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War Of The Worlds: Mark's Take

01/01/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper

Buy War Of The Worlds in the USA - or Buy War Of The Worlds in the UK

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This is a somewhat faithful but otherwise unsavoury and highly unsatisfying updating of the H. G. Wells novel. Aliens conquer the world in six-legged crab-like war machines, says Mark. The film has the impact of a Sci-Fi Channel film and the writing may not even be that good. Overall this is the least satisfying of the four film adaptations to date.

Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

There have been six major dramatizations of H. G. Wells's 1898 novel The War Of The Worlds. It has been adapted as a radio play, a rock opera, and four times as a film. Of the films, one was released in 1953 and three were released in June 2005. This version was directed and edited by David Michael Latt. Of the six versions, Latt's version arguably ranks second in being faithful to the novel but dead last in entertainment value. Latt updates the story to the present, as do three of the other versions. But actually a fair amount of the content of the Wells novel made it to the screen, even if it is in barely recognizable form.

C. Thomas Howell plays Dr. George Herbert (cute name), an astronomer who plans to go on vacation with his wife and son. But what is this? There are strange sightings in the sky. They make him send his family on ahead as he investigates the odd phenomena. It is not long before the cylinders are falling and the explosions beginning.

The most striking thing about this version is that the film itself is not striking at all. If this were not based on the Wells, it would seem like just one weaker made-for-television monster quickie. The writing frequently is embarrassing. Because there would be little time for sex in the story, one of the first scenes of the film shows the main character's wife nude. It is almost as if the screenwriter had it on a checklist of required script features: "One scene with nudity. Check." Later as people look over the sandpit with the aliens - they are never identified as Martians - one of the women comments, "It smells like ass." Thank you, that was a piece of imagination I did not need.

The war machines are not what Wells described. They appear to be crab-like bionic machines combining biology and machinery. Making the machines more biological, beyond just using biology to suggest shape, has rarely been done even in illustrations of the books. That is probably the best point of this film.

Beyond that the film is just not interesting visually. Digital effects are added trying to make it spectacular, but in very unimaginative ways. Inexplicably when the cylinders land they explode like missiles. That has to be hard on the aliens inside, but the filmmakers have not thought this aspect through. But a centrepiece of other film versions, a cylinder landing and crashing into a house, is shown instead from inside the house for a less expensive but also less impressive effect.

There is little reason to want to see this version of WAR OF THE WORLDS beyond the visualization of the Martian war machines. The updating to the 21st century in New Jersey and Washington D.C. is uninteresting. The film loses the majesty and the impact of the original story.

It is one of two low budget me-too production timed to correspond with the release of Steven Spielberg's adaptation. The other "me-too" managed a minor trump on Spielberg by setting the story in Wells's period and by using stylised effects rather than attempting photo-realism. None have captured the thrill of George Pal's version.

This version is not really much worth seeing I rate it a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

Mark Leeper

(c) Mark R. Leeper 2006

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