Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"War of the Worlds" -- a Review

I have a private theory: hundreds of years from now, the only Hollywood movies that will be studied in film schools are those made by Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg -- Allen for his minimalist human stories, and Spielberg for his massive techno-geek spectacles. Some movies made by other Hollywood directors (and I emphasize "Hollywood" because foreign films should be discussed in a different category) do rise to the caliber of Allen's and Spielberg's, but none of them are as prolific as those two.

Nevertheless, I would never say that Allen and Spielberg make flawless movies; in fact, "War of the Worlds", which I saw today, is a perfect example of 90% brilliance mixed with 10% jaw-dropping sloppiness. I went to see WOTW at a theater in my neighborhood for its first showing at 1:00pm. I got there at 12:30pm, and there were less than 10 people in the theater. Eventually it was only 60% full. Spielberg is a master of building suspense; the horrifying three-legged mech warriors from outer space are first revealed through the light and sound they emit and the reaction shots of Tom Cruise and a band of "Godzilla school of acting" supporting characters. Spielberg is so good at terrifying the audience without actually showing the monsters (such as in "Jaws" and "Close Encounters") that when the real things appear, it's actually bit of a downer.

Spielberg has never denied the 9/11 thematic connection, and indeed the picture is successful in depicting the utter horror of being in the midst of a catastrophic destruction. Many scenes in WOTW evoke feelings of helplessness and paralysis (at least to me) from being attacked by a force that is devastating and demonic.

The first 2/3 of WOTW is Hollywood at its best, then sloppiness starts to pop up here and there. For example, Tim Robbins's character as an eccentric survivalist is ineffective and badly conceived. A clever film editor teamed up with a computer graphic wizard can theoretically airbrush Tim Robbins out of the movie and still maintain the integrity of the film. Another example is the giant script hole related to Cruise's teenage son character, which I won't reveal here, because by doing so I'd spoil it for those who haven't seen the film. Dakota Fanning is so good that I believe she alone and Mr. Scientology himself can carry the entire movie.


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