War of the Worlds - Spielberg's back!
| Spielberg is back. After a series of disappointing movies- Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report and especially The Terminal - Spielberg has finally made a movie worth seeing.
War of the Worlds was not what I was expecting. I was worried, even a half an hour in, that this would be another Independence Day, xenophobic shoot-em-up, CGI extravaganza. Instead Spielberg has made a film about characters.
War of the Worlds, while on the one hand a summer blockbuster, is also very much so the story of the refugee experience. This is about the impact that war has on real people's lives. Like the best science fiction, he aliens are just there as analogy.
Action fans will be disappointed. There is very little action. Instead the movie follows a family trying to stay sane and alive during a crisis that is made by "intellects" as opposed to nature; war. The movie explores their desperation as they face the insanities Man creates including mob violence, panic, militia mentalities and one race's exploitation of another.
Action fans are also going to be surprised as the film hits hard with emotion. There is no cheering at War of the Worlds. This film has more in common with Spielberg's own Schindler's List than with Independence Day. Most of the time the audience I saw the film with sat there holding their hands over their mouths in shock and horror. They were faced with real pathos.
Sure there is action, but it's few and far between. Instead Spielberg spends time dealing with the horrors of war in a way that he never really touched in the overrated Saving Private Ryan. Maybe the alien conceit allows us to experience it a bit softer than a straight drama would have however that impact is still felt strongly.
The film deals with the problem of adapting a plotless book by inventing a pseudo-story and a family of characters for us to follow from one episode to the next. Remember this is the story that Orson Wells adapted into a radio play that had much of the audience believing that aliens really were invading. Spielberg uses a similar idea by showing us how people would really react to this situation. This is the movie Signs was trying to be but couldn't.
Sure the movie isn't perfect. When the aliens are first seen they are played for too much comic relief which takes away some of the intensity. Also, the ending works a little too pat despite remaining true to H.G. Well's brilliant resolution (anyone who doesn't get how great that solution is needs to think about it a little more). One character really shouldn't have survived to the end and that is too unbelievable and unnecessary to be forgiven.
Still, Spielberg's film works on every other level. Especially pleasing is the way he mimics 50s Sci Fi style. There is an amazing shot of the amazing Dakota Fanning through a hole in a window that is straight out of a 50s Sci Fi comic.
This is not a light film and those looking for a summer fun film will be shocked. Hopefully this film's strong story and characterization will draw in a lazy audience into appreciating something better. This may not be up there with Raiders and Jaws but it sure beats what Spielberg's been up to lately. It's nice to have him back.