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Sunday, January 08, 2006 

War of the Worlds defence.

The Internet Movie Database recently ran a poll on the worst picture out of the top ten highest-grossing of 2005, and to my surprise Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds took the top spot above the likes of Madagascar and Hitch. This struck me wildly off-balance and I was little displeased. In fact I shouted "What the fuck?" loudly and failed my arms about. So here's my attempt at tipping the scales back to a healthy level with the top four (sorry, my fifth is somewhere tangled in what I've typed) reasons as to why War of the Worlds is one of the freshest and most challenging movies of the year. Allow me to begin by busting the most popularly petty greivances and drawing on its superior qualities:

1. Tom Cruise is not a shit actor.

Let's face it, 2005 wasn't a great year for Mr. Cruise publicity-wise:

He came off as an arrogant prick, and for all I know he's a big one. "He's always playing the same role!", people remark (as if they've met him at several social occasions). Maybe something about his portrayal as 'everyman' Ray Ferrier didn't sit well with audiences, but this shouldn't suggest media attention can take anything away from his performance, which is deftly measured and -shock!- without ego. Look past the skin-deep. Perhaps now with his sister publicist fired, and his stab at 'redemption' in M:I:III we can get back to people actually respecting the diverse (albeit overpaid) work he does, banging out razor-wire performances like in Magnolia, Born on the Fourth of July, Collateral, and numerous others. No, the guy's not a perfect actor, he just happens to like Scientology, and this shouldn't mar War of the Worlds just because he's currently out of vogue.

2. This girl is in it:

Dakota Fanning is, without a doubt, a fantastic young actress. She enthuses the character of Rachel with a realistic vulnerability. And no, she doesn't just bawl all the way through. Couple this with Man On Fire and it's easy to see how well she can deliver, and it never feels gratuitous, probably because she doesn't realise that she's doing it. In particular the kitchen scene ("Since when?" "Birth."), and the section with Tim Robbins allows us to feel something about the character, and one of the most exciting careers to come -once you excise ages 13-17.

3. The second half is just as good as the first.

If the title proves misleading - it's hardly an epic war- then it's because the movie operates on a level above your atypical popcorn fodder. As much as I enjoy Independence Day, the film is layered with cheese and it's shallower than a deflated paddling pool. War of the Worlds though takes what the audience should expect and turns it on its head: our hero is a dick, we never see outer space, and Bill Pullman's nowhere to be found. It works more like an action-drama, and when this kicks into overdrive after the unrelenting first half, I guess the claustrophobia is too much for some to take with Tim Robbins' Ogilvy wielding an axe willy-nilly and aliens without thermal vision. I'm sorry if you're suggesting a movie with a premise over a century old which cites aliens coming to Earth and exterminating mankind is "unbelievable", I think you're missing the point. The scene works on more than just suspension of disbelief.

In fact the film works on a very personal level and I applaud the creative talents for being so bold in the direction the story takes. For once, CGI feels naturalistic. Of course there's no defending the eventual ending (or H.G Wells' seemingly lazy wrap-up) which does throw the movie off-kilt. But still the movie manages to bow out gracefully on a downer, and a hopeful one at that. It fucks me off so much that people would attack a film for its flaws in logic rather than storytelling. I'd be watching the Discovery Channel if I wanted an accurate and scientifically-sound portrayal of events, I'd just rather have one that moves me.

4. It's made by Steven Spielberg.

Do I really have to argue my case? This is the man who brought us Duel, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Minority Report, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and however many other movies he's managed to affirm life with. Suddenly he just loses his touch? I'm not excusing Hook here, but just a mere prologue into War of the Worlds and it's obvious that he's not poaching on foreign territory, or even repackaging his own. The film is a breathless journey which doesn't need to justify its own existence because it's playing by its own rules, and not the established ones. If this is too much for you to handle, go rent Stealth or something.

Time deserves to be kind to War of the Worlds. Just blame Katie Holmes for this temporary debacle.

I just saw War of the Worlds, and I think I can offer insight as to why it received such maligning.

On it's own, I thought that the movie was powerful, disturbing and, to use your word, challenging. I like that in a movie.

However, when I clicked the BUY button for pay-per-view, I thought I was signing up for an Independence Day experience. I thought I'd get to see cool effects of buildings exploding, Wil Smith-type hero complete with quips, and a rousing humans-save-the-day ending.

The movie did not deliver what the previews promised. The director and actors did great. The publicity department sold us on it the wrong way.

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