Friday, December 4, 2009

War of the Worlds

Spielberg in the 00s Previous: The Terminal Next: Munich

As alien invasion movies go, Spielberg’s is not terribly impressive. Sure, it has tons of visual razzle-dazzle but in spite of what people tell you we really expect more from Spielberg. In the world of computer visual effects today we expect more from our master craftsmen. Anyone can throw tons of money on the screen but not everyone can tell a compelling story.

Here, in his second collaboration with Spielberg, Tom Cruise plays a non-entity of a character. The “story” in this movie is simply a bunch of stuff happening to and around Cruise. The invasion begins and ends on its own, and he does nothing but move across the country as it happens, failing to really even change as a person.

Three years earlier, Shyamalan had made a similar picture of an alien invasion. It too showcased an invasion that began and ended with little human effort. What it had that this film lacked was the knowledge (started by Spielberg in Jaws) that less is more when you want to scare, and a main character who changed as a result of his experience.

The surprise is that Spielberg took on this story at all. Most of the cinematic problems are already present in the book. Some of the problems were added by Spielberg in the development process. For instance, the idea that the aliens had prepared for this attack ages ago before people had come on the scene. Who is going to believe that? How had these vehicles not been discovered before? And how did the aliens fail to notice that they were not immune to earthly micro-organisms in their centuries long preparation?

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