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.

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February 27, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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