Thursday, June 30, 2005

War of the Worlds

My father is in town and now that he's retired he's a pretty serious movie-goer, and he wasn't a sloucher in the movie department before retirement, so that's saying something. Thus, it was no surprise to me that when Pooteewheet offered him the opportunity to drag me off to War of the Worlds on opening day, even at 9:50 p.m., he was all over it if I was game on a work night. My opinion being that I can always sleep later, I loaded up his diet Sprite in my pocket (he's on a special diet and they don't serve anything he can eat or drink at the theater, so I don't have any bad feelings about sneaking his food in - I still purchased my soda there) and we were off for the late show. Someone must have decided War of the Worlds was more exciting than it really ended up being, as there were almost twenty minutes of trailers, including King Kong, which I had spent an hour downloading over my dial up connection so Dad could watch it only hours earlier. The movie had been running for all of literally sixty seconds when the projector shut down and the thunder you expected to hear later in the movie, per the previews, was still audible. It was clear there was a serious thunderstorm afoot outside and the theater was in no way interested in letting their expensive piece of equipment run during a lightning storm.

A kind, somewhat-sixteen usher stepped in for a moment and, very quietly against the backdrop of rioting teenagers stated, "There's a wicked storm outside. Wicked. Lightning. Real wicked."

And left.

All that was left at that point was sitting there for almost an hour, me reading the book I was wise enough to bring with me, my father playing cellphone tetris and eating bootleg salted peanuts, while the four teenage boys behind us farted and blamed everyone around them. Yet at 10:50 the movie did start. And I didn't enjoy it. "It makes Independence Day look like The Muppet Movie." - my ass. Grittier than Independence Day, sure. But more interesting - really sort of a toss up - after all...

Caution - Serious Spoilers Ahead... Independence Day the aliens die from a computer virus, in War of the Worlds from a biological virus. In Independence Day they have shields that sometimes aren't as effective as other times and that are finally disabled by a virus. In War of the Worlds...well...ditto. In Independence Day the aliens have vaguely mushroom heads. In War of the Worlds, the aliens have mushroom heads. Not that I think Independence Day was a great movie, by the way - and my friend Adam might tell you how emotional it was that he was moved to tears by President Bill Pullman's speech - but I don't think it tried to reach beyond itself to be anything other than just a Will Smith summer blockbuster.

And War of the Worlds actually lacks in several places all on its own. No one in Ray's family dies. Usually it's a given that old people die, especially if they're just your inlaws. At the very least your ex-wife's new husband dies so there's the illusion you might have learned something she's willing to take you back for. Children are less likely to die - but if they all run off in their own directions, you'd think at least one would meet an untimely end. Having everyone happily reunited at a Boston brownstone after a full-fledged alien invasion - that just doesn't seem realistic. At the very least it doesn't seem like the family you should really be basing the story upon unless you're trying to show something about family cohesiveness, and I'm not so sure that was the goal, or if it was, that it was communicated very well at all. Independence Day, by constrast, at least had the crazy uncle meet an untimely end. There's a crazy who meets his end in War of the Worlds, but you don't really have any pathos for him (though they go over the top in making sure you don't like him by putting him in a questionable situation with Ray's daughter).

It stuck very close to the original - almost too much at times. I think the only real concessions to anything new were things designed to make it feel more modern - CGI, survivalists, terrorist references, terraforming, and a more horrifying fate for the humans (just being touched by an alien doesn't carry the horror it did 40-50 years ago, skewering is scarier - though only isolated skewering - not everyone, there's simply not time to farm and skewer - aliens haven't figured out daylight savings. In that respect, it really resembled the harvesting robots from The Matrix more than anything else). Because of that, it was almost disappointing when the aliens died, as you just knew it was coming and that it would be doubly anticlimatic, both because of the way they die, and because it was obviously going to happen that way - like when you've seen Lord of the Flies for the fifth time - you just can't bring yourself to watch it anymore or read it anymore because you know the ending (and indeed the whole story/process) so well that it overshadows the prose and overshadows any new spin new directors might impart to an old story. War of the Worlds tried to add a battle scene where a tripod is taken down by direct fire in one case and internal explosions (resembling something from the second Star Wars movie) in another - but it really seemed like pandering just to give an exciting bump before the obvious end.


BiggTree said...

Can't really blame those kids though. Just yesterday I farted in public and blamed it on my two year old. I was in line to donate blood at my church minding my own business, when my wife crinkles up her nose, points to our son playing on the floor and says, "Is that him?". We were surrounded by upstanding church people. Do you really expect a person in that situation to claim it? I just gave her the blank look I've been practising throughout our eight blissfull years of marriage and said, "Probably". Of course, she scooped up the child and did a diaper check only to find nothing. I tried to match her look of confusion, which is very difficult to do whilst one's full concentration is on trying to silently release yet another sulfur poof. The difficulty lay in the fact that we were sitting on metal folding chairs. Let one rip on one of those and the whole gymnasium will hear about it. Finally, 'Next' was called and I got relief from the fart-walk over to the cardboard screen interviewer.

klund said...

On a related note, I checked out the King Kong trailer and was a bit surprised. No, not about the dinosaurs - they can pop up anywhere. See, when I saw that Jack Black was in the movie, I just assumed that he was cast as Mr. Kong himself. Guess I was wrong.

Scooter said...

My sister tells me Jack Black is dreamy and I shouldn't make fun of him. Of course she used to think Jim Carey was dreamy too, even in his younger, weirder days (but post "Duck Factory" and "Love at First Bite" - that was him, wasn't it? wait wait..that was George Hamilton. I think I'm thinking about "Once Bitten"). I'm not sure what this says about her, or worse, about her husband.

And Biggtree - that's certainly a touching story that should be immortalized. I feel privileged that my blog can share it with the world. Feel free to point your kid back at the permalink in thirteen years. Klund - didn't you mention that you and biggtree used to be college roommates - that must have been, well...fragrant.