Diss Rants

This is the news/ranting forum for Diss (a.k.a. Tom Kercheval), an independent musician. Check here for new music, updates on new music and just random rantings on a variety of subjects. Feel free to leave a comment or four. For Diss' main web site, go to www.dissmusic.com.

Friday, July 01, 2005

War of the Worlds review

I just saw War of the Worlds last night and wanted to post about it while it's still fresh. Wow. What a film.

I'll try to warn you beforehand of any approaching spoilers, so beware if you don't want anything spoiled.

First off, I love Spielberg. I know it's fashionable for a lot of "artsy" terminal film school types to knock the guy because he's so popular, but I think he's just about peerless. In fact, when I look back on many of my favorite films of all time, many of his are right up there at the top. He is so versatile - that's his major strength. I mean, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (about as perfect a movie as you'll ever find), "Jaws," "Schindler's List," "Empire of the Sun" (an overlooked masterpiece), "A.I." (ditto), "Saving Private Ryan," "Poltergeist," "Jurrasic Park," "The Color Purple" (one of my all-time favorite films period)....that's a pretty wide spectrum of topics, from sci-fi blockbusters to realistic emotional journeys to a combination of the two.

War of the Worlds is Spielberg at his best. Or nearly. It's not my favorite Spielberg film by any means, but it does have moments that exceed pretty much anything I've ever seen visually. In short, the effects are beyond description. Not just eye candy, either, like Revenge of the Sith, but smart, brilliant imagery that actually offers something new and unique in this day and age of "seen it all before" effects (at least if you're in your 30s like me and have seen lots of films over the years).

What Spielberg also never forgets, unlike Lucas, is how crucial a strong acting performance is to ANY story, from sci-fi to drama. And he knows how to get those performances. Then again, he's got an amazing cast to work with.

Yeah, yeah, I know, Tom Cruise is a whack job. In fact, I've been worried that all his nutty shenanigans off-camera lately would detract from my enjoyment of this film. But say what you want about the guy offscreen. ONscreen, he's phenomenal. He's just an amazing actor, and he captures the role of a detached and selfish father to a tee.

I've heard the film criticized for not realistically showing how Cruise's character transforms from selfish bastard who hasn't been there for his kids to a caring father willing to do anything to protect them, but I disagree. He gets the nuances of the character down perfectly, in my opinion. In short, he made me forget all about scientology while i was watching this, and that speaks volumes about his skills as an actor.

Another one to watch is little Dakota Fanning. She's like the female Haley Joel Osment. Just an unbelievably gifted actress, and she's only around 10 or so. She already has the ability to completely sell the audience on her sheer terror with just a look, something that even seasonsed, veteran actors often have trouble doing. I hope she doesn't burn out too quickly, but she should be amazing to watch throughout her hopefully long career.

But back to the movie - I read the book when I was a pre-teen, I think, so I can't remember much of it. I just remember that it was scary, VERY scary. Spielberg captures that sense of horror here and then adds even more. This is not a movie like Independence Day, where the conclusion was foregone and the characters were full of witty asides and one-liners while they kicked alien ass. This movie was a holocaust film, a disaster film, a horrors of war film all rolled into one. Once the first tripod alien machine unearths itself, the sheer dread and terror is virtually nonstop.

SPOILER ALERT***********
Spielberg is always great at offering something visual in his films that just really stays with you. Remember the little girl in the red coat from Schindler's List? An image I will never forget. In this film, the way he handles the disintegration of humans by the alien machines was that visual for me. When the alien tripods rise up from the ground,they begin vaporizing the fleeing masses. As they're hit with some sort of ray, they disintegrate in a way I've never seen on film before, and the burnt rags of their clothes slowly flit away. I don't do it justice with the description. You have to see it. There's one seen where mass extermination has just taken place, but instead of actually showing it, you just see the sky full of these pieces of people's clothes, slowly floating down to the ground. It was actually very moving. How many times do you get "moving" in a summer sci-fi blockbuster? Spielberg also brilliantly shows the mob mentality in a disaster type situation. When Cruise, who has one of the only working cars for miles around, gets surrounded by a mob who wants to get that car, it's a very stressful, disturbing scene.
****END OF SPOILER


As for flaws in the film, well, I thought the aliens themselves, while handled fine, were not much different than other aliens I've seen. Why is it that all aliens in these films are depicted as slimy lizard-like creatures that all look exactly the same and wear no clothes? I mean, aren't these supposed to be highly evolved species? Someone really needs to completely rethink the portrayal of an alien race at some point. I'll give Lucas total credit for that over Spielberg. He definitely created some very NON-uniform alien races and civilizations. But that's all I'm giving Lucas over Spielberg. :-)

Also, there were a couple times in the film where I thought the emotional reactions from the people in certain scenes did not match what was happening around them. For instance:

***SPOILER ALERT***
Early on, after Cruise has already seen a tripod wipe out a city block, he runs back to his house...note...he RUNS back to his house...which leads one to believe that he doesn't live very far away from where the actual desolation he just witnessed just took place. There, his kids greet him with a sort of "what's going on" type of thing, as if they're oblivious to what he just witnessed only a few blocks away, something that was so massive and loud that it probably would've been seen or at least heard from MILES away. Then, he gets into a car at his mechanic brother's shop and tries to get away with the kids. The brother comes out of the shop and doesn't want to come along, not believing that anything is wrong, going on about how he has a "busy day" ahead of him in the shop and that Cruise can't take a customer's car.

Again, this scene didn't ring true to me either, as you'd have to assume that this mechanic guy had also witnessed some form of what had just happened, or at least knew enough to know that life as he knew it was nowhere near what it once was. I mean, a huge machine has just risen up out of the ground and slaughtered people, mere blocks away, and he's talking about his "busy day at the office ahead"??
*****END SPOILER***********

But those were the only real hiccups in the film for me. And they were just minor things. As a whole, this was another Spielberg watermark, particularly in the area of special effects. It's going to take a lot to outdo this one.

So, go see this one this weekend if you're looking for a good summer film. Just don't expect a Will Smith-like one-liner spewing alien stompfest. This is an intense piece of art that will leave you exhausted and, probably, mouth agape.

Okay, I'm off for the next few days, so I'm going to try to get some demos together by next week and post a couple on the site. Stay tuned! Happy fourth of July to everyone!!

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