War of the Worlds (2005)

[rate 4]
I have to hand it to Steven Spielberg, he really goes all out when he makes a movie. On the way home from seeing ‘War of the Worlds’ tonight the world was alight with intermittent flashes of lightning, illuminating the dark roiling skies from within like giant lanterns. Chances are, if I’d seen the silhouette of a city water tower tossed into sharp relief I would have driven straight off the road into the trees and not stopped running until next May.

I’m giving this movie four out of five alien tripods.

It would have only been six but I’m buying off the Scientologists with an extra point so they’ll stay off of my back. Johnny T., QUIT calling man – I keep telling you that I’m Methodist!!

When I heard that Steven Spielberg was directing, Tom Cruise was starring and H.G. Wells was still dead, I honestly thought to myself, “Good choice Huggy Wells, War of the Worlds ALWAYS makes for a suck-o movie. Cruise and Spielberg won’t know what hit ’em.”

What I neglected to take into consideration was the fact that hordes of computer jockeys would be paid to crank out incredibly realistic footage of towering alien tripods wreaking Major Box-Office Havoc and that Steven Spielberg is a fairly accomplished director.

I also forgot to take into consideration that the original story was damned brilliant. If I spoil anything for you in this review it’s your own fault for having not read the book yet. And you call yourselves Earthlings.

A requisite primer for those planning to become true sci-fi geeks, ‘War of the Worlds’ was set loose on the world in 1898 by H.G. Wells in a Victorian era awash in startling, paradigm-shifting revelations by scientists like Louis Pasteur (who simultaneously proved the mind-blowing existence of micro-organisms and ensured that his last name would be forever associated with those little square milk cartons you drank from in elementary school). As such, the original novel is awash in Victorian sensibilities.

I almost checked twice before typing Steven Spielberg’s name into this review because I honestly wouldn’t have known he had directed this film if it hadn’t been in the title credits – which isn’t to say that this was badly directed, it’s just that effects-laden films often have lives of their own. Mr. Speilberg took an old tired “why do this again?” story and breathed new life and new energy into it. Despite the contemporary adjustments, the framework of the original story is still very evident. This isn’t ‘War of the Worlds’ in name only.

From the very first time we see one of the alien tripods raining destruction down on Tom Cruise’s hometown to the time we see them gathered en masse at a river, it is clear that the terror of the alien machines still resonates with a audience. The impotence of the military to stop the invasion is handled differently from the book since the original story was staged in the late 1800’s (hence the audience is never treated to the appearance of the “HMS Thunderchild”). All of the great ideas are there, from the Wellesian introduction and epilogue by Morgan Freeman to the sickening spread of the strange red weed to the maddened “underground” dweller played by Tim Robbins (was it his idea to always play the weirdo? Is that all he can do?).

Go see the movie, it’s fun.

In the 20th Century there were only three worthy versions of ‘War of the Worlds’ worth a fiddle. Most of you will probably only know the first one:

“We interrupt this broadcast…” Orson Welles’ famous 1938 Radio Dramatization sent hundreds (if not thousands) of listeners into a blind panic when they heard what seemed to be a normal radio program interrupted by news reports that gathered in frequency and detail until the terrible Martian invasion was in full effect. [Wikipedia]

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (1978). Despite the ridiculous sounding title, this is in truth a dramatic retelling of H.G. Well’s ‘War of the Worlds’, narrated by none other than famed actor Richard Burton. What really sets this concept album apart is the music. From the creepy bass lines and eerie/goofy “Oooooo-laaaaaa” for the Martians to the incredibly beautiful ‘Forever Autumn’ by Moody Blues’ leadman Justin Hayward, this is probably one of the coolest things you’ll ever buy. [Compact Disc]

Tripods was a series of books written by John Christopher and published in the late 1960’s. In the 1980’s the BBC turned the program into a television series. This series belongs to the ‘War of the Worlds’ mythos, but explores a future in which the aliens have captured most of humanity and control them with special mind-control caps. It’s a compelling juvenile novel and is well respected in the halls of sci-fi. The television version had great special effects but dragged quite a bit. Around 2001 the program was released to DVD in the UK but has yet to be encoded as a Region 1 DVD for fans in North America. [Books][DVD]

2 Comments on “War of the Worlds (2005)”

  1. When I was a Boy 80’s my Dad had Jeff Wayne’s war of the Worlds on LP fold out when I was five we listened to it late one afternoon and when it was finished you couldn’t peel me off the kitchen table center then my Mom made me take out the trash after hours of my refusal I don’t think I have ever ran that fast in my life and the trash never made it I just chunked it close enough and ran back barely touching earth then I begged my Dad not to go to the bar cause “THEY’RE ARE OUT THERE AND YOU WILL DIE” it was all so dramatic I don’t think I went near the front door at night for weeks. But now that I been to Iraq and back USMC “BRING IT ON!” Lol but I still love it and have learned to play it on Bass,Electric,and Ele Piano

    1. Everyone I know who has heard the Jeff Wayne album has loved it. It’s a shame that it’s not more widely known, but that’s the way of things. It’s a little treasure guarded by an exclusive circle ;)

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