I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Summer Movie Flashback: War of the Worlds

tn_waroftheworlds

2006
2005

Wow – WAR OF THE WORLDS holds up. I remember it being the most intense PG-13 movie ever, but I thought maybe with the escalation of that rating since the Joker stabbed a guy with a pencil in DARK KNIGHT maybe it wouldn’t seem as harsh by today’s standards.

Nope. This movie is a fuckin nightmare! It starts as an anxiety dream (oh shit, what if my kids come over and I show up late and forgot to clean up and my ex-wife and her husband see that I don’t have any food and…) then one of those ones where you see weird shit in the sky (a strange electrical storm) and in the distance (3-legged alien attack machines), and then it’s a disaster one (mobs attacking your car at night, thousands of people trying to climb onto the same ferry), then a war one (running into the hills at night as tanks roll in the other direction) and then a more intimate things-that-go-bump-in-the-night one (alien in the basement). All of this executed with the classic Steve Spielberg filmatistic chops.

It feels like JAWS for a while, except Janusz Kaminski gives it a washed-over pallor. I’m actually a little mixed on that. It’s creepy, but sometimes maybe a little too painterly, reminding me that it’s an image, not a real world. Maybe that’s how they avoided the R.

mp_waroftheworldsI like what a loser Tom Cruise plays. This guy Ray, at work he’s probly pretty awesome, telling his boss off, driving away in his cool car, wearing his Tom Cruise leather jacket. But with his family he sucks. His remarried wife looks at him with pity, his son doesn’t want to talk to him, his daughter makes fun of him, when he can’t get them to listen even under threat of alien attack he pathetically threatens to tell their mom later. He doesn’t even remember his daughter’s severe peanut allergy. I found it touching when, trying hard to comfort his daughter, he has to keep apologizing for not knowing the lullabies she’s asking for. It makes him cry. He knows he sucks.

There’s one very Tom Cruise scene where he’s gonna make them sandwiches, and he lays the bread slices out like he’s dealing cards, claps and rubs his hands together excitedly. As my buddy said it makes you wonder if Tom Cruises has never made a sandwich before. But it’s a good, weird way to slice through the front he’s putting on. He’s trying to act like he’s in control, but he can’t even make lunch.

I notice a couple interesting themes here. One is about dad proving himself to his family. This one time he better fuckin come through. He tries at first by being a selfish survivalist – stealing them a car that works, avoiding picking up other people. Let’s keep our eyes straight ahead, move swiftly and don’t take risks. But after getting dragged out of his car and threatened with a gun he switches to his kids’ P.O.V., wanting to help others, yelling for the people running the ferry to let more people on. He sees his son selflessly trying to help people climb on, and he learns from it. (Well, but later he gets real Machiavellian in the basement. I forgot about that part.)

At the end he’s managed to fulfill his duties as a father, returning his daughter safely, and his son has Become A Man off somewhere on his own, so they respect each other now. And his ex-wife even looks at him with admiration for what he has accomplished.

But they don’t invite him in, because he’s still fuckin Ray. The guy that doesn’t know his own daughter’s deadly allergy. Fuck that guy.

Another theme is the spread of misinformation. For once the media is mostly off the hook, because the electricity is off. No news. But the movie observes how willing people are to hear some bullshit and repeat it as fact. One guy heard the storm was solar flares, even though another guy points out lightning has nothing to do with solar flares and that doesn’t make any sense. One guy heard everything is normal in Europe, other guy heard it’s worse even than here. Nobody knows shit but they all talk like they do.

Did you guys know Amy Ryan was in this? She’s his next door neighbor that he talks to briefly at the beginning. I didn’t know who she was at the time. I’m not afraid to admit it. We don’t have to know everything.

Whenever I talk with people about this movie I guarantee you they’ll bring up two things that they say killed the movie. Number one is the son, the kid from DRAGON’S BALL, being SPOILER alive at the end. He goes over a hill just before some fiery explosions and dad takes off assuming he’s dead I think (although he tells Tim Robbins that they’re gonna meet in Boston, which turns out to be true). This still doesn’t bother me, because I always assumed he was alive, otherwise they would’ve shown him bite it. I’m not sure why people are so bothered by that.

The other thing is the holed-up-in-a-basement-with-Tim-Robbins section. I admit that it’s the weakest chunk of the movie, and would work better with an old grizzled guy instead of Robbins. He’s not that legit. But I still like it. If nothing else, this section has a long dialogue-free suspense sequence, the RIFIFI of hiding-from-aliens scenes. I was fine with it.

(by the way, remember when E.T. had to hide from the humans? Times have changed.)

The best part I forgot about is the plane crash. They’re in the mother’s fancy basement and hear a horrifying loud sound and the lights go out. Out of context it’s hard to recognize as a jet engine. The next morning, before he finds plane wreckage near the destroyed house, there’s a great shot framed to show him in front of the intact half of the living room, as if it’s an interior shot, but we can tell it’s wrong because it’s natural light shining on him. He’s outdoors.

There are so many great, scary images. There’s a scene where Fanning wanders off by herself and comes to the edge of some water. It’s like the little girl at the beginning of THE LOST WORLD, but instead of getting swarmed by tiny dinosaurs she just watches, mesmerized, as deady body after deady body after piles of more dead bodies floats by.

I like how you mostly see the tripods from a distance, and almost never straight on. Usually from the side or the back, and it’s not necessarily coming towards us. So it doesn’t look like an FX money shot. It looks like “oh shit, make sure he doesn’t hear us.”

I was thinking about how now whenever a building gets knocked over in a movie people complain that it’s exploiting 9-11 imagery. But WAR OF THE WORLDS I remember being praised for being maybe the first movie to deal with 9-11 in that way. I always remember the scene where Ray is running in a crowd and the woman in front of him gets zapped by the aliens. She turns into ash and covers his face. He doesn’t really process until later when he’s inside that he has a dead woman all over him. And there’s a a very believable kind of panic.The kids keep asking him what happened, and he doesn’t know how to even put words together.

“Is it the terrorists?” his little girl asks at one point, but of course it’s worse. (Or maybe not. The problem of terrorism isn’t gonna die off from getting human germs on it.) They have some good fear in this movie. I forgot how good Dakota Fanning was, whispering “Are we still alive?” in the dark.

This movie oughta get more respect.

* * *

my original review

other movies that came out that summer: BATMAN BEGINS, REVENGE OF THE SITH, FANTASTIC FOUR, THE ISLAND, STEALTH.

trivia: I actually started this series because I was jonesin to watch REVENGE OF THE SITH again, but I decided to hold off for a more thorough prequel study

highest grossing movie that year: HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE


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.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 28th, 2013 at 2:02 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

135 Responses to “Summer Movie Flashback: War of the Worlds”

  1. I 100% agree!

  2. The only thing that I don’t like about this is movie is the ending. I’m not against happy ending but that kind of happy ending is capable of ruining the movie for me. Othervise it’s a pretty good picture with a truly great Tom Cruise-performance.

  3. Great piece Vern. War of the Worlds is a stunning piece of filmmaking.

    Very much looking forward to a thorough study of the prequels. Now THERE’S a set of films that are deeply misunderstood and underappreciated.

  4. Hunnered percent agree with ya Vern. I got the DVD of this free from the video store where I used to work and put it on cope ting little. I’ve been much of a Cruise fan and less so Spielberg. Jaws was about it. So too say I was blown away by how good this was (is) would be an understatement.

    It also confirmed my suspicion that Tom Cruise should play more shithead characters, because he’s really good at them.

  5. Fantastic movie up until the very end. The kid should have died. Everything being absolutely fine in the end is just a step too far in softening the punch. It just felt so insincere – millions are dead but everything is fine since this particular family made it out without a scratch. Even after taking foolish risks mistaken for heroism.

    Having Cruise and family needing to cope with the loss of the son would have made the catastrophic death toll much more honest. It didn’t feel like the ending built up to the ending the movie needed, but it was just Spielberg flinching in the last minute.

    Other than that, great film. I even like the basement sequence.

  6. when I saw this in theaters I enjoyed it but was disappointed that it was not as good as JURASSIC PARK and while it’s certainly no JP, time has been very kind to it in regards to most modern summer blockbusters

    I think there’s a couple of reasons though why this movie was not better received

    1. in 2005 I think people were suffering a little bit from blockbuster fatigue, there was a feeling like maybe people were getting tired of this sort of thing (this was the year that gave Michael Bay his one and only flop, remember?), I remember reading one review in some magazine or whatever where the critic said “why would you inflict WAR OF THE WORLDS on yourself when the brilliant BROKEN FLOWERS is playing at the same time?”, 2005 was a transitional year I guess where it really did seem possible the general public would rather watch Jim Jarmusch movies, it didn’t last of course and blockbusters got a shot in the arm not long after, but WAR OF THE WORLDS made an easy target for the blockbuster backlash

    2. after he danced on Oprah’s couch, America decided it didn’t really like this weird Tom Cruise fellow anymore and instead liked making fun of him, so WAR OF THE WORLDS also suffered from the Tom Cruise backlash at the time

    but if only we knew how bad things would become, maybe we would have appreciated WAR OF THE WORLDS more because it is a pretty great movie, I love the Morgan Freeman narration at the beginning, it sets the tone perfectly and gives it a nice connection to the original novel, the sandwich making scene Vern mentioned also has that great shot of Cruise reflected in the window saying “everything will be ok” but the piece of bread stuck to the window with peanut butter and slowly sliding down seems to say otherwise

  7. here’s another interesting fact about this movie, it was the first movie The Asylum made a “knockbuster” of

    it was called “HG WELL’S WAR OF THE WORLDS” and had a similar looking cover and that shit managed to confuse even ME! I remember seeing it in Blockbuster (remember when they had those?) and wondering “what the fuck is this?”, it really confused me, I assumed it was a re-release of some old movie or TV show or something because the idea of the “knockbuster” was so new, you didn’t expect it, you just did not think they would have the balls to ripoff Spielberg that bluntly

    I still didn’t rent it of course because I knew better, but if it managed to confuse even me it must have made a killing off stupid people and the rest is history

  8. I wonder how many “giant testicle” jokes that Japanese poster caused people to make.

  9. Spot on Vern, 100% agreed. I loved this movie and Spielberg was on form chops-wise. That shot during the car escape scene with the camera swooping in and out of the car window was technically magnificent without calling attention to itself. And the sound design of that movie is the best I’ve heard so far.

  10. I bought this on Blu-Ray over the weekend and rewatched it. It’s so good. The shot where the aliens destroy the overpass, with cars and 18-wheelers flying through the air and landing on the houses below, still blows me away. I know it’s CGI, but it’s breathtaking.

    I remembering thinking “Oh come on” when I saw the kid had survived, but on rewatch, it’s still not the happiest ending. Yeah, his kids are alive, but they’d rather be with their mom. Where can Ray go now?

  11. One Guy From Andromeda

    August 28th, 2013 at 8:06 am

    The whole thing doesn’t really add up to more than the sum of its parts, but goddamn it if some of these parts are not amazing film making. Spielberg rocks when he’s in his rare horror mode. A scene that comes to mind is when they get to a railroad gate that suddenly goes down, and everyone is kind of hopeful, hey the trains are still running. Then a train comes whizzing by full speed with fire bursting out of its windows and you hear nothing but screams. Good stuff.
    In the end though, even though it is entertaining, the film is not much more than a collection of suspense scenes, some more successful than others. For a 2000s blockbuster that’s way above average, but they used to make them differently in my opinion.

  12. Another reader in boring total agreement here, Vern. I too have never been especially bothered by the fact that Ray Jr. makes it to the end and I actually like Tim Robbins in the basement sequence – it reminds me of his performance in MYSTIC RIVER, except with a better movie surrounding it.

    Re 9/11 echoes: It may interest you to know that WotW screenwriter David Koepp has been quoted as saying that the real-life inspiration for the chaos of this film was in fact news reports of Iraqis attempting to survive the initial violence of the U.S. invasion. I remember there being an extremely minor controversy about these remarks in U.S. conservative media (which I read for some reason), which questioned Koepp’s patriotism (because there were no civilian casualties in the war or something).

  13. Handsome Dan – oh, don’t you remember Conservative’s attitude back then? that to say even the slightest negative thing about the Iraq war meant you hated freedom and America?

  14. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

    Just Wait til Rumsfeld Unveils the Tripods from the National Review’s Corner blog.

  15. Agreed— this is a really great movie.

    I always wondered if Robbins was cast as the guy in the basement because of his reputation in the 2000’s as The Outspoken Hollywood Leftist, or whether that was just an unfortunate accident. His character somehow strikes me as a weird mocking take on the idea of the it’s-all-a-conspiracy-so-don’t-believe-anything-they-say nutjob, which in 2005 was a caricature of far-left thinking and attitude. As it is, it feels like the only didactic part of what is otherwise a very successfully apolitical, humanistic movie. I always wondered if it would have felt less politicized with a different actor playing that role.

  16. “I always wondered if it would have felt less politicized with a different actor playing that role.”

    I think that’s simply the case, in 2005 Tim Robbins came with a lot of baggage

  17. Weird, the basement stuff was my favorite part.

  18. That flaming train scene was an homage to Mars Attacks’ flaming cows scene, which years later was again homaged in Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins.

    True story.

  19. 100% agree, Vern. I like this more than Jurassic Park, even. I was also unsure why people thought the movie had a happy ending, sure the son is alive at the end but everyone is going to be scarred from what just happens. Plus, aliens weren’t even the real threat to the family in this movie: other people were, and those assholes are still around. Not to mention this movie having a few scenes of just fucking cruel terror, like the scene of people carjacking and shooting each other over a van or the scene where a train screams by on fire. This movie is dark and brutal and really depressing. Thinking that this or The Road have a happy ending because the son is alive at the end doesn’t really understand the point of either work.

  20. Audience response to this movie was despairing. When it came out, a critic boasted to me that in his review he gave it one star, with the note that it’s worth three stars if you bring earplugs. I wouldn’t pretend he was clever. It isn’t a movie about people kicking alien ass, which is a problem for many viewers.

    It’s a truly terrifying film.

  21. I found Dakota Fanning extremely annoying in this one. Even if Cruises character was a loser, that is no way to talk to a parent.

  22. The only part of this movie that really bothered me was the morning after the plane crash in the suburban neighborhood. They come outside. There’s wreckage everywhere. Total destruction. When they get in the van, though, they are able to drive away down this tidy little lane through the center of the crash site completely clear of wreckage that is piled high on either side. For a long moment, that shot of the van driving away completely dropped me out of the reality the movie had effectively built up until then.

  23. Give her a peanut and be done with it.

  24. Mark Palermo – (are you this guy? http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1792363/) the critics seemed to really have the knives out for WAR OF THE WORLDS and I don’t really know why

  25. JesseSP, that sequence wasn’t CGI. It was multiple miniature shots stitched together.

    Large scale destruction simulations weren’t feasible with CGI in 2005 yet, so they had to go old school. The post-production schedule was also insanely short, so they even if they had the tech, there wouldn’t been time to create those in CGI. Blowing real shit up is always the fastest.

  26. I think the ending with the son annoys people because it just seems so damn miraculous, especially right after humanity is saved by bacteria. It kinda has the same effect as when they pull the old it-was-all-just-a-dream trick.

    Personally, I really liked having the son disappear over that hill. There was a nice sense of finality to it. The father has let go of his son, who is now off to find his fate. It was open-ended and symbolic without being preachy or pseudo-profound. Mature storytelling, in my opinion. So yeah, I would have preferred not having the son return home intact.

    But hey, it didn’t ruin the movie for me. I always refer to War of the Worlds as Independence Day for grown-ups.

  27. Griff – Yeah, that’s me. I’m still wearing that red shirt.

    From a plausibility standpoint, it makes sense that the son should have died by running into a wall of fire. But thematically, he needs to survive. The movie is about Ray’s arc to becoming a better human being and a better father. He needs to finally embrace the things that are important in life. If his son is killed, he doesn’t really get there. There was probably a way this could have been handled differently, but it doesn’t bother me.

  28. I think less people would have been annoyed by the son’s miraculous survival, if the whole movie wouldn’t end in a street, where the world wide invasion apparently never happened and everybody just walks outside in their pajamas, as if it would have been a normal Sunday morning.

  29. Even if it stars he-I-won’t-mention I kinda liked this movie. One question though – and this is something I see in a lot of American Movies – why the hell does the father carry the daughter around? She’s perfectly capable of walking by herself! Other than that, it’s an okay movie.

  30. I liked this movie, but I confess, and I’m sure I’m alone on this – I found the moments of the otherwise-dopey Scary Movie 4 (the best one!) spoofing it to be pretty funny. Especially when they do a version of the basement scene, with Michael Madsen (MASSIVE UPGRADE) playing the Tim Robbins part.

    It’s such a great movie, War of the Worlds, and I’m thankful for this approximation. But now when I think of it, shame on me that I occasionally think of Craig Bierko as well.

  31. Tom Cruise as a working class dude operating the cranes at the docks? That was a bit of a stretch for me. He’d have pulled it off if my friend didn’t tell me that his leather jacket was a £1000 Bellstaff coat. Real working class Tom, go work the docks wearing a months wages.

    Other than his great taste in leather jackets, I thought this was an amazing film. I’m going to watch this again just for the “Tom makes a sandwich” scene.

  32. This is a great movie, full of iconic imagery and scary-as-fuck set-pieces. But I got a problem with the ending. Not the part with the son living. That was pretty obvious. This is Spielberg we’re talking about here. The days when he fed the Kittener boy to Bruce are long gone.

    No, my problem stems right from the original Wells. So…these aliens, right? They can build enormous machines of death, transport them millions of light years, and bury them undetected deep in the earth for centuries. They got death rays, mobile harvesting plants, all kinds of crazy shit. They are mad advanced. But they’ve never heard of germs before? Never thought to test the air, see if that might be a problem? How long were they planning this?

    Yeah, I don’t buy that. I know that’s how it shook out in the book, but shit, man, that was Victorian times. Germs were a new thing back then. That was a pretty good twist in those days. Nowadays, you’d have to be the stupidest fucking aliens in the universe to not test the fucking air before you started breathing it. Even on STAR TREK they did an atmosphere check before they beamed down. It’s just common sense.

    I always thought they should have changed it to pollution. I’m not sure that would have been any more believable, but it would have been funny if the thing that’s killing us ended up saving us.

  33. David Cloverfield

    August 28th, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Great review, actually made me want to rewatch it tonight (That’s what great about these reviews. Haven’t seen Cradle of Life before Vern’s review made me wanna watch it). But as a guy, who lives in a city that’s been occupied, bombed, destroyed by tanks in the last century, I don’t get the obsession with 911. Buildings sometimes get destroyed. Hell, sooner or later all buildings get destroyed. If it happens in a movie, that’s not really about 911. Everybody went crazy for Man of steel demolishing buildings, but that stuff has been happening in the comic books for decades. Also that’s pretty much how a Superman fight or an Alien invasion would look. It has fuck all to do with actual events.

  34. I definitely see where you’re coming from, Mr Majestyk, but I always figured there was a good reason for that. Like in Terminator, humans in the future managed to have a dude time travel. That’s fucking awesome! We can’t do that today, but I bet the people in the future can’t do all sorts of shit we can do today. Like a hand transplant or something. So I figured these aliens just destroyed Mars through pollution or whatever and all that exists are some poor people scratching out a living and using cannibalism to survive and other horrible shit. But then they manage to fix some old piece of technology that lets them beam over to another planet so they do, because shit can’t be any worse than things are on Mars, right? Wrong. Something like that.

  35. I remember in the book I kinda got the impression that germs weren’t really a factor where the aliens come from, so I guess they couldn’t have thought to check for it. The whole idea was that it was something unexpected and unknown to the aliens that killed them.

    The aliens seemed way more alien in the book. Nothing human or even humanoid about them or the way they operated. Just this unknown force unleashed on humanity. I’m still hoping we see a good Victorian era movie version one day.

  36. This movie had me up until the ending. Before that it was the best sci-fi I’ve seen from Spielberg since the first 2 acts of A.I.

    The moment the son reappeared though it was so jarring that it almost felt like it was spliced into the print from a whole other movie. I still remember the collective and very audible groans from the entire audience to this day. The resolution to the aliens was uninspiring too and was somewhat reminiscent of SIGNS. I never read the H.G. Wells book so I don’t know how faithful to the source material that ending was in that regard but the way the story was presented in this movie called for a much more imaginative climax than that.

  37. man, I really don’t understand all the hate for the son surviving, so he managed to not get killed, what’s so hard to believe about that?

  38. Ace Mac Ashbrook, I made the same point to a coworker in 2005. It turned out she was from NJ and had friends who worked on the docks there. In her opinion Tom Cruise was exactly like some of them, down to the jacket— an aging, cocky doofus who maxes out his credit on something that he cluelessly thinks might get him laid— kinda like his car.

    For me it’s the way he throws in the “just a guy playin’ catch with his son” scene that betrays his unfamiliarity with humans and their various experiences.

  39. Griff – It’s the context of it. We see him walk into what turns into a wall of explosions and we’re supposed to buy that he survived that? I know it’s a movie about an alien invasion and everything but you could only suspend your disbelief so far man.

  40. I remember being really impressed with that scene of them playing catch. There was some good subtext and tension there.

    Griff, I think it’s the way it was revealed that made most people roll their eyes at the son’s return. Also like I said, I prefer the “unknown fate” feeling we get from seeing him disappear over that hill. I really didn’t need to see him again.

  41. Okay, let me be the asshole contrarian who hated the fuck out of this movie. Something doesn’t sit write with me when a big silly blockbuster where Tom Cruise is trapped in a metal alien ballsack where a rectum with tongue tries to eat him, also tries repeatedly to evoke 9/11 with a lot of heavy handed, overly grim imagery.

  42. Mr. Majestyk:

    if it was a new story written today, yeah, not knowing about germs would mean disbelief unsuspended, and a big turn off

    but in the context of the original story, the corny twist gets a pass, that old bromide is now quaint and reassuring

  43. Yeah, I don’t buy that. You don’t get to go to the “This is reminiscent of recent real-life tragedies” and the “This is just like those old stories you used to read as a kid” wells in the same movie. That dog won’t hunt. You want me to take this shit seriously, you come up with some better science. “But Orson did it!” is not a viable justification in the 21st century.

    It is still a good movie, but there’s a reason nobody likes the ending, and it’s not just the kid surviving. It’s that everything all of a sudden gets very, very, very easy. Earth under siege? Humanity on the brink of extinction? “Don’t worry about it, brah. Just kick back and the situation will take care of itself. It’s in the air, brah, you ain’t even gotta do anything. And relax, nobody important to you will die either. That would be mean.” After two hours of utter hopelessness and despair, the audience can smell a rat.

  44. You could see the filmmakers trying to prepare the audience for that ending with that scene at the beginning where Dakota Fanning talks about the splinter in someone’s finger and how if you just leave it, your body itself will reject this alien object and get rid of it in time.

    I thought that was a nice touch.

  45. The train on fire – moments like that make me think Spielberg still has that JAWS sensibility inside. Also, the crazy honking sound of the war machines. And the underwater one.

    There’s quite a lot to like, really.

  46. flyingguillotine

    August 28th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    WAR OF THE WORLDS is an odd film. There are scenes and sequences that are off the charts… That mob scene at the docks is insane, and the thing I’ve always used to argue WAR’s merits. (Which routinely gets a, “Yeah, I guess you’re right, that scene’s pretty good I suppose…” response). The bodies floating past. The entire sequence when they’re trapped in the alien’s cage and getting grabbed one by one. The basement.

    I’m pretty sure Spielberg cribbed the final shot from THE SEARCHERS. Tom Cruise and John Wayne both play guys who are useless when it comes to normal life situations, to the degree that no one really wants them around. But when it comes to action and rescue and violence, they come through… Though at the end, when the job is done, they still have to stay outside, framed in a doorway, while the audience remains inside, looking at them alone.

    But there are also some beats that simply don’t work… They’re forced or sloppy in a way I don’t expect to see in an A-list summer Spielberg film, much less several of them.

    For example, that peanut butter scene. The kids are hungry, Tom’s making sandwiches, he forgets the allergy so he throws a tantrum, now they don’t even have the sandwiches and the kids are still hungry… All the while there is a FRIDGE IN THE SHOT. Did his ex-wife take all of their food with them to Boston? Apparently so, though they don’t even check. The movie wants that sandwich beat, but ignores the obvious to get it.

    The kid going over the hill because “he wants to see” is empty and just kind of dumb. Again, the movie wants something, and just dumps it on the screen without selling the beat.

    (Though I love how we put the girl in danger by having a concerned woman try to rescue her. Even when people are being nice, it’s still a danger… You can’t take your eyes off your kids for a SECOND. The aliens are only one of many threats).

    Other things are perfectly sold, like the solenoid thing… Tom gets made fun of for having an engine in his living room, but that does the double duty of telling us he’s kind of a grown adolescent, but is also mechanically inclines, so we buy that he would know where to go and why to score a ride. So why do we have these weak patches?

    So… I’ve met people who hate this movie, they think it’s stupid, etc. And I can’t argue about the holes. But I’d say the good stuff vastly outweighs the weaker moments.

  47. I think the son surviving bothers me for multiple reasons:
    1. It makes him running off like he did seem pointless, or just a contrivance so that Cruise would have more trouble dealing with Tim Robbins on his own later.
    2. It lets the son off the hook for being a selfish asshole ditching his dad and vulnerable sister like that, not to mention putting Tom’s character into that awkward position of having to choose between looking after his daughter or going after the son. It’s a pretty shitty thing to do all around, and he suffers no consequences for it.
    3. Way too “happy” an ending, though Tom’s reaction doesn’t really sell it too much as such, as I dunno, I think he’s partly sad that his ex being alive means he won’t be in a position to take care of them full time, something he’s grown to want over the course of the movie.

    Also, it was really distracting how at the beginning of the movie Dakota Fanning was doing her creepy “mind of a 30 year old” thing and acting way older than her age, but as soon as the shit hits the fan she just turns into a typical scared little movie girl. Yeah, that contradiction is probably the point, but it just bugs me in it’s pointlessness.

  48. Hey Mr. Majestyk, read “The Road Not Taken” by Harry Turtledove if you want an explanation about why the aliens were so “dumb”. The entire story is on a PasteBin if you look for it and it might make you think of aliens and technology a little differently when you’re done.

  49. David Cloverfield – good point. I was thinking with the MAN OF STEEL so-called-9-11 imagery controversy that it’s kind of a self-centered thing for America to suddenly decide all disaster movies are too similar to 9-11, as if it was okay when only ALL KINDS OF PLACES ALL AROUND THE WORLD had gone through that type of shit before. Before it was fine, but since it happened to us we gotta be sensitive for now on?

    It’s interesting to hear that Koepp cited the Iraq invasion. I always thought of 9-11 specifically because of the scene involving the ashes, which was similar to things we were hearing about people who witnessed the WTC crashes.

  50. Limey: that crazy honking noise is what stuck with me the most about this movie. That kind of audio effect has been done to death since then, but at the time it was truly terrifying to me.

    Mr. Majestyk: your anger over them not testing the air made me think of GALAXY QUEST when Sam Rockwell tries to hold his breath after yelling at them for opening the hatch door without even knowing if there was air. Man, that movie had some awesome gags about scifi shows.

  51. I’m not really mad about it. I just don’t buy it. It doesn’t ruin the movie.

  52. Yeah, I don’t like the son surviving either. I think it’s the one-two pulled punches of magic germs and the idyllic family scene. The rest of the film seems so real and scary; that ending belongs in a Roland Emmerich film. I still think it’s a very good movie. The strengths way outnumber the weaknesses. For a lot of people though, the ending of the movie IS the movie, and if it leaves a bad taste in their mouth then that’s all they are going to remember. Also Spielberg had a (greatly exaggerated) reputation for corny sentimentality and this ending was a fat, juicy target for people looking to take him down a peg or two.

  53. Knox— Yeah, the script is really good, that scene included. It’s just the way Cruise throws the ball that is unfortunate, it seems like he’s seen people throwing baseballs before but has never gotten around to actually handling one personally.

    Majestyk & others, re: the germs— Around release time Spielberg talked about wanting to make a sci-fi movie about the experience of refugees. I don’t remember him mentioning Iraq specifically (although apparently that was a big part of it), but I remember him saying he shot it with the refugee experience in mind: avoided having bird’s-eye views of the action; kept the cameras low to the ground at the level of people’s lines of sight; emphasized the human-vs-human conflict as much as much if not more than human-vs-alien; photographed the tripods the way Vern describes. Seems to add up with his intentions.

    SI agree that the germs are a deus ex machina from a pure plot perspective, if you’re looking at the movie as a metaphor for refugees it changes things a little bit. In a country where a civil war or invasion or whatever has forced millions of people to drop everything and run for their lives, the thing that made them run, from their vantage point, can just seem to evaporate as quickly as it started. The political and military gamesmanship that wound up ending whatever conflict caused them to run in the first place is no doubt complicated, but as far as the people whose only recourse is to run away give a shit, all that matters to them when they’re running is the moment they can stop. And their experience of that moment often literally is some lunkhead (or intelligent dude, I’m not stereotyping the military) saying “Game over brah, the bad guys lost. Keep your heads up, stay safe, and it’ll all be over in a day or two. Here’s some bottles of water.”

    I’m simplifying, obviously, but I think from a thematic perspective the germs thing actually works pretty well.

  54. Knox— Yeah, the script is really good, that scene included. It’s just the way Cruise throws the ball that is unfortunate, it seems like he’s seen people throwing baseballs before but has never gotten around to actually handling one personally.

    Majestyk & others, re: the germs— Around release time Spielberg talked about wanting to make a sci-fi movie about the experience of refugees. I don’t remember him mentioning Iraq specifically (although apparently that was a big part of it), but I do remember him saying he shot it with the refugee experience in mind: avoided having bird’s-eye views of the action; kept the cameras low to the ground at the level of people’s lines of sight; emphasized the human-vs-human conflict as much as human-vs-alien; photographed the tripods the way Vern describes. Seems to add up with his intentions.

    So while I agree that the germs are a deus ex machina from a pure plot perspective, if you’re looking at the movie as a metaphor for refugees it changes things a little bit. In a country where a civil war or invasion or whatever has forced millions of people to drop everything and run for their lives, the thing that made them run, from their vantage point, can just seem to evaporate as quickly as it started, and with as little reason. There is no doubt some complicated political and military gamesmanship that ends whatever conflict caused them to run in the first place, and they might hear snatches of the story from other people who are running too, but all that really matters to them while they’re running is the moment they can stop. And their experience of that moment often literally is some lunkhead (or intelligent dude, I’m not stereotyping the military) saying “Game over brah, the bad guys lost. Keep your heads up, stay safe, and it’ll all be over in a day or two. Here’s some bottles of water.”

    Either that, or it’s a 9/11 metaphor where the aliens represent terrorists and the germs represent American patriotism. Take your pick.

  55. Like many of you guys, I also love this movie but have issues with the ending.

    I am a huge sucker for Spielberg when he is doing horror. He seems to be one of the few directors who can make a movie that’s really fucking scary while toeing the line between PG-13 (or PG early in his career) and R. Hell, PG-13 exists because of Temple of Doom (directed obviously)and Gremlins(produced), which had disclaimers put on the ads. Spielberg recommended to the MPAA that they do a PG-14, and they settled for PG-13. Then Red Dawn and five days later Dreamscape were the first PG-13s and at the tender age of 10, I became lucky enough to see some boobs on the big screen with my friends and no parents! Ah, the glorious days when you could get away with boobs in a PG-13. But, I digress.

    Maybe that’s why this one, even today, is one of the most hardcore PG-13s. If the MPAA tries to tell Spielberg something isn’t PG-13, he can say, “I pretty much created the rating. This is PG-13.”

    I personally am happy that they didn’t change the germs thing, but I think they could have modernized it a little more. Maybe a specific new virus that we as humans have only recently had to deal with like H1N1 or something. (Obviously, not H1N1 since it was 2005, but I’m sure there was something that people were freaking out about at the time, like bird flu or something).

    Also, with the son, I think it would have been a little better if it were more vague. Like, maybe they somehow get proof that he survived, but they don’t know where he is or something.

    I guess I would have liked the ending much better if it closed with less finality. It can still end on a mostly up beat but would feel more in tune with the reality created by the rest of the movie. Ya’ know? Like Tom Cruise got his daughter to safety, got a little respect from his wife and knows that his son is alive but he’s out there somewhere in this world that is still very dangerous, etc and leave it at that. If they wanted to (but I hope they wouldn’t), they could’ve even worked out a sequel where Tom Cruise goes on his quest to find his son in the post-alien-invasion wastelands and oh shit the aliens came back now that they got vaccinated.

    Anyway, thanks Vern for re-visiting this one. I think I might try to give it another watch tonight.

  56. Speaking of movies about losers trying to protect their families while the world falls apart, I’d love to read Vern’s thoughts on TAKE SHELTER with Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. I happened to catch the end of it just now after reading this review because it was coincidentally on, that’s the only reason I’m mentioning it here. Other than that thing I mentioned above, it is a very different film than WotW, so I’m not comparing them or anything.

  57. Majestyk,

    In defense of H.G. Wells, he wrote War of the Worlds as a comment on British imperialism, by showing “us” how it would feel to be conquered by a technologically superior power (the reverse of all other subsequent SF in which non-Europeans are portrayed as the funny-looking aliens – Avatar, District 9, every damn episode of Star Trek ever, etc).

    My point (and I’m not sure if I read this somewhere) is that the Martians’ fate parallels that of British imperials who went and conquered far-off lands but still got typhoid or whatever in the Amazon because they didn’t grow up there and so didn’t have any immunity.

    PS, Your Blogspot site (especially your review of Wrestlemaniac) is awesome. You should keep writing new reviews, not just post stuff here.

  58. How about instead of a literal virus, Tom Cruise, say, uploads a computer virus into the alien mothership from his mid-90s Apple Mac Powerbook?

  59. One thing I don’t think anybody has mentioned is that, unless I’m crazy here, the son running off is a symbol for the kids of that generation who went off to war because of 9-11. The kid sees what happens in his neighborhood, he wants revenge, he tries to join the army on the spot, he wants to see the invaders die. Ray’s instinct is to protect him, tell him he can’t do it. Ultimately circumstances cause him to let his son go in order to protect his daughter. So when the son is alive at the end it’s about him having let go and respected his son’s choice and in the end it turns out okay. It’s about parenting, although also about aliens sucking dude’s juices through really long tubes and then squirting it out on Tom Cruise’s face.

  60. I ain’t seen this since it came out, but it knocked me on my ass back in 05. If Spielberg was a little more evil, he’d be the best horror director on the planet.

    JesseSP – “I bought this on Blu-Ray over the weekend and rewatched it. It’s so good. The shot where the aliens destroy the overpass, with cars and 18-wheelers flying through the air and landing on the houses below, still blows me away.”

    That has to be one of the coolest effects shots ever, period.

    I see more ambiguity in the ending than some people do – it seems instructive to me that IIRC the seemingly happy ending isn’t particularly “earned” by Cruise’s guy, who’s an asshole for most of the film. And Vern that’s a great call on Ray not being invited in, because it echoes the also seemingly-happy-but-actually ambiguous ending of THE SEARCHERS, which is the kind of thing Spielberg would go out of his way to quote. (I see flyingguillotine beat me to this observation, while making some other great points.)

    The thing about Spielberg is, when he’s firing on all cylinders like he does with this movie – it’s just pure fucking cinema in a way that nobody else can touch. So energizing, terrifying, the images have so much sheer graphic power… it’s a warts-and-all experience for sure but I’ll take it over nearly any other blockbuster film of the last decade.

  61. Jeffrey Jessica Welles

    August 29th, 2013 at 4:17 am

    REVENGE OF THE SITH is extraordinary, BTW, for so many reasons. The score, Ian McDiarmid’s performance, the whole last half…

  62. Sorry for the double post, my computer is weird

  63. Curt: Thanks, man. That’s really cool of you to say. I used to write those when I had some downtime at work, but then the downtime evaporated and then so did the job, and now if I have some free time I figure I oughtta be writing something more “important.” But if Vern can finish his novel and still maintain his rigorous review schedule then I don’t know what I’m complaining about.

    As for everyone talking about the germs, I had not really thought about the subtext. I just figured they did it that way in the movie because it has been that way in the book. But while it works on a symbolic level, I still don’t think it works on a literal level. Before something can succeed as metaphor it must succeed as narrative, in my opinion.

    All this talk makes me want to rewatch it. It’s been too long.

    Off topic, is anybody seeing GETAWAY this weekend? It sounds interesting, like a 21st century GONE IN 60 SECONDS (original recipe) but I’m worried that it’s been edited into incoherence. Can anybody who’s seen it give it a score on the ACR?

  64. I’m definitely gonna see GETAWAY. I like ethan hawke’s career 2nd wind as a scummy genre movie guy.

  65. I’m not sure about the ACR on GETAWAY, but one review I read talked about how the police would’ve benefited from a spike strip, rather than sending out hundreds of police to chase the man in the car with the magical, bottomless gas tank. Not sure if this is just a reviewer being a mirthless dick, or if there really are glaringly obvious annoyances that make it hard to suspend disbelief.

  66. Vern – I think the reason people object so strongly to the Son Being Alive After He Sauntered Into A Fireball/Boston Is Untouched/Bad Guys All Die Of The Sniffles trifecta is precisely BECAUSE ninety-five percent of the film is functioning so incredibly well. Someone smarter than myself once said that this movie encapsulates the FEELING of living through a disaster better than any other: the initial shock and awe, the traumatic aftermath, the ensuing What Now? aimlessness… and I agree. But to wrap everything up so completely and neatly and happily after all the nuance and horror and realism before it just feels cheap, a cop-out, a betrayal. Imagine if BRIDESMAIDS had ended with a Red Wedding style massacre in the last five minutes and you get an idea of the unearned tonal shift that happens at the very end of WOTW. If the movie had concluded as simply and inevitably as Tom Cruise gets Boston and finds his ex-wife huddled in a leaky basement and they all hug and stare off vacant-eyed as the aliens continue to roam outside, the damn thing might have won best picture.

  67. off topic, but how do you guys like the face Our Generation’s Greatest Actor is making in the poster of his latest masterpiece as my new Gravatar?

  68. If that’s it then I guess people just don’t see the ambiguity that I think is in the ending. Yeah, everybody survived, but he’s still on the outside of the family, he has to go back to his destroyed neighborhood and leave his children with better, richer people than him. It’s only a happy ending on the surface. Weirdly, A.I. has the same issue with people thinking it’s a cornball fairy tale ending when to me it’s pretty clear that it’s devastatingly tragic.

  69. I really like the end of the film. I like that the humans are scared and waiting around these dormant death machines (drones!) and no one has the courage to investigate what is going on at first. That’s a great moment. The whole movie is a Twilight Zone style perspective shift showing us how it feels to be small and weak and scurrying and helpless. It is great that the humans win without actually doing anything themselves so they never get a release from these feelings, they never get a decent chance to get over this terror and this smallness and translate that energy into some kind of violent reprisal. Regardless of the plausibility of the germ angle I think it really supports the thematics of the movie, and completes the feeling you are supposed to feel.

  70. Vern: I think you’re overestimating people’s ability to give a shit about Tom Cruise’s feelings. As an actor, he’s fun to watch but nearly impossible to empathize with. Nobody really cares what happens to Cruise once his job as He Who Runs Like A Girl From Special Effects is completed. If they wanted us to feel bad for that character at the end of the movie, they should have cast a human being. And I say this as a guy who more or less likes Cruise.

  71. GETAWAY has a 0.5 ACR, maybe 0. It’s all filmed from cameras mounted ON the car. So every shot is pointing away from the car. There is NO master shot to even establish where the vehicles are. I get that it was low budget, and they wanted to do real stunts and probably the only way to do that cheaply was with this Gopro minicam gimmick, but it’s aesthetically misguided because it doesn’t cut together at all.

    Vern invented “post-action,” I think GETAWAY is post-post-action. There is one magnificent MAD MAX shot where an entire minute elapses with the camera in a single take mounted on the hood shooting straight ahead at the other car. That’s it. That’s the only shot that makes any sense in the movie.

    Unfortunate because there really is some fabulous stunt work. You just have to use your imagination since you can’t actually see it.

  72. Dammit. I was quite interested in GETAWAY, but I’ve seen so many reviews complaining about the terribly filmed car chases that I’m going to stay well away. I’m starting to appreciate JACK REACHER more and more. The car chase in that film was great.

  73. CH – Well thank you joining us JR fans who were there in the beginning. (and Mr. Majestyk actually read the books, so he beats us!)

    The only things I know about GETAWAY is (1) bad reviews all around and (2) Warner Bros. employees getting busted allegedly for planting positive posts on Reddit.

    At least it wasn’t David Manning blurbs on film posters again.

  74. So I tried rewatching this one tonight. I don’t know if I’ve changed or the movie just plays differently now, but I failed. I couldn’t get through it.

    There are so many things the movie does right right from the jump. The settings are spot on. The cinematography is flawless. The special effects are seamless. And yet it’s all for naught. Tom Cruise manages to sink all of it. He is not for one second believable as a blue collar worker, as a resident of the Tri-State Area, as a father, as a regular guy, as a human being. Every second that he is onscreen is a crime against verisimilitude. Everything the movie tries to do, he ruins, just by existing. He walks around the neighborhood, talking to all these people with interesting faces, believable accents, and it’s like one of Zemeckis’ mo-cap creations escaped from captivity. Whatever realism the movie is going for evaporates in the face of Cruise.

    I keep imagining a normal person in the role. Somebody who seems like they did a day’s manual labor in their lives. Who ever lived in a neighborhood. Drove a leased vehicle. Changed a diaper. Josh Brolin. Mark Ruffalo. Fuckin’ anybody. But no. We got Tom Cruise, Earth’s resident alien, playing Joe Everyman.

    There’s never been a movie as damaged by casting as this one. Every action seems like a novelty to him, an impression, a caricature, like he did a ridealong with a middle class family in a minivan to learn how people act. I get to the sandwich scene, he starts making jokes about the bread like it’s a new experience. Like he, a near lifelong bachelor, hasn’t made a billion sandwiches in his life. It’s like Micky Rooney playing Japanese. An embarrassment.

    I can’t watch it. It’s too much. I gotta shut it off. His portrayal of a working class kinda dude is so condescending, so utterly, inhumanly false, it destroys everything good about the movie. It’s the least believable portrayal since Anthony Hopkins played Othello. I don’t know why I ever let it slide before. Spielberg doesn’t put a foot wrong on the directorial front, except this one unmistakably incorrect choice he made long before the cameras rolled.

    Maybe I’ll give it another try tomorrow. But for tonight, this is as false a narrative as I have ever witnessed. At the center where there should be a leading man, there’s a haircut holding a sign saying “This is Hollywood bullshit. Please ignore.” I just can’t do it. Life is too short.

  75. So why did George Zimmerman’s wife get charged with perjury?

    Sorry, wrong talkback.

    Hey, I liked this movie (I think I bought it on DVD a few years ago at a discount). It’s better than Ang Lee’s HULK. The three things I remember most clearly are:

    1) Tom Cruise getting pissed at his son and punching his hat or his fist or something
    2) Tom Cruise throwing a peanut butter sandwich against the wall

    and

    3) the first scene when the Tripod emerges from the concrete and the way it looks in the haze of the city daylight

    Coincidentally I just watched THE HARRYHAUSEN CHRONICLES and there’s a clip from a movie he worked on during his H.G. Wells phase. They showed a scene where the sick alien falls out of his saucer cuz of our germs.

  76. There are so many responses to sift through I’ll just share two things.

    1. Griff, the correct term for the Asylum movies is “Mockbuster” and not “Knockbuster”. :)

    2. If the tripod aliens knocked out all the power, how did the video camera still work in order for Speilberg to have that cool shot in the movie? That’s an error if you ask me.

    Also, try as you might, that ending with the son being alive is bs and completely unearned. Groan inducing.

  77. Yeah, maybe I won’t see GETAWAY after all.

    Majestyk – you think Cruise runs like a girl? He looks pretty good to me man, especially in his recent movies. Will Smith’s the only movie runner I can think of off the top of my head who’s better than him.

    I also think Cruise does empathizable pretty well… he’s not subtle but he makes his intensity work for him and gets you to understand what his character’s feeling. Come to think of it, WAR OF THE WORLDS could be one of his more convincingly human performances. Whereas KNIGHT AND DAY is him doing a terrifying simulacrum of humanity, like an alien robot sent to earth to approximate what a charming and cool dude should seem like.

  78. Vern- I think I know what you mean about the ending to this and to AI. But, here’s the thing. I think that the way they are presented is such that many of us walk out feeling like the movie gave us cues to believe it was a happy ending but all of those things you mentioned are still very prevalent in our heads. It makes me personally feel like the movie isn’t in on the inside knowledge of “hey, shit is still fucked up even if this moment is positive.” Keep in mind, it’s not that I don’t think Spielberg is in on that knowledge, it’s just that I feel like the execution feels saccharine.

    Majestyk et al: I think Tom Cruise is a fantastic cinematic runner. In fact, I think his running is just as important to his stardom as his charm (by the way, having met him once at a time when we, collectively as the world, were supposed to hate him… I can vouch for the fact that the guy oozes charm… And also happens to be one of the friendliest movie stars I have ever met, and I’ve met several plus lived with two).

  79. I think that ambiguity you mention is there, Vern. It just isn’t emphasized correctly.

    If they wanted to focus on that aspect at the end, then the son should have never left in the first place. Instead, we should have seen the father bond more with his children (and especially his son). There should have been an emphasis on Cruise being convinced that he is now a part of that family. We should have seen this guy getting his hopes up and then have that hope be revealed as false.

    There are elements of that, sure, but the son’s convenient survival kinda derails most of it.

  80. I don’t have any problems with the germ ending, though. I think that works, both in the book and in the film.

    Having that horror disappear as suddenly as it arrived just contributes to the confusion and bewilderment that the characters are going through.

  81. Wow, sorry about that last rant, guys. I came home from the bar and popped this in and I guess it rubbed me the wrong way. I’ll finish watching it today and hopefully I’ll be a bit more reasonable.

    After this and the GHOST PROTOCOL incident, I’ve learned that Tom Cruise pisses me off when I’m drunk. Weird.

    Oh, and that crack about him running like a girl was just supposed to be a cheap, kinda sexist joke, not a description of his actual running skills. He’s clearly an excellent runner, just like any guy who spends all day sitting on his ass running a crane would be.

  82. Drunk on a Thursday night? That sounds all too familiar…

  83. Paul Whose Computer Has Packed In

    August 30th, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Crustacean:

    “Also Spielberg had a (greatly exaggerated) reputation for corny sentimentality and this ending was a fat, juicy target for people looking to take him down a peg or two.”

    Spielberg had a greatly exaggerated reputation for corny sentimentality in the same way that Hitler had a greatly exaggerated reputation for disliking people of the Jewish persuasion. Nonetheless, I now want to see this movie. Which is interesting, because I didn’t think it worth seeing when it first came out. It got some seriously bad press. Wouldn’t be the first time an alien invasion film’s been misunderstood by its critics.

  84. Paul Whose Computer Will Shortly Be Repaired

    August 30th, 2013 at 10:55 am

    And yes, I did throw both a Hitler comparison and a reference to John Carpenter’s “The Thing” in the same paragraph just there. I believe that wins me the Internet, or something.

  85. I remember Dakota Fanning’s “Is it the terrorists?” line getting a gasp in the theater. It was just four years since 9/11 and he memories were still raw. The movies still hadn’t dealt with it at that point. United 93 came out a year later and people would comment “Too soon!”

    I’m surprised whenever I see clips of the movie on YouTube and there are a lot of comments saying how they hate Dakota Fanning’s character, saying she’s annoying because she’s crying an and screaming all the time. I’m like, it’s a little girl having a natural human reaction to all this horrific death and destruction, give her a break! What, do you expect her to be this badass in the face of all this? Geez.

  86. I remember thinking Cruise was not very likeable and that it bothered my experience of the film but I suspect now that maybe that was the idea, that he wasn’t this super guy in the first place and that it might be more interesting that the catastrophe is seen through someone more realistic than your average action hero. That said I still like him much better in MINORITY REPORT (I think it’s one of Spielberg’s best, actually). The ending bothered me as well, but there were lots of things to like. I did like the scene of Cruise trying to get the attention of the soldier telling him about the birds.

  87. What 2 movies will Vern review for summer 2006? Vern has (from my observation) been reviewing stuff that he maybe hasn’t reviewed before, or he’s re-examining in retrospect compared with the modern time summer blockbuster.

    He’s already reviewed M:I 3, but Abrams has risen since then as we all know and now doing the next STAR WARS film. Not sure he wants to re-view X3, but we’re still getting X-Men movies including that one next year that should make mad money. He never reviewed DA VINCI CODE, but who gives a fuck about that? (You all remember the “controversy” over that shit? *chuckles*)

    He already reviewed TOKYO DRIFT, but Justin’s Lin’s rise (along with the franchise he saved) it should be interesting to compare/contrast then and now. With MOS earlier this summer, and the mixed reactions, I could see him tackling SUPERMAN RETURNS again but…does he really want to rewatch that movie? I don’t know. I don’t see a reason to revisit MIAMI VICE.

    On the other hand, he never reviewed the 2nd PIRATES movie. Nor BEERFEST. (OK I’m grasping straws here.) Hey you all remember POSEIDON? No? Well that also came out in summer 2006, flopped hard, and Vern never reviewed that either. Umm.

    Yeah I don’t know. I guess POSEIDON (good left field choice) and TOKYO DRIFT.

  88. For 2007, I have a firmer idea of what he’ll review.

    I guess SPIDER-MAN 3 and TRANSFORMERS. Um um.

    Alternate pick: WHO’S YOUR CADDY? (Just kidding.)

  89. believe it or not, I actually saw POSEIDON

  90. Griff – I’ve never seen it, never had the urge to honestly. Been on TV more than once, always mean to DVR it but I keep forgetting.

    How was it?

  91. it’s one of those movies that’s not necessarily bad, just extremely mediocre and forgettable

    though by now it might be interesting as a time capsule, I think Fergie of all people had a small roll in it?

  92. Good guesses RRA. For the most part though I’m gonna avoid doing sequels because if I’m gonna watch Spider-man 3 or Pirates 2 I want to watch the other ones first and I don’t have time for that. There might be an exception or two.

  93. My favourite blockbusters of 2006 were Miami Vice (which I love and watch almost every year) and Superman Returns (which I love and try to defend as much as I can. It’s an uphill battle, but a noble cause, in my opinion).

    Wouldn’t mind Vern revisiting Apocalypto. Don’t know if that’s counts as a “summer movie”, though.

  94. I’m with you on MIAMI VICE, Knox. A lot of people disliked it when it came out because they claimed it wasn’t as funny as the TV series. Which is bull of course. The series had perhaps two or three “funny” episodes and the rest was serious stuff bordering on melancholia.

  95. Vern, you ever cover Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow? I know we’re already past 2004, but I’d love your thoughts on it…

  96. SKY CAPTAIN is pretty interesting in terms of how far and available technology for home use has come. I mean, when it came out, it was a pretty unique looking movie, but today YouTube is full of movies and shorts that accomplish pretty much the same, minus the Hollywood stars.

  97. Anyone want to talk about the recent tenth anniversary of this movie?

    What I find interesting about WAR OF THE WORLDS is how in many ways it was Spielberg’s last hurrah for big blockbusters, yeah he later did KOTC but we all know how THAT turned out and other than the animated joint TINTIN he seems totally disinterested in blockbusters these days, his latest upcoming film is BRIDGE OF SPIES which is another historical drama about guys in suits sitting around and talking about important things, I’m sure I’ll still see it and I did enjoy LINCOLN a lot, but it’s all pretty dry.

    I think the fact that KOTC got such a bad reception has probably made him lose interest in blockbusters, which is too bad because I’d love to see him have a comeback in that field and school everyone the way George Miller recently did, because WAR OF THE WORLDS while not perfect has a lot going for it, the movie nails the post 9/11 vibe Spielberg was going for, the way how abruptly the invasion begins evokes that feeling of going about your business on a seemingly normal day when out of nowhere the world changes forever in an instant.

    I think really the only reason WAR OF THE WORLDS didn’t get a warmer reception was because that was the summer of Tom Cruise dancing on the couch and people were gonna be harsh to whatever movie happened to star him.

  98. First of all, just because a bunch of people didn’t like KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL doesn’t mean it doesn’t count as a “big blockbuster.” By that rationale TEMPLE OF DOOM and in fact WAR OF THE WORLDS don’t count either. Anyway, his next movie after BRIDGE OF SPIES is THE BFG, a big fantasy family film. And that may be followed by READY PLAYER ONE, a big special effects movie from a book that’s supposed to be very good with a premise that sounds like it panders to the exact curmudgeonly nostalgic nerds who hated CRYSTAL SKULL.

  99. BFG wrapped a few weeks back. The whole thing was shot on a sound stage so it’s one of those things where, until I see it, I can’t help associating it with HOOK in my mind which was also made that way. But Spielberg often does that. He likes to make one realistic drama for the adults and one big artificial studio picture for the whole family. Consider the CLASSIC one two punch of JURASSIC PARK and SHINDLER’S LIST.

  100. The Original Paul

    August 27th, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Well, just got through half of this one. It’s a weird one because I agree with just about every positive comment said about it, and yet I find it nearly unwatchable. I’m going to try and get through the rest of it on account of Vern’s review saying the Cruise character learns to be a better person or something.

    I think Cruise’s son might be the single likeable character in the whole goddamn movie so far. And by “likeable” I don’t mean “you’re supposed to find them or their actions admirable” because that’s obviously not what the movie is going for. I mean likeable as in “bearable to see on-screen”. I don’t think there’s a single moment where any character has displayed any empathy for another character, except for Cruise’s son. To his credit, I guess, Cruise’s character does try to pacify Dakota Fanning, but that comes across more as him wanting her to shut the hell up than as him showing any interest in her wellbeing. Which is understandable because I wanted her to shut the hell up as well. She might be the single most unbearably annoying child character in all of Spielberg’s films that I’ve seen so far. And that’s saying something.

    This is frustrating for me because I don’t think this thing was badly directed – quite the opposite – that scene at the beginning between Cruise and his ex-wife, when he’s late picking up his kids, spoke volumes about the history between them. My problem is that the filmmakers felt the need to put in scenes of Cruise being territorial, to the point of almost abusive, to his ex-wife’s new man, in front of his kids. And then more scenes showing that he doesn’t know anything about them. From a totally subjective point of view… I hate this. I hate it as much if not more than the majority of Spielberg’s other “family values” stuff which pervades his films like some kind of toxic cloud. There’s a whole stereotype that I keep seeing in TV and movies from the US where anybody who has to work long hours is an emotionally-distant asshole. Well I’ve worked plenty of twelve-hour shifts, as have my parents, and their parents. And none of us was, or is, like that. I have many fond childhood memories of sitting down in our tiny back room in front of the six-inch black and white TV which was all we could afford back then, on a comfy old sofa that was probably bought third- or fourth-hand from a garage sale somewhere, sharing moments.

    Yeah… I met plenty of people in Cruise’s circumstances back then. Nobody that I can recall being like Cruise. People did have their problems – I knew a kid whose parents were literal Nazis (with everything that implies – certain attitudes take a long time to die out). And obviously there were people with mental health issues, etc. But in most cases my experience has been that the kind of non-Alien-related adversity that these characters face don’t work that way in real life.

    Or to put it more simply… I feel that this film is propagating a negative stereotype (which applies almost exclusively to working class characters in American films or TV shows) that doesn’t exist, as far as my experience goes, in real life. Again, totally subjective.

    Dakota’s character is still an annoying little piece of luggage though.

  101. The Original Paul

    August 28th, 2015 at 2:38 am

    Also, can I say that I don’t particularly like CRYSTAL SKULL and I’m not a curmudgeonly nerd? (Ok… stop laughing… I’m not a curmudgeonly nerd in this case.) For me the characters are unengaging, the story uninspired, the action sequences unconvincing. I think the film’s best scene by far features two aging professors in a classroom talking about their lives. I think it wastes great actors (what the hell is Cate Blanchett doing in that movie? Especially after we’ve seen what she can do with a well-written villain role in HANNA?) I don’t think it’s close to being as awful as its reputation suggests, but I can’t see myself ever re-watching it. It doesn’t have the elusive quality of “heart”. It feels like a mechanical exercise, and not a particularly good one at that.

  102. The Original Paul

    September 5th, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Well, forced myself through the rest of this one. And again, that’s putting it mildly. This might actually have been worse to sit through than MUNICH.

    Ugh, I don’t even know what to say about this. I thought it was exceptionally well-made and directed. I thought Cruise did exactly what was asked of him. And I hated every second of it. Will that do?

    First SUDDEN IMPACT and now this. Fuuuuck. I might have to give up on catching up on all those films I’ve missed… at least for a little while.

  103. Ok. It’s been long enough. I’m going to try and vocalise, clearly and without emotion/hyperbole, exactly why this film struck me so negatively. Get this off my chest, if you will.

    Two things immediately strike me about it – apart from the problems I have with the whole idea of working-class people having zero empathy (if you don’t count awful CGI aliens, Cruise’s “redemption” scenes are the least convincing parts of the movie – although quite honestly even that seems like a minor issue compared to the other stuff I’ve got against the film).

    1) The aliens are explicitly portrayed in this film as defying God. Later, the microbes that eventually kill them are explicitly portrayed as God’s wrath (Morgan Freeman actually says so in the closing narration). Now this isn’t a huge deal for me, although the “God’s creatures” bit at the end would’ve left me with a sour taste in my mouth even if I’d have liked the rest of the film. Plenty of films that I like have overt religious imagery in them (DIRTY HARRY being a recent example that I re-watched and particularly enjoyed). It’s not a dealbreaker in and of itself. The problem comes in when you combine it with:

    2) The fetishising of child suffering in this film.

    I think I’m going to have to get used to the fact that as Spielberg’s career advances, I’m going to find his films more and more repugnant. I’ve always had a positive impression of him as a character, starting with JURASSIC PARK-era clips of him talking with enthusiasm about his work. But this… I think I’d hate recent-era Spielberg. If I shook hands with him, I think I’d want to wash myself afterwards. I feel like he’s constantly trying to inject the same pseudo-religious and family themes into his films, with lesser and lesser returns. I think he’s constantly pulling the same emotional “tricks” from the same bag, again to lesser and lesser effect. With every surrogate father-figure or child-in-danger or divorced-wife-bettering-herself who appears, Spielberg’s constant thematic cannibalisation becomes more distracting. Worse, it becomes directly impactful in a negative way – and by that I mean that even though I have a ton of problems with Lex and Tim being little more than precious baggage in JURASSIC PARK, I think they were at least recognisably characters. They had some sort of agency, as narrow and idealised as it was, to the story. (“It’s a Unix system! I know this!”)

    The kids in later movies… they’re not like this. There’s a “child in danger” scene in MUNICH that exists purely to add tension and stakes to a scene. It comes off as the worst kind of calculated emotional manipulation (like most of MUNICH). Now I’m fully aware that I’m doing MUNICH a disservice by comparing it to WAR OF THE WORLDS, because MUNICH did at least have a fascinating central character, played brilliantly by Eric Bana. I think Tom Cruise is great in WAR OF THE WORLDS as well, but that’s because he’s Tom Cruise. He excels at this kind of role, and Spielberg is absolutely good enough to direct him to do so. This does not mean that the character he’s portraying is worth anything (it’s not – but I’ve talked about my problems with this character before so I won’t repeat myself.) But Bryce Dallas Howard… man.

    I mean, where do you even start with this character? She literally does nothing the entire movie. She’s physically carried through most of it. She never has a moment of character development where she becomes more capable. Near the end of the film she literally stands in place and screams while an alien bears down on her, very slowly. Other than being the voice of the audience’s post-9/11 fears (her asking “is it terrorists?” is, bafflingly, one of the least obnoxious uses of Bryce Dallas Howard in this movie), the only reason for her to even be here is to suffer. And suffer she does – visibly, constantly, with Spielberg’s expert camerawork focussing on her giant soulful eyes for every last moment of it.

    I mean, what the hell am I supposed to make of this? This goes beyond anything from Spielberg’s other child characters. This isn’t just a bit of cheap emotional manipulation to raise the stakes in a scene or two. This is flat-out fetishising of child suffering. And let me make this clear: I don’t have a problem with characters who are forced to suffer in films – I’ve seen examples of it done well in films as diverse as THE PLEDGE and EDGE OF TOMORROW. But these were actual characters. They developed in such a way that you could relate to them. There was a reason for what they went through, and a satisfying – if not always happy – conclusion to their stories. None of this applies to Bryce’s character. She doesn’t learn or develop, she doesn’t have anything to do, she’s never anything more than a shrieking piece of luggage. There’s nothing worthwhile to take from her character “arc”, any more than there’s anything to take from the film as a whole (apart from the lame-brain religious stuff). This is just child-suffering as spectacle. It reminds me of THE CELL, and it may very well be worse.

    I mean, this is the guy who did ET and SCHINDLER’S LIST. And he’s clearly lost none of his craft. When it comes to the technical business of transferring a vision to film, the man is counted as one of the greats, and there’s nothing in WAR OF THE WORLDS that convinces me otherwise. On every technical level – well, maybe not the CGI aliens, but otherwise – this film is perfect. It’s filled with suspenseful scenes, expertly directed.

    And I hate it. It’s like listening to the greatest orator in the world recite nothing but hate propaganda. It’s not just a waste of talent, it’s a warping of it into something twisted and nasty.

    This may genuinely spoil Spielberg’s other films for me. I’ve watched JURASSIC PARK something like fifteen times, and now, the next time I do, I have a feeling that I’m going to be looking for signs as to whether the man was a little too eager to show the kids in distress.

    I think Mr Spielberg and I will have to part ways.

  104. Original Paul do you have kids?

  105. Crushinator – shockingly, no, just a lot of nephews / nieces. Maybe someone who had kids of their own could possibly relate more to this film, and especially Bryce’s character, than I could; I don’t know.

    I should make it clear that I have nothing against Bryce Dallas Howard herself, by the way. (Well, maybe she needs to find herself a better agent.) It’s all about the character and her role in the world that Spielberg’s created here. The “suffering” thing wouldn’t bother me so much if her character had an arc or some agency in what’s going on. But she doesn’t. The only reason she’s there at all, as far as I can tell, is because the film needed someone for Tom Cruise’s character to care for so that he’s not completely unlikeable. She’s a victim, nothing more. In the first hour or so of the film she’s just incredibly annoying, contributes nothing, yet won’t shut up. But the second half takes that to a whole new level. It dwelt on her so much; but even that I could take, if it was earned. This wasn’t earned. There was no reason whatsoever to put her in there except, again, that they needed a victim.

    I’m not an expert on “manic pixie dream-girl syndrome”, but my understanding is it refers to an idealised female character whose only function in the film is to fulfil the male protagonist’s emotional needs. I think we’ve found the child version of this.

    Man, I didn’t want to rant about this one, especially after SUDDEN IMPACT, which was awful on just about every level it’s possible for a film to be awful – technical, storytelling, political message, etc. WAR OF THE WORLDS is not awful. With the exception of the big-eyed aliens it’s pretty much a technical marvel. The filmatism displayed in this one is outstanding. I’ve deliberately waited almost two weeks to write about it so I could try and summarise what I thought and felt; and honestly I don’t think I’ve done it justice. I love the idea of this film, but if you’re going to take us through a ground-level view of an alien invasion, you have to do it using characters that we can like and root for. And honestly I could nitpick the dumb parts of this film to death – the aliens’ plan, the fact that they have successfully implamented a full-scale Earth invasion that must’ve taken centuries of preparation yet have no idea about the effects of mirobes, the Tim Robbins character, etc; but I could do the same thing with THE TERMINATOR and I’ve watched that one dozens of times.

    It really does just come down to the characters. That’s all I got. Cruise’s total lack of empathy (and the negative working-class stereotype I’d associate with it), Bryce’s portrayal as an obnoxious screaming piece of luggage with zero agency or character arc.

  106. Are you getting Bryce Dallas Howard and Dakota Fanning mixed up? You are referring to Tom Cruise’s daughter, yes?

  107. Some more stuff:

    I’m sorry that you didn’t like the screaming little girl, I felt she was modeled fairly accurate, children of that age are particularly difficult (particularly one with divorced parents, who is having emotional troubles) and the fact that you couldn’t get past it is a bummer.

    I don’t think that you need to make protagonists likable because it’s an alien invasion movie. I’m gonna jump on your shit a little bit here but your statement comes across as pretending your preferences are the only true way to do something correctly. I’m sorry to say it’s obnoxious. It’s like people who say “if you make a burger you absolutely have to put mayo on it, otherwise it’s not a burger” and we all just roll our eyes at them.

    I don’t think Spielburg choosing to put Cruise’s children and him through hell (this movie was made 3 years after 9/11 and it shows) means that he’s a bad person or that he’s been sullied or tainted in some way. “I want to wash my hand after shaking his” is both a weird fantasy to share and some real overheated b.s. from my perspective. If you’ve ever watched a Hong Kong or Korean film they put kids in danger all the time, sometimes they even kill them. I don’t think those directors are bad or scummy people.

    Hopefully you’ll connect with another director soon.

  108. Oh I finally got around to reading Ready Player One about six months ago and it’s fucking insanely bad garbage, btw.

  109. Crushinator – I am getting them confused. It was Fanning. Sorry.

    It’s not just this film. It’s a history of Spielberg’s films getting progressively more and more unpleasant, emotionally-manipulative, and lacking in… I’m not going to say “artistic credibility” because Spielberg obviously believes in what he’s doing, since he just keeps doing it… but it doesn’t feel “real”. And this seems to be the worst one. I really, really dislike the way new Spielberg portrays children, divorcees, the working class… hell, pretty much anybody these days. It seems like he’s making a conscious choice to keep doing this in every modern film of his that I’ve seen. I can’t get over that.

    And yes, I’m fully aware that a lot of what I’m saying is fully subjective. I’m sure there are people who’d say THE CELL is a work of genius, largely because of its technical strengths. I don’t agree on that one and honestly… WAR was just awful, as an experience.

    The only thing I can say in its defence is that maybe having high expectations of the human characters in what’s essentially an “Aliens Vs God” film is disingenuous.

  110. Again, it feels insane to say “the way Spielberg portrays children and divorcees”. This is the guy who did JAWS and ET.

    What happened?

  111. “I don’t think that you need to make protagonists likable because it’s an alien invasion movie.”

    Yeah, I agree, and I worded it badly. I don’t mean that all alien invasion movie protagonists have to be “likeable” in the sense that you have to like them from beginning to end. But I do think you at least need to be able to root for them. There needs to be some sort of a character arc that takes us on a journey. Even if it goes to unpleasant places on the way, or doesn’t turn out like you’d hope.

    My favorite movie of last year was an alien invasion movie where Tom Cruise played an asshole (at least when the film started). The difference being, there was character development there. I think much the same thing of HOSTEL – hell, I consider it pretty much a masterpiece precisely because of the character arc of the main protagonist, who is not a conventionally “likeable” character at all. Technically Cruise’s character does have character development in WAR OF THE WORLDS, but it’s completely unearned. Cruise doesn’t do a single thing in the first hour of the movie that demonstrates any empathy, not even with his own family. He’s over-controlling of his son and over-protective of his daughter, but he makes no effort to understand either of them. If you told me that Tom Cruise is worried about his kids’ safety because his wife would give him shit if he came back without them, I couldn’t provide a single bit of evidence from the first half of the movie to prove you wrong. Cruise plays it really well, but I can’t see this character as anything but a well-directed working-class stereotype that, again, I’ve seen too many times before. And not one that – again, in my completely subjective experience – is true to life. And this is a shame because, again, Spielberg is a master craftsman. The scene between Cruise and his ex-wife speaks volumes about the relationship between them, with very little dialogue needed. The character moments are there. But still… argh.

  112. The Original Paul:
    “The aliens are explicitly portrayed in this film as defying God. Later, the microbes that eventually kill them are explicitly portrayed as God’s wrath (Morgan Freeman actually says so in the closing narration).”

    Do you see any signs they were portrayed as defying God other than the closing narration? Morgan Freeman’s last lines are just a slightly modified versions of some lines from the novel (and keep in mind that although the protagonist of the story mentions God in these lines, Wells was himself an atheist, and the line had more to do with Darwinian evolution than God). A slightly different version of this line was also used as the closing narration of the 1953 film. So I think Spielberg was just paying homage by using a similar closing narration (which combined elements of the lines in the book and the lines of the 1953 narration), rather than trying to push any religious agenda.

    Here’s the line from the book: “And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians–dead!–slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth. For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things–taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many–those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance–our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.”

    And from the imdb quote page for the 1953 film: “The Martians had no resistance to the bacteria in our atmosphere to which we have long since become immune. Once they had breathed our air, germs, which no longer affect us, began to kill them. The end came swiftly. All over the world, their machines began to stop and fall. After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth.”

    Now compare to the closing lines from the 2005 film: “From the moment the invaders arrived, breathed our air, ate and drank, they were doomed. They were undone, destroyed, after all of man’s weapons and devices had failed, by the tiniest creatures that God in his wisdom put upon this earth. By the toll of a billion deaths, man had earned his immunity, his right to survive among this planet’s infinite organisms. And that right is ours against all challenges. For neither do men live nor die in vain.”

  113. Hypnosifi – the first Alien we see explodes out of a church, together with a shot of the cross on top of it being torn off and thrown down to the ground, for one thing. Then there a conspicuous shot of a crucifix in some rubble later on (I think it’s at the plane crash scene although I might be wrong about that). There’s plenty of religious imagery here. I do agree with the “homage” bit though, given what you’ve said. Again, this didn’t particularly bother me on its own. It’s the fact that I ended up desperately looking for some kind of a reason for what I was watching, something positive to take away from the film, and this wasn’t it. It’s THE CELL mk. 2.

  114. Dakota Fanning was one of the most realistic children I’ve ever seen in an action-horror-sci-fi movie. There is no conceivable way that a child will be anything but a frustration in a situation like that, both because of their temperament (children tend to focus on their own emotional needs and not the logistics at hand, which makes them an impediment in situations requiring split-second reactions) and their physicality (they can’t move as fast and far and will definitely slow you down). Most movies get around this by making the kids preternaturally capable (note the preponderance of budding computer geniuses, topic-specific experts, and natural-born survivalists in, say, the JURASSIC PARK series) so they don’t drag down the forward momentum. Spielberg went the other way and portrayed a child as the emotional wreck she would really be. She’s not going to pull it together and toss the hero his shotgun at the last second or hack into the security network or figure out an ingenious way to trick the monsters using tactics she learned from a book she carries everywhere. She’s going to cry and scream and go into shock. If the movie is as much about Cruise learning the true nature of parenthood, then all that shit it part of it even on days when the Martians don’t land. Fanning might just be annoying to people without much experience with kids, but she’s annoying in a very relatable and realistic way for the rest of us.

  115. Majestyk – this may surprise you but I actually agree with you to a large extent (certainly about the JURASSIC PARK children – I think I made a similar point myself). As regards Fanning… I would say that when kids are scared they’ll mostly run and hide (which is exactly what Fanning’s character does in the first part of the movie). They won’t blindly run towards the thing that’s threatening them (although I think you could reasonably say that at that point she’s so confused and traumatised that she isn’t capable of acting to this degree of rationality). I can absolutely buy the character being so petrified by fear that she doesn’t run away once the alien approaches her. (I remember at least one occasion when I was in this state as a child myself.) At the point in the movie where Fanning gets captured there isn’t really a safe place for her to run to, so the “petrified” argument holds up pretty well.

    But I think you hit the nail on the head when you say it’s about Cruise “learning the true nature of parenthood” (even though I don’t think the movie succeeds at all in making this happen). Nonetheless, that’s clearly what it’s going for, and that’s what Fanning’s character is there for. She’s a foil for Cruise’s emotional story, no more, no less. Which I guess is why the hell she’s put through (and the movie-watcher with her) disturbs me so damn much. There just doesn’t seem to be any point to it except to make a spectacle out of a child’s suffering. And whatever else Spielberg is, he’s very very good at his craft. If he wants to show suffering, he’ll do it, and he’ll do it convincingly.

    I’m going to stop now. Suffice to say I’ve had maybe five or six experiences with movies that were as bad as either SUDDEN IMPACT or WAR OF THE WORLDS in my entire life, and these two have come in the same month. It hasn’t been a good time to try out some secondhand DVDs.

  116. I’m curious, Paul, what you think Spielberg’s religious agenda is? Are you saying he’s promoting religious ideas? That’s what I get when you talk about the aliens defying God and being defeated by God’s will with germs. But then the other examples you give are Christian ones. Spielberg is Jewish, so I’m not really sure he’d use that imagery if he was trying to say “Yay, religion!”

  117. Crushinator I’m a retro gamer and someone who remembers the late 80’s at least from my childhood and felt Ready Player One was pretty damn empty and forgettable myself. Such an overrated book. I haven’t watched a new Spielberg movie in a decade, and I don’t really care to either. Like Paul I’ve also pretty much outgrown the guy’s work and he no longer makes things that cater to my sensibilities. With that said for the sake of the people who never miss his movies I do think he’ll be better off just finally adapting Robopocalypse than wasting any time with RPO. Mind you it’s also a novel that wasn’t quite what people say it is either but at least it’s a better book with more cinematic sensibilities than some tired 80’s pop culture fan wank disguised as a book.

  118. Maggie – It’s just some religious imagery in this film specifially. It’s not as though Spielberg has a history (at least as far as I’m aware) of using religion in the way I’m objecting him to use, for example, children. The way this film is framed, it’s a contest between God and aliens, and all the humans can do is just try and survive. (And I don’t think there’s any doubt about the “God” bit. The aliens’ first act in the film is to tear down a church. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.)

    But no, I don’t think he’s got a religious “agenda”. I just think he likes to inject similar “family values” themes into his films, and I’ve found this more and more obnoxious with each film of his that I’ve seen. Others don’t agree, which is fine (although I think Spielberg went way, way too far with WAR OF THE WORLDS and Fanning’s character, obviously). I’m trying to vocalise just why I had such a negative reaction to this particular film. Honestly I don’t think I’ve done a particularly good job of it, but honestly… how do you try and justify a reaction as extreme as mine was without resorting to vitriolic bile?

  119. And “family values” is the wrong term as well – that implies some kind of Conservative Christian-right agenda, and that’s not what I mean at all. Let’s say that I think he keeps injecting his ideas about what the family is, or should be, even in films like MUNICH (hence the character “Papa” who says to the protagonist “You could be my son”.)

    I feel like the guy is a huge talent and has made, when he was younger, some of my all-time favorite films. And now he’s using that same talent to make films that I find difficult to even watch.

  120. My big beef with The Beard these days is not what he directs but what he produces, it really depresses me that’s he an executive producer on all the Michael Bay TRANSFORMERS flicks, the fact of which I totally forgot about till recently, how can he look at those films, especially the second and most recent one and think “yup, that’s something I want to help usher into this world and have my name on”? Either he thinks they’re good or more likely he realizes they’re shit but likes that they make boatloads of money which probably helps get projects like LINCOLN off the ground, which is understandable, but way more cynical than I would like to think of him as.

    Then there’s also that awful looking Halle Berry sci fi show, basically a Spielberg producing credit is not the mark of quality is used to be.

  121. Also, I don’t think READY PLAYER ONE is bad, it’s a pretty fun adventure story that gives you an interesting idea of what virtual reality might be.

    I do agree the constant 80’s fetishizing can be a bit annoying, it would be better if that stuff was more background flavor than in your face, but it’s not enough to ruin the book for me.

  122. And there is at least a clever story context for why everyone in the year 2044 is so obsessed with the 1980’s, the creator of the virtual world grew up in the 80’s and wanted to make sure the culture of his youth that he was obsessed with lived on, hence why he placed the easter eggs in the game that you could only find if you were an expert in 80’s culture.

    So it at least makes sense, if it was a case of everyone referenced 80’s culture all the time for no reason other than it’s “cool” that would have been dumb.

  123. I’ve got a pet theory about Spielberg that I always drag out on occasions like this: he despises middle-class family life. Sure, he loves his fantasy of suburbia, the churches and picket fences and 2.2 kids, but scratch away the veneer and you’ll find that brat from Close Encounters pounding the doll against a crib and pounding and pounding and pounding. His idealised vision can’t materialise without a retreat into science fiction or a rose-tinted past.

    That’s why his best film of the past 20 years, Catch Me If You Can, is about a guy who’s just as in love as Spielberg with the American dream, and just as frustrated by the reality of workaday existence. (There’s also some silly subtext about father issues, but that stuff’s fairly ignorable.)

  124. Crushinator, I completely agree with you about Ready Player One. I read it and was really enjoying it for about 50 pages. Then I realized it is exactly the same story as Harry Potter, Hunger Games and all these kids/YA fantasy stories, just with different schtick and made up words. It’s always some combination of Harry, Ron and Hermione solving a series of puzzles, meeting different supporting characters who give expository information, etc. While I prefer the world of video games as a vocabulary, I just couldn’t shake how it’s exactly the same format as everything else.

    With Spielberg doing the movie, I hope that means he found a way in, but given that most movies based on books now are just literal live readings of the book by A-list actors, we’ll see when the trailers hit. I mean, reading the book I thought, “Would a movie just be watching some dude play video games? I hate watching other people play video games.”

  125. Griff, let’s be honest here, as a producer, Spielberg always slapped his name on some weird things. Especially on TV. I mean, if it was a cartoon show, you knew that it was gold back in the 90s (Although this might have been just a happy accident. I doubt that he spent much time in the animation studio, pitching jokes and stuff.), but on TV? Come on, basically the best live action TV series that he had ever produced was FALLING SKIES and that’s a very backhanded compliment.

  126. CJ, I’ll not have you besmirch AMAZING STORIES.

  127. I heard Band of Brothers, The Pacific and The United States of Tara were pretty good.

  128. Yeah, I like AMAZING STORIES as well, at the very least it’s undeniably better than fucking EXTANT.

    Anyway speaking of Spielberg and TV, has anyone here ever seen the Sci Fi Channel miniseries he produced TAKEN? Now I haven’t actually seen it since it premiered, which was late 2002, so I can’t vouch for it’s quality too much, but I remember being at least interesting and it was the first thing I ever saw Dakota Fanning in, who went on to be in WAR OF THE WORLDS of course.

    And speaking READY PLAYER ONE and 80’s nostalgia, does anyone else find it interesting how long lasting 80’s nostalgia is? 80’s nostalgia started in a big way in 2002 with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and VH1’s I Love The 80’s and here we are 13 years later, as far removed from 2002 as 2002 was from 1989, the last year of the 80’s and it’s still going strong, even as 90’s nostalgia has started up as well.

  129. Okay, I forgot about BAND OF BROTHERS and THE PACIFIC, mostly because whenever a movie or series about any kind of war, that doesn’t include extraterrestrial live forms shows up, I put it even below Tarantino movies on my watchlist and then forget about its existence. It’s really my least favourite genre.

    But AMAZING STORIES? It has maybe three or four good or even seriously great episodes, but the rest of it are cool concepts, that completely fizzle out after the first commercial break and don’t go anywhere. As if the writers room spent a few days pitching plot ideas, but then totally forgot to actually turn them into scripts until the first day of shooting. Or everybody involved was a fan of TWILIGHT ZONE, but only remembered the bad episodes.

    But I gotta admit that it’s still better than SEA QUEST. (Although can we all acknowledge for a moment that Ted Raimi was once in a Spielberg production with Roy Scheider?)

  130. I guess it is common knowledge that BAND OF BROTHERS is Spielberg’s worst moment. Shitty production values, bad acting, stock footage re-used over and over again, and outtakes from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN ( not to be confused with SHAVING RYAN’S PRIVATES) to cut corners. I heard the battle sequences were shot in Spielberg’s private bathroom with toys and the so called veterans was just some random old people he picked from an old folks home. Probably the same one were pegsman resides.

    Yeah I think it´s time to call out on BAND OF BROTHERS as Spielberg’s worst tv project…

  131. Matthew B – I think he just doesn’t like people, period. I think it might be to do with his divorce (one recurring minor character in his more recent films seems to be “the divorced woman who trades up”), but that’s reaching, really. I don’t know. All I know is that the Spielberg who created ET and SCHINDLER’S LIST seems to be gone for good. The talent is still there, but the soul is not. I hope he proves me wrong, but I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be rushing out to see another Spielberg film any time soon.

  132. Aren’t all the children in JAWS just pieces to be put in dangerous situations with no agency whatsoever?

  133. Phillip – ironically that’s probably the one film of his that I’ve seen and couldn’t tell you if that was the case or not. It’s been probably twenty-five years or more since I’ve watched it.

    I know a child with a speaking part (or possibly children) actually gets killed in JAWS, which is not something I can recall happening in any of his other films, including WAR OF THE WORLDS. (And even if I hadn’t have been spoilt, I don’t think I would’ve bought A Certain Character’s offscreen death for a second in WotW. Modern-day Spielberg, right?)

  134. So he would have been less misanthropic if he had simply killed off Dakota Fanning in WOTW?

  135. Phillip – I wouldn’t say that, but Fanning is a main character, and therefore subject to “plot immunity”. Most of the time the lead female isn’t going to die in the first third of the movie (unless her name is Janet Leigh). The audience knows this going into the movie.

    Let’s say that his constant use of children as emotional bargaining chips would come across as less manipulative and contrived if I thought, for one second, that there was a chance that any of them might get “offed”. Taking a better example than Fanning, did anybody ever think that the kid in MUNICH who nearly sets off the bomb that’s meant for his father would actually get it? That entire scene was as transparently phony as – well – everything apart from Bana’s character in MUNICH, in my opinion. Same thing with the son’s “death” in WAR OF THE WORLDS. He walks over the hill, there’s an explosion, Cruise’s face falls, sad music plays. I mean, really? 1) are we seriously expected to believe that this character gets an offscreen death, and 2) is this kind of dumb bullshit what the director of ET has been reduced to nowadays?

    I expect people would disagree with me on both MUNICH and this point, but I think the film where Spielberg absolutely nailed this was SCHINDLER’S LIST, and the girl in the red dress. And Henry Thomas on the operating table in ET (that moment where the scientist takes off his mask!) although to be honest I don’t even want to try rewatching that movie now. The last time I saw it, I must’ve been no older than a teenager. I think I’d rather preserve some childhood memories than try rewatching ET, given just how cynical I’ve become about Spielberg after the likes of MINORITY REPORT, MUNICH and WAR OF THE WORLDS.

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