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Hundreds of critics are held back from
early screenings of War of the Worlds.

War of the Worlds
(Hollywood remake or sequel, or film based on a comic book, book, play or video game # 33, since January 1st, 2005. Click for full list of Hollywood's lack of original ideas.)

Review written by: Alex Sandell

The Good  ...

The movie is every bit the big-budget blockbuster extravaganza that you expect it to be.  If you're going for the fireworks, you're not going to be disappointed.  This film is huge.  After a quick introduction to the characters (Tom Cruise's character was a shitty dad, his son and daughter are disappointed in him, his ex-wife's found a better man, blah blah blah), Director Steven Spielberg moves right into the action.  First there are some terrifying lightning bolts (which are actually something else, entirely), then massive power outages, and -- when most movies are just getting warmed up -- Spielberg introduces us to some gigantic mechanical "tripods," which begin zapping people into dust, one after the other.  The scene is absolutely awesome, and intense as hell!

Ray (Tom Cruise) takes his teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and gets the hell out of dodge.  The trio head for Boston, where Ray's ex-wife is staying with her parents.  Getting there isn't going to be easy.  And when Rachel winds up next to a river to pee, we see it's not going to be pretty either.  Before relieving herself, she sees a corpse slowly floating down the stream.  Within seconds all there is to see is a flowing river of bodies.  The effect is chilling.  The movie goes to a couple of other unexpectedly dark places, but to reveal anymore would spoil the fun. 

Spielberg successfully taps into America's post-9/11 fear, and creates some genuinely creepy moments that make you feel more like you're watching a terrorist attack, than a space invasion.  The first hour of this film contains some of the most mind-blowing stuff ever projected onto a silver screen.  For that first hour -- even the first hour and a half -- Spielberg is the master again.  For 60 awe-inspiring minutes, he's at the top of his game.  Unfortunately, the movie moves away from this toward sappier, more "Spielbergian" storytelling, essentially turning into another sequel to Jurassic Park -- this one with aliens instead of dinosaurs. 

Been there, done that, it was fun!  Let's do it again!

In War of the Worlds, the bearded one uses so many familiar tricks, zooms, shots and plot ideas from his past films, I started to wonder if there should be a "TM" after his name.  Steven Spielberg  is more of a franchise than a man now, and War of the Worlds could just as well have been titled, "Spielberg's Greatest Hits."  Is this a bad thing?  Not necessarily.  The flick is undeniably fun and Spielberg's dusted off magic still works.  If you were scared by the Velociraptors creeping around the kitchen in Jurassic Park, you'll be almost as scared when the aliens sneak around a basement in War of the Worlds.  If you were moved by the story of a single parent struggling to connect with her daughter and son in E.T., you'll be nearly as moved when the same thing happens with a father and his two children in War of the Worlds.  If you thought Tom Cruise did a passable job acting in Minority Report, you'll give him passing grades again in War of the Worlds.  If you like your movies safe and predictable, War of the Worlds is your kind of film.  As a mindless piece of summer entertainment, it works.   Being that Steven Spielberg has been guarding this picture like it contains valuable military secrets, I somehow thought it would be something more.  But this is more a problem of heightened expectations than it is of Spielberg's filmmaking (although the last two minutes of the film are unforgivably bad).

Homeland Security ...

I've attended hundreds of advance screenings in my life, and never have I seen security detail like that provided by DreamWorks and Paramount for this movie.  Sure, there's been some frisking, patting and wanding at screenings past, but moviegoers were still allowed to bring their purses and cell phones into the theater.  Not at War of the Worlds.  At War of the Worlds everything had to be "checked" with security, locked behind closed doors where it was watched by an armed guard, until the audience got in line and picked up their personal belongings, after the film.  My father, who attended the screening with me, had to return his pocket flashlight to the car, because the guards worried that it may contain a miniature camera.  I had to take off my hat and run my fingers through my hair, remove everything from my pockets and had the wallet-sized packet of facial wipes I brought with me thoroughly searched for recording devices.  All this to prevent the movie's "secrets" from getting online before the film's opening.  Spielberg must have had something really special up his sleeve, to essentially ask his audience to forgo their civil rights in exchange for watching his film a day early. 

Oddly enough, there's nothing that unique about the movie.  There's nothing on screen that can really be "spoiled."  If Spielberg was serious about not letting people know what they're in for, he should have bought back every copy of Jurassic Park and then paid some secret Government science lab to perform a mind-wipe on anyone who's ever watched the movie.  Sci-fi fans have already viewed many slight variations of War of the Worlds many times before.  Acting as paranoid as the studio was with its excessive security can't help the film.  Inconveniencing the hell out of people before they watch your movie probably isn't the best way to garner their praise -- especially when you have nothing fresh to show them. 

A quality rip-off ...

The whole security ordeal was about as useful as guarding a bank filled with $100.00 bills made on a Xerox machine.  That's not to say the movie wasn't a good copy.  I found myself entertained throughout most of it.  Like attending a reunion tour, you know all the words, but still enjoy singing along.  Just leave ten minutes before the film comes to its abrupt and ridiculous conclusion.  If you can't bring yourself to miss the last ten minutes, please do yourself a favor and bail two minutes before the credits come up.  The last couple of minutes of the movie are so awful, they nearly destroy the entire film.   

Its reason for being ...

The CG FX are jaw-dropping on the big screen.  I don't think they'd be one way or the other on a 27" television set, and War of the Worlds is all about the FX.  I recommend this one purely for the spectacle.  The plot's thin, the characters are underdeveloped (but some damn fine acting makes you believe in them, anyway), and the thrills are overly familiar.  Every July 4th millions of people turn out to watch the fireworks.  Will they be any different than the year before?  Probably not.  Do people still enjoy them?  Absolutely.  Why?  They look cool.  War of the Worlds looks cool.  Too bad the grand finale sucks.

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

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