Thursday, June 30, 2005

War of the Worlds movie review

(I'm sorry, I don't know why these links aren't working and it's too late for me to figure it out. I'll work on it tomorrow.)

Okay, sure, I mostly agree with Dominic Corry’s (of ) review of War of the Worlds . He writes that the movie is, for Spielberg “a smashing (or should that be globally destructing) return to form” and that “[t]here is arguably no working director better attuned to manipulating an audience with populist cinema, and he puts those skills to extremely effective use here.” And I’d go along with the Variety (you must register) review as well which calls the film, “a gritty, intense and supremely accomplished sci-fier .” The Village Voice has an interesting take on the parallels between Tom Cruise’s Scientology and the characteristics of H.G. Wells’ alien invaders. But Spielberg’s movie is mainly being praised as an action film, “a heck of a good time” while I saw a huge, two-hour allegory of what it’s like to be invaded, occupied and hunted.

My body had a nausea reaction not just to the camera angles and action shots, but the relentless fear and bloodbath horror that doesn’t stop for two solid hours as Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin run from these things they have no way to comprehend or defend against. At moments the film’s fleeing civilians even reminded me of our own beseiged troops in the Middle East. In Cruise’s desperate run from his first encounter with the aliens, I saw the terror of our soldiers in Iraq, hopelessly surrounded by enemy fire and slaughtered American bodies.
But for me, the film’s screaming masses of people being surrounded and systematically picked off mainly represent the people of any number of countries where people are being hunted and destroyed by invaders, a domestic enemy force, their own government or us, the American military.

Spielberg makes me care about this small family determined to survive an increasingly hopeless (and I mean, HOPELESS) situation. Spielberg expertly draws our attention to the tragedy of watching this little girl slowly go crazy with fear, while we never lose sight of the global scale on which this extermination is taking place. Yes, the film succeeds at all of that emotional plotline stuff, but my horror in watching an entire people being wiped out was framed by the knowledge that entire peoples are being wiped out every day, all around the world.

In one scene, Cruise emerges from a basement to a stunning landscape of houses laid to waste. One moment it was another suburban neighborhood and in the next it was a expanse of fragmented buildings, twisted pipes and decimated lives. In Cruise’s stumbling disbelief I saw the stunned horror of families as they survey what used to be their homes after a Coalition attack. In the agonizingly prolonged “hide-and-seek” scene in which Cruise and family quiveringly dodge an alien-explorer-camera-thing, I was reminded of the horror of Iraqi civilian families whose homes are invaded in the night as American troops seek out the husband or son or brother they believe has links to insurgents. Spielberg's War of the Worlds conveyed more effectively than any news article or documentary the incomprehensible horror of sadistic regimes and invaders that are bent on extermination and control. It made me as physically ill as we should all be as we realize the tactics our own government uses on “enemies” and our own citizens alike.

Apparently, Spielberg’s movie invoked only a few such associations for Corry. He writes, “There are several allusions made to the 1953 film, and a surprising number of allegorical moments relating to 9/11. But War of the Worlds succeeds primarily as a 'ride' film." Why does Corry only touch on possible political subtexts? Are those really the only links to the state of the world that he saw in this film? The whole $*^@-ing world is either destroying, being destroyed or doing nothing while other countries are being destroyed, and Corry and way too many other reviewers see this 2005 Iraq wartime version of War of the Worlds as primarily a fun "ride?"

Garth Franklin of gives a very well-written and thoughtful review of War of the Worlds as a film that is “Better directed than 'Sith', more of a punch to the gut than ‘Sin City,’ and [has] a better grip on its core material than Batman’ - it's the Spielberg of old, simple but smart entertainment.” But Franklin also insists “[t]here's no attempts at humour, patriotic speeches, pontificating or politics.” I’m surprised at how disappointed I am that the discussion of Spielberg’s movie is, so far, so confined to its genre. Spielberg himself said in a Newsweek interview, “[H.G.] Wells’s book was a political statement about the invasion of British colonialism. Orson Welles did his radio show several years before America was drawn into World War II. The Pal [original War of the Worlds] movie came out during the cold war, when we were afraid of being annihilated by nuclear weapons. And this movie, my version, comes out in the shadow of 9/11.” It’s true that that’s all Spielberg says, and he has one character initially cry out, “Is it the terrorists?” but come on, people, have we no ability to use a slightly wider scope and see how this movie could be about us?

I just stepped out of the theater two and a half hours ago and I think the nausea is finally gone. Note to “Highly Sensitive Persons” like myself: this film is an emotionally rough ride. It’s basically one long action hold-your-breath sequence with few breaks. See it with someone whose hand you can hold and who won’t mind waiting for you to snap out of it after the credits roll. I left the 118-minute movie in a daze and had to sit and sip water for several minutes before I was ready to walk out of the theater.

I’m left wondering if anyone saw the same things I saw in the movie and I’m hoping to find such discussions of Spielberg’s film as more see it. Please send me any links to other reviews that weren’t afraid to see our- (American) -selves in this mirror.

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