Wednesday, December 28, 2005

war of the worlds

the usual disclaimer then - i know nothing about previous incarnations of 'war of the worlds'. i approached spielberg's remake looking for a bit of apocalyptic fun. i came away thinking it's one of the better spielberg films i've ever seen. better, because it's simply interesting & eyebrow-raising on a number of levels.

the apocalyptic genre went into a weird overdrive in the late 90's. at the time it seemed like spielberg missed the boat - known as the first great blockbuster director, i think he was too busy knuckling down on 'saving private ryan' to notice the surge of ultra-hyped films like 'independence day' & 'armageddon'. the other film contemporaneous to this lot was 'deep impact', which, though it cashed in on the tidal-wave-drenching-manhattan money shot, was a strangely intimate & emotional piece (when robert duvall starts reciting melville on the world-saving spaceship, you know something different is going on). 'independence day' & 'armageddon' were hilariously panoramic, all-devouring visions of against-all-odds collective human effort, complete with that mandatory montage of the 'arabs'/'russians'/'japanese'/'english' doing their military bit for the sake of humanity. 'armageddon' was unmistakeably the worst offender of this bunch - the characters & action came at you at such a ludicrous, music-video pace that you walked out of the cinema feeling slightly saturated.

'war of the worlds' is all interior, mysterious microcosm to 'independence day's' macrocosm of fighting-back fervour. & this is where things get interesting. while it is a kind of analytical cliche, 'war of the worlds' does make a successful effort to trace the growth of its main character (tom cruise) over the course of these quite sublime events. cruise has appeared in two spielberg films since 'eyes wide shut', since the death of kubrick ('minority report' & 'war of the worlds'). i can't help but think that spielberg saw kubrick did something interesting to cruise in 'eyes wide shut'; brought him back to a kind of meditative, emotional acting earth; took him back to square one; taught him that you can get just as much of your character across by an anxious, prolonged stare than you can doing the kind of things cruise characters have always been renowned for - sprinting ridiculously, winning a fight or an argument with a compact, ideal rejoinder.

'minority report' got the ball rolling, to some extent - yes, cruise's character in that film does a lot of running & problem-solving, but he also does enough serious deliberation with himself that you can't help but be moved by it all. in 'war of the worlds', it's as if spielberg (and his script writers, and his art designers) come to the introspective party as well. 'minority report' was neat & tidy; it had a plot of pristine resolution. 'war of the worlds' is, plot-wise, quite daringly panic-stricken for a 'blockbuster' film. through certain stages there's an ostensible similarity to another suspenseful, slightly left-of-centre blockbuster film based around a dysfunctional small family unit - m. night shyamalan's 'signs' - in which the terrifyingly fantastic things going on in an invisible wider world are chanelled solely through the experience of a few key characters. what 'war of the worlds' and 'signs' share, i suspect, is a lack of repeated watchability - they are both emotionally quite affecting films on first viewing, but for various reasons they lack punch on repeated viewings.

backtracking, then, it's through 'war of the worlds's' lead character that the film gains its most noteworthy edge. one is at pains to really identify at all with cruise's character at first - to be blunt, he's purposely played as a desultory cunt. & to some extent he only marginally 'improves' himself as the film goes on, his heroic son doing a lot of the work for him. spielberg deserves credit for running with this lead who never really responds ideally or heroically to any of the various terrifying set-pieces through the film.

what also helps 'war' on its way is an extravagant special-effects budget. & it's not as if the money is put to waste - importantly, the key design of the staple special-effect figure, the tripod, is toweringly terrifying; in its movements & its sonorous howling it is surely reminiscent of the original 'jurassic park' t-rex; sublime & awe-inspiring.

undeniably the film seems to lose its way towards a kind of tacked-on & abrupt climax; all said, given the way 'war' tries to defy certain apocalyptic audience expectations (and cinematic conventions), it's worth taking seriously.


Anonymous Dragonface said...

Just when you are wondering whether he will ever be arsed to update this blog again, you have surprised us with long over due rant. I speculate that you have watched this at home, on your Dell computer, since you seldom venture outside much these days. I did watch this on the large screen, and those giant walking tripods were very scary indeed. Yet I was angry, I was angry because I was drawn to the fate of cruise and his kids, and there is nothing they can do but running away to Boston. Not unlike his other film Schindler's List, we have got a taste of what is it like to be a Jew during the Holocaust, helplessly running away from machines that are designed to wipe you and your type of people out. I cannot stop imagine what would Kubrick do with this film, one thing for sure he wouldn’t do though, he would bother that scene with Tim Robins, what a creep

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