by Mike Shea on 2 July 2005
An essay by Michael E. Shea
Halfway through War of the Worlds, during a very convenient slow conversation scene, I ran with legs crossed to the bathroom. I remarked to my girlfriend, who also got Speilberg's signal that now is a good time to pee, that we should simply leave the theater. At that moment, the moment where Tom Cruise and Tim Robbins begin to explain the motive behind an alien race they couldn't possibly understand, War of the Worlds was at its best point. I should have taken my own advise and left. That first hour and twenty minutes were great. The last forty five ruined the movie. This essay will explain why.
I would give the mandatory spoiler warning were this movie worthy of a spoiler warning but knowing what is within this movie will no doubt be an advantage. If I had known I would have saved myself twenty bucks. Tom Cruise's son, who runs off and is left for dead, comes back at the end. Military men shoot down one of the tripod ships because standard alien procedure for getting sick is turning off your defense systems. Tom Cruise single-handedly destroys a ship by stuffing a hand grenade up its very realistic rectum. There, it's spoiled. Get on with your life.
Ebert gave War of the Worlds two stars and most of his problem seemed to be the lack of any alien motivation other than spraying blood over the ground. Personally, any explanation for an alien invasion will do nothing but harm. They're aliens! By definition, we cannot understand them. The original story of War of the Worlds is less concerned with motivations and more concerned with how we deal with it.
However, Ebert failed to mention the main reason this movie sucked: it's typical Hollywood bullshit.
Lets look at the three main problems:
Problem 1: Our Hero's Son Comes Back to Life
There is a wonderful scene halfway through the movie where all of the special effects, all of the thoughts about aliens, and all of the big picture stuff go away and all we see is Tom Cruise choosing one child for another. It is a very powerful scene. Nothing else matters in his life. He has to choose between his son and his daughter and he chooses his daughter. This entire scene is ripped apart when we realize that his choice didn't matter. His son is alive and well at the end. Hurray! Forty billion people are burned to death and Tom Cruise doesn't lose one person close to him. It doesn't matter that he had about five hundred close encounters, everyone's fine at the end. Yip yip.
Problem 2: Tom Cruise Blows Up an Undefeatable Foe
So the premise behind War of the Worlds is that an alien race vastly superior to us lands on earth and begins killing everyone. All of that is thrown out the window when we learn that aliens choose to hold their fuel in raw form by strapping live people to the sides of their ship with a convenient hand-grenade sized hole right above them.
The minute our indestructible alien race becomes destructible, the premise of the movie is lost. The true idea behind War of the Worlds is that all of our technology whether it's cell phones or nuclear weapons are nothing against the martian war machines but a far better weapon, one built over millions of years by mother nature herself, CAN kill them - the flu. That whole wonderful story gets thrown out when Tom Cruise tosses a hand grenade Jerry Bruckheimer style into the belly of the pod.
The scene was clearly added because there is no real opportunity for our hero to show his heroic quality against a foe that cannot be defeated. Hollywood cannot accept the fact that he should NOT have that opportunity. Yes, he could cut one down with an axe if it came out of its ship. Sure, he can cut off one of its sensor pods. No, he cannot blow up a million year old war machine single-handed.
Problem 3: Speilberg Turns War of the Worlds into a Pro-Military Propaganda Film
In the 1953 version of War of the Worlds, our hero and heroine find themselves in a church in the middle of a burned out city, finally accepting that they cannot win and will surely be destroyed. Outside, however, the machines grow silent as the earth-born sickness does the job no human could ever do.
In the 2005 Speilberg version, G.I. Joe rolls in with a rocket launcher and blows up an alien pod as it struggles around like an old man. For some reason, the aliens have decided that getting the sniffles is a good signal that its time to shut off their force field. Speilberg ends the film with a nice hurray American Flag Military Might muscle flexing scene. Don't forget to support your president's war on Iraq folks.
Last week I saw Batman Begins and I walked out with the exact same problem. I feel like two different people wrote the two halves of each movie. Both movies had excellent beginnings and some wonderful characters that they promptly threw into the typical Hollywood movie machine. While War of the Worlds begins with some excellent characters and an excellent story, it quickly turns into Rambo First Blood Part 2 as we watch Tom Cruise hanging from an alien war machine with grenade pins in his teeth.
Give me a break.
If you want the real War of the Worlds, you can read the original H.G. Wells War of the Worlds online for free or even listen to it on your iPod. You can even listen to my favorite version, the Orson Wells War of the Worlds radio drama that caused idiots to actually believe they were being attacked. Imagine if CNN had the balls to do that these days.
The original War of the Worlds was written before our corrupt congress passed 95,000 year copyright laws that ensure no one can ever do anything with anything ever created since 1900. Speilberg's movie is one of the movies I am glad we will lose to the corrosive dusts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
What a piece of shit.