob that is inches away from beating him and his son senseless while his daughter watches? People tell him to calm down. That is the sort of movie this is. That is why I think it has contempt for everyone watching it. And that is why I am offended on behalf of our collection that we have a hole the size and shape of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in it and we’ve apparently tried to plug it with this turd.

All of the above make the movie unpleasant, but then on top of it all are the plot holes and Tim Robbins. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Tim Robbins. In fact I like Tim Robbins a lot. But oh do I feel bad for him in this. Because, you see, in the middle of all the running and shouting and death from above, after Robbie inexplicably heads off towards the danger, Ray and Rachel end up in the basement of a bizarre dude who’s stockpiled water and food already. You know. Just in case. That is not a good sign! That does not tell you that this is a dude you can trust! That tells you this is a dude who’s been waiting for a calamity. And so we spend a horrible fifteen or twenty minutes in Tim Robbins’ basement hiding from the aliens, who are fooled by mirrors, while Tim’s character and Ray silently fight over a shotgun and Rachel rocks in a rocking chair and I am not kidding. And it’s telling that this whole section was so bad that it just momentarily distracted me from the plot holes.

There are so many plot holes. The movie is more plot hole than plot, really. We’re talking little things like a dude having a working camcorder during the emergence of the first tripod even though an EMP just supposedly wiped out all other electronics in the area. We’re talking medium things like no one else having the bright idea to replace the solenoids in a car, or having cars out of the range of the EMPs. And we’re talking big things like the alien tripods apparently being under our cities for centuries upon centuries with no one noticing even though here where we live it’s the law to call Dig Safe to make sure you won’t hit a gas line or something in your own front yard. Like hell no one noticed these things just sitting dormant under the streets of New Jersey and Osaka and everywhere else. And then there’s the end! Where our horrifying villains who are so evil they drain our blood to spray it around as fertilizer for their never-explained red viney alien kudzu end up catching a cold! And having recently had a nasty head cold I can say yeah, that crap’s unpleasant. But come on. That’s the best this movie can do?

It’s not even done in a satisfying way. It’s not even got a moment like Starship Troopers where Neil Patrick Harris tells everyone it’s all cool and we’re going to win. Nope. We just get to Boston, which is bizarrely unscathed, and everyone’s fine and dandy and thank goodness all the yelling is over. I think I let out an audible sigh of relief when this movie ended. It’s made all the worse that I can see how this story is terrifying and gripping and could have been done so well and I can see where it fails. It fails over and over and over. I don’t care about the characters. The pacing is bizarre. The holes just keep coming. The ending is anticlimactic. It’s that while there’s plenty of terror, there’s no heart here. There’s nothing to give the terror an anchor and nothing to give me as an audience member a reason to care what happens when the terror lifts. I’m glad this movie is behind me now. I am never ever watching it again.

February 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

War of the Worlds (2005)

February 27, 2011

War of the Worlds (2005)

I can’t remember why I bought this movie. I mean, it’s not a good movie. I never thought it was going to be a good movie. But I’m a sucker for a big budget sci-fi movie directed by Stephen Spielberg. What amazed me, when I put this in my DVD player to watch it one afternoon, is how much I actually ended up enjoying the movie. It’s got plot holes big enough for an alien tripod to walk through and it is so blatantly and stupidly manipulative that I know I should feel insulted just watching it, but in spite of that it is unbelievably fun to watch. At least I found it to be so.

Tom Cruise plays a jerk. This is something that would have shocked me in the days before Magnolia, but now I realise that it’s something he’s actually good at. His character’s name is Ray Ferrier and Spielberg goes to great pains to show us that he’s a regular working slob. As the movie starts his disapproving wife is dropping off his children with him for a weekend. His son clearly hates him for his negligence and his daughter knows he’s doing his best but she also knows he’s a complete fuck up. He’s a guy whose life has gone completely to shit and he knows it. If it were just a movie about him and his shitty life it would quickly become unbearable to watch – but luckily some aliens soon show up and start blowing stuff up.

I don’t think I’m supposed to, but I root for the aliens in this movie. It’s easy to do – they’re unstoppable killing machines that destroy everything in their path. Truth be told there is pretty much nothing redeemable about the people in this movie. Sure the two kids Robbie and Rachel are innocents just caught up in an apocalypse, and I suppose Ray is an okay guy at heart who just wants his kids to respect him, but in general the people in this movie, once the panic sets in, are unappealing desperate monsters. And oh, the screaming. So much screaming.

As we follow this trio of survivors through their series of narrow escapes and watch the chaos unleashed by the alien invasion I begin to feel that the world would be a better place if all of humanity were wiped out. The aliens are a natural disaster before which nothing can stand. Well, nothing except for the aliens’ collective stupidity and lack of research regarding Terran viruses.

Let’s pause for a bit here and talk plot holes. There are vast portions of this movie that make no sense. Such as the notion that the tripods have been buried under the earth since before we built our cities there, waiting for the right time to beam the pilots down and start exterminating us. In the scene where the first tripod bursts up and starts killing people a couple of police men argue about what could be under the ground there causing all this disturbance. Could it be a subway? A broken water main? Which brings up the question – how did these buried alien vehicles (which appear to be just a few meters under the ground) never get discovered by workers digging subway tunnels or laying out water pipes? Then, later in the movie when a crazed mob tries to take Ray’s car from him and he pulls out a gun Amanda was flabbergasted that apparently almost nobody else in this huge mob had a gun. Blame the Democrats I suppose.

I wish I could explain why I enjoy this movie. It’s a guilty pleasure. If you read Amanda’s review you’ll see that very clearly that in this case our opinions diverge. I can’t deny that this is a stupid movie about horrific things happening to irritating people. Maybe it’s just Spielberg’s adept manipulation at work, but I get into this movie. There’s a kind of thrill I get when I hear that airhorn/didgerydoo that signals impending destruction. I love those deadly, unstoppable, three-limbed, rock stupid aliens.

February 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment