Sometimes for scientifical type purposes I try to predict what bad puns the hack critics will use in reviews of upcoming movies. For WAR OF THE WORLDS I was leaning toward an “out of this world” or “worlds away from E.T.” type thing. Somebody suggested “Bore of the Worlds” but I was saving that for “Fantastic Bore” and “Fantastic Snore.”
But then I saw WAR OF THE WORLDS and you know what this is? The scariest PG-13 movie of all time. Fuck dinosaurs. Fuck a guy eating monkey brains. This is as hard as Steve Spielberg is gonna get. This is a well put together piece of work in my opinion. Usually making a movie PG-13 when it could be R is a copout, but in this case it’s almost subversive. Sorry about taking the guns out of E.T., to make it up to you I’m gonna give your kids the worst nightmares from now until they turn 16.
So now I’m thinking the pun headline should be CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE KIND WHERE YOU ALMOST SHIT YOUR PANTS. Or maybe E.T. – THE EXTRA-WE’REFUCKED-STRIAL.
This is, you probaly know, unless you’re stupid, the story of aliens invading earth, etc. They drive around in death machines with three giant spindly legs, vaporize people, grab people with tentacles, suck the blood out of people, and that sort of thing. They do not, at least as far as we know in the movie, eat reeses pieces. Or get drunk or dress up like a girl. Maybe on the extended dvd.
What’s really smart about the movie is that it’s from the point of view of the poor saps on the ground. Usually in an alien invasion movie you sit in the halls of power with the world leaders and the military strategists and whoever else has a big screen with maps on it to point to. And you see scenes from god’s point of view, all over the world, famous landmarks getting destroyed. And you’re right there with the biggest hero in the world when he figures out how to stop the aliens. This is the opposite. You get none of that shit. You just get what happens to some guy in a leather coat. How he happens to survive. What he sees. Which is the same as what everybody else sees: some fucked up shit. Bodies floating, those things walking over, people dying, buildings dropping.
It all starts innocently, watching a weird storm from the backyard. After a little bit of set up, most of the movie consists of two things: 1). running. 2). hiding. Fuckup weekend dad Tom Cruise, angry teenage son and precocious/horrified daughter run and hide from the army of tripods. And if they don’t see something happen, we don’t see it either. The things are all over the place so we get good looks at them, usually in the distance. But you always feel like they might turn and see you. So you hide inside some basement somewhere and hear all kinds of horrible rumbling and exploding in the distance. There are lots of scary sounds in this movie. The tripods like to make this horrifying HOOOOOOOONNNNNNKKKK foghorn/lion roar type sound, which I suspect is their equivalent of american soldiers blasting Bon Jovi at Noriega or Eminem at some random dude they locked up in Abu Ghraib. They’re just fucking with us. Or maybe it’s their eqivalent of a car horn that plays “La Cuca Racha.”
Or they could be communicating with that sound, it’s up to you to decide. See, the other smart thing about the movie, it doesn’t feel the need to explain every god damn thing. I mean, there is a little bit there (Morgan Freeman even narrates the beginning and end with text probaly from the book – don’t worry, he’s only the narrator, not some wise old man in the movie). But there’s alot of shit that would be overexplained in your standard summer movie that Spielberg trusts you to be on your own with. So when Tom Cruise finds the wreckage of a huge jet in the front yard, you don’t have to have someone explain how exactly it got there. There’s a couple examples of weird, horrible things they see that I don’t want to give away. Let’s just say there aren’t scientists making speeches about how everything works. Just a line here or there to offer theories. There isn’t even TV reports to explain much because the electricity is out for most of the movie.
And it almost seems like they’re taunting the audience, putting little things in there to make you expect the usual hollywood bullshit and then not giving it to you. For example the introduction of Tom Cruise has him operating a crane, with lots of closeups of his hands on the joysticks. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking “Oh jesus, he’s gonna drive an alien spaceship.” Never happens though. And they also make a big deal about the son always stealing his dad’s car even though he doesn’t have a license. But he doesn’t drive an alien spaceship either. If this was INDEPENDENCE DAY, both of them would’ve driven spaceships. And there woulda been some reference to TOP GUN I bet. But WAR OF THE WORLDS doesn’t play that shit.
There’s alot of the usual Spielberg stuff (divorce, kids) but the tone is much grimmer and more serious than he’s been for years. I liked his last couple sci-fi movies better than most people did, but in A.I. he threw in the Chris Rock cameo and in MINORITY REPORT there was the jetpack roasting the hamburgers incident. Here the tone is consistently horrific. It’s the scary parts of JURASSIC PARK and not the jokey parts. It has equivalents to the raptors coming in the kitchen and the t-rex nuzzling the car but no jokes about evil lawyers getting eaten on the shitter. And instead of Sam Neill barely able to walk because he’s so awed by the dazzling sight of real live dinosaurs, you get Tom Cruise barely able to walk because he just watched a weird machine come out of the ground and kill a whole bunch of people, and he’s covered in what’s left of them. Even John Williams manages to make a subdued, eerie score instead of his usual majestic anthemy business. I actually didn’t think it was him until I checked IMDB. (A popular web sight where you can look up movies.)
The effects in the movie are real good too. They never make you want to cheer, they make you want to duck. They did a good job of capturing those “oh shit am I really seeing this?” moments people experience during natural disasters, terrorist attacks and specials on Fox. Also there are good “what the hell is that sound?” moments. This movie proved to me that yes, the guy who did Jurassic Park IS the same guy who did Jaws.
I’ve heard some complaints about the ending, that it ends in reasonable happiness. By the way the aliens are killed by germs. (If that was a spoiler, I better not mention that dorothy gets home by bangin her slippers together and goldilocks ends up fucking everything up at the bear house.) I guess it’s a legitimate point, it might’ve been even better if there was more of a toll on main characters. But it didn’t seem disappointing to me. I knew going in this was Steve Spielberg, it’s not like I was expecting a Texas Chain Saw ending with Tom giggling crazily in the back of a pickup truck.
One dumb little thing that did take me out of the movie though. Early in the movie when Tom Cruise walks down the block to find out what the hell is going on, he runs into a couple of his buddies, and one of them is an actor named Rick Gonzalez. I had to look him up because I just know him as the wacky afro-puff dude from BIKER BOYZ, OLD SCHOOL and I guess COACH CARTER. He doesn’t seem like a guy Tom Cruise’s character would know, he seems like a guy who gets work in lots of commercials because he has a quirky hairstyle. I mean nothing against him personally, I’m sure he’s an all right guy, but he’s a guy you expect to maybe see in the Fanta commercial before the movie, but not during the movie, if it’s a serious one like this.
BIKER BOYZ wasn’t that bad though. But this one is way better.
SEE THE MOVIE THAT CRITICS THINK THE WORLD OF
“WAY BETTER THAN BIKER BOYZ!… You almost shit your pants. It’s out of this world!” –Vern, Then Fuck You Jack
p.s. Be sure to stay for the credits, because at the end the little E.T. on the Amblin Entertainment logo turns to you and swears his people had nothing to do with this shit, please do not invade. He just came down and road bikes with kids and shit like that, please don’t lump him in with those other guys from space.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.