- Reviews Written:
Posted on 6/29/05 11:07 PM
"I'd see that it had a certain panache. That's what I'm good at. Not the work, not the work...the PRESENTATION."
-- Liam Neeson, SCHINDLER'S LIST
The presentation, indeed. Style and suspense are very powerful tools.
WAR OF THE WORLDS opens up today and it shows us a few things:
Firstly, Spielberg is STILL a master filmmaker who cannot make a bad movie if he animated stick-figures and made them fight...oh, I dunno, Pokemon or something...wait, on second thought, don't give him any ideas.
Secondly, it shows us that Tom Cruise could marry three sheep and date a 4-year-old at the same time and he would STILL be able to carry a movie. The man is Michael Jackson without the frightening exterior because he chose to date a younger woman and convert her to his cult and he still manages to impress...that rascal. If I didn't mention something about him, all of you would be telling me that I ignored talking about him and his personal life. I'm sick of hearing about him every two seconds when we have more important things to discuss, but when it comes down to it, I really don't care.
Thirdly, this is one of the greatest summers we've ever had, cinematically.
We've had SIN CITY (even thought it came in Spring, it's still gimmicky enough to be considered as such), REVENGE OF THE SITH, BATMAN BEGINS, LAND OF THE DEAD, and now, WAR OF THE WORLDS. Consider that we've seen five huge filmmakers deliver: Robert Rodriguez, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, George Romero, and Stevie Spielberg.
Steven Spielberg just gets better and better. While not as well thought-out as say, MINORITY REPORT or A.I. (which is highly underrated), WAR OF THE WORLDS lulls you into a false sense of secuirty with a light beginning where divorced father, Ray (Cruise), is charged with looking after his two precocious kids (Justin Chatwin, Dakota Fanning) for the weekend while his former wife (Miranda Otto) runs off with her new beau (David Alan Basche) to see Ray's parents in Boston.
The banter the kids and Ray share is realistic, though their behavior and what they talk about is a bit unbelievable since they both seem somehow wise beyond their years.
Things don't pick up until the lightning strikes begin to hit and the first tripod comes roaring out of the ground, ripping up everything in its path. After that, your back will either be pressed against your theater-seat or you'll actually supporting your head with your hands as your elbows are touching your knees like the two guys sitting next to me.
I don't think their eyes ever left the screen. Not once. Not even to look at each other in amazement.
The movie follows Ray and his family as they attempt to run and hide from some hideous-looking aliens. They find out, rather quickly, that there's really nowhere to run and that the pissed-off invaders can find them pretty much anywhere they go. They even run into a paranoid survivalist played by Tim Robbins, who cannot seem to get the part of "Dave" from MYSTIC RIVER out of his head.
This movie is as impressive as it is spectacular.
It's not just the effects that are impressive. That's just part of it. It's the action, the design, the actors (who interact surprisingly well with non-existent CGI'ed imagery around them), the sound effects, and the surprising character-depth. This movie screams, BLOCKBUSTER, before you even have a chance to catch your breath.
It has the darkness of MINORITY REPORT, the scares of JURASSIC PARK, and the suspense of JAWS and it STILL manages to impress you, using every dollar you paid for it. It's like driving through the Santa Cruz mountains for the first time in a beautiful new car with a turbo-engine: it's just like you dreamed when you test-drove it.
It's the little things that make this movie great, the things that the movie does NOT do that make a lasting impression. Cruise is cast as a father who is an Everyman and not an action-hero. He uses his brains as well his brawn to get out of tough situations yet he's still fearful and vulnerable at the same time. After being seemingly invincible throughout the first half of the movie and then ducking into a trashed diner with his son and daughter, he just plain breaks down and cries as his children look on with unknowing concern: he's supposed to lead them and teach them, not show that he can be hurt or defeated. When he breaks down, he's not only feeling the delayed emotions of his character but for the emotions of every other character he's played in his entire career. He's supposed to be single-handedly kicking alien-butt, not cracking under pressure.
This is a side of Cruise we rarely see.
Another scene that sticks out in my mind is during the next stage during the invasion. There's no ray-gun battles or a gymnastic Dakota Fanning kicking an alien in the face, ala THE LOST WORLD...there's a telescopic tentacle with an "eye" that scouts dark areas. If it finds Ray, Rachel (Fanning), or Ogilvy (Robbins), they're doomed. Any director could make this a jump-up-and-cheer Hollywood sequence...but this is Steven Spielberg we're talking about. This is the Hitchcock of our time.
The scene hardly has any scoring behind it and takes place quietly as the survivors tip-toe around a very small basement to avoid capture and subsequent death. Just when you think they're caught, they're not. The scene is impressive due to the camera-work, the lighting, and the body-acting, which is never easy. Few can pull it off. And just when you think they've escaped, in come the aliens to look around.
Someday, Steven Spielberg will cease to impress me. Someday, they'll say that he hit the bell-curve a long time ago and that he should retire while he's still ahead...but I don't think Spielberg is ready to roll downhill yet. He's still at the peak of his career.
And for him and his new movie, it's all about the presentation. I loved this movie.
***1/2 out of ****