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Review: War of the Worlds


Poster for War of the Worlds

Introduction

Let's get this straight right away: the 1953 George Pal version of "War of the Worlds" is one of my favorite movies. I watch it every time it's on, to the point of my wife wanting to divorce me. I am ashamed to say I have not read the book (though I have tried a few times to get a copy at the library, but it's always out; and while it's online, I hate reading stuff that long on screen). I even have a copy of the rock opera version (yes, you read that correctly).

Make no mistake, this is a great story. But can even Spielberg make it a great movie?

Ahoy! Spoilers ahead!

The Review

Let me get something else straight: Tom Cruise is a freaking nutbag. Scientology is nothing but a cult, and very, very scary one. The stuff they teach is not only wrong, and not only silly, but it's dangerous. Tom Cruise's recent bizarre meltdown on "The Today Show" only punctuates this. I also just found this interesting and hilarious website.

If you know anyone who is interested in joining this sham "church", run, do not walk, to Xenu.net or any of the web pages listed here. Scientology is a fraud, it is wrong, and it's evil.

'nuff said.

So. To the movie.


Bad:
The aliens (we can't call them "martians", since it's never said where they come from) get to Earth using some sort of weird phenomenon: a giant storm starts with lots of lightning. The lightning strikes repeatedly at one spot, and from that spot a huge war machine emerges.

Good:
I'm not sure where to start with this one. Even Cruise's character mentions that the lightning has no thunder. I don't know how'd you do that. The news scenes make it clear this is an electromagnetic phenomenon, which lightning is. Lightning is also very hot (hotter than the surface of the Sun!), and this violently heats the air around it. That creates a shockwave, which we call thunder. Lightning bolts like that without thunder don't make sense.

We find out later that machines were buried under the ground before the storms started, and had been there a long time. The lightning, or whatever it was, brought the actual aliens down to the machines. This point is clear: they have a whole scene explaining it.

This was one of many "say what?" moments for me. It doesn't make sense. Why were the machines there all these years (and probably centuries, given that they were under cities)? Why have them lie fallow like that, only to send the chauffeurs later? And why is it that there are thousands of these things under every city, town, and village, and we've never detected them? That was silly.

On the Bad Astronomy Discussion Forum, one person points out that maybe they used nano-technology: using zillions of microscopic robots, the machines were built in situ, underground, right then. I think that's a clever explanation for the movie, but I still have a hard time buying it. As I explain later, the aliens still need advanced knowledge of human biology, and it's logically inconsistent.

Having said all that, the war machine which emerges in the beginning of the movie was completely awesome. That scene was chilling. In the book, the martian war machines make a sound described as "uuuu-lawwwwww". In the movie, it's just a roar, but it's still quite frightening. The death ray was very, very creepy.

There were several homages to the original movie here. As the machine starts to come up, it sounds like something is unscrewing, which is just like the first movie. Tom Cruise's watch stops, which is a big point in the old movie. The first building we see destroyed is a church, and that plays right into a couple of themes in the original movie, too. Stuff like that abounds, as I'll point out below (too bad there was no character named Clayton Forrester-- though, in the end, the actors who played Forrester and his girlfriend, Sylvia van Buren, were given cameos in this remake).


Bad:
The aliens are harvesting humans for reasons unknown, although it looks like they may be using our blood to fertilize their own red weed, which is taking over the countryside.

Good:
This doesn't make sense. First, why would the weed need human blood? It was from another planet! Second, and this is critical, if they have a need for human blood, and the means to process people to get it, then why didn't they know about micro-organisms?

They obviously knew enough chemistry, physics, and biology to be able to get here, get in their machines, capture people, grind them up, spray their blood everywhere, and adapt their own native life to not only live here but to live off our blood. Don't you think they'd figure out about bacteria?

OK, maybe (maybe) they were spraying blood for some other reason, but that seems pretty unlikely. The weed shows up at the same time they're, uh, crop dusting, so it would be too big a coincidence otherwise. That's just a big ole plot hole.

I'll add that the scenes of them picking up humans was absolutely terrifying. It was even creepier than the similar scenes in the original "Matrix" movie. Yikes.


Bad:
When Cruise, his daughter, and a red-shirt character are hiding out in a cellar, the aliens send down a remote camera on the end of a long eel-like appendage. Shortly thereafter, three aliens come down and start poking around.

Good:
This scene is very similar to the original movie, right down to Cruise chopping off the end of the camera with an ax. I thought it was a nice tip of the hat.


Martian from the original movie But the aliens ticked me off. They were extremely similar to those of the movie "Independence Day". I mean really close. It's too bad they couldn't do more with them, especially since we get a pretty good look at them. In the original movie, we only see an alien momentarily. I think that heightens the terror, frankly. Getting a good long look is just not as scary. Go rent the original "Alien" movie to see how it's done. You never get a good look at the alien, and that makes it a lot more frightening.

On the right is an image of the martian from the original movie. That's a cool alien. Somewhat humanoid, but different in a weird way. And since it's only on the screen for a few seconds, it heightens the sense of alienness. In this remake, we simply see the aliens too much, and they are too familiar. They didn't scare me, and certainly not as much as the machines did.


Bad:
In the end, bacterial infection kills the aliens. The narrator (Morgan Freeman, good choice) reads from Wells' book (adapted for the movie):

The aliens were destroyed by the littlest things that God in his wisdom had put upon this Earth.
Good:
Wells was an avowed and vocal atheist. Having read some of the book (but not all, sigh), it seems to me that he put this part there either as a way to assuage the masses, so to speak, or he put it in there rather sardonically.

Anyway, I suspect that it might be possible for aliens to get infected with our terrestrial microorganism, but it seems unlikely. Bacteria have evolved with life on Earth, so being able to make an alien sick is farfetched. However, if bacteria just need a place that's warm, wet, and nutrient-rich, then maybe aliens will suffice. Their bodies have to be similar enough to life here that they want to take over Earth, right? So it's possible.

Viruses, though, are out. Viruses are RNA-based (and some are DNA-based as well), and simply would not be able to do anything with an alien that isn't based on RNA/DNA. Life here uses RNA and DNA to reproduce, but given the complexity of the molecule, evolved over a billion years on Earth, I cannot imagine a virus being able to do anything with an alien. Heck, most viruses can't even jump species here on Earth! And as different as we are from an axolotl, we're kissing cousins compared to us and aliens.


Martian dying By the way, the scene of the ship crashing and the alien hand plopping down from inside the machine is a twin of that from the original movie. I enjoyed that.


Conclusion

OK, so I liked this movie. It was very intense, so I'm glad I didn't take The Little Astronomer to see it. My heart was pounding through most of it, and I know the story. The acting was good, the special effects extraordinary, and even the pacing and directing were good. I think the ending came too quickly and that part wasn't paced well (the original movie handled it better, though I hated the part about the church; it was a copout).

It also bugs me when the hero is supposed to be an average guy (or below average in this case; Cruise's character is a jerk) but he winds up playing a crucial role more than once. Sure, we're following this character, so he's important, but in this case he not only blows up a machine, but he's also the one who tells the army that the shields on the machines are down. It's too much of a coincidence. It's lazy storytelling.

So I liked a lot of it, and disliked a lot of it. It's a tense, scary movie, and like many movies of this genre, won't translate well to the small screen, so see it while it's in the theaters. But see a matinee!

This page last modified Saturday, 05-Mar-2011 18:03:18 UTC


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