War of the Worlds (Timothy Hines, 2005)
A terrible weight of expectation hung over this production ever since it was
first announced some years ago. The first truly authentic version of The War of the
Worlds had a lot to live up to but the omens were never good. Delayed after the
events of September 11th, the production seems to have been plagued with difficulties
of one kind or another, but gained a new lease of life once the Spielberg film got
under way. Material on the background to the film was always suspiciously sparse,
prompting some less than kind speculations about the motives and intentions of director
and co- writer Timothy Hines on Internet bulletin boards. Hines was certainly a
bit of an unknown, with only a few other very obscure films to his name. His
production company Pendragon has one other project on the slate according to
their website, the science fiction movie Chrome, but information on this is equally
meagre and you have to wonder giving the long delayed gestation of War of the Worlds
if there is a finished film (or one even near) in existence at this time.
There was an expectation that this War of the Worlds would go head to head with
Spielberg at the box-office, but instead it was snuck out rather belatedly on DVD.
So what do we have? Is this the War of the Worlds movie we all hoped for? Well, it's
certainly authentic, following the flow of the book in almost slavish detail, but
unfortunately this is about the only positive aspect I can find with this film.
This is a very odd film. It is presented entirely in a curious washed out colour
scheme and what looks like a slightly speeded up frame rate, such that you suspect
Hines was trying to create a look equivalent to his concept of what a Victorian era
film would appear like, though in fact the movie camera was generally held to have
been invented only a few years prior to the publication of Wells novel and didn't
really get going as a serious art form until quite a few years later. As theories
go then, this doesn't really hold water, unless of course Hines was a bit dilatory
in his research. Hence I'm really at a loss to explain exactly what he was hoping
to achieve, except for a contrived old-fashioned style in keeping with the perceived
spirit of the original material.
This impression is reinforced by the performances Hines coaxes from his actors
which are to say the least interesting. Let me put it this way, if you turned off
the sound (which could arguably be something of a blessing in disguise) and turned
down the colour to black and white, you'd really feel like you were watching
something shot in the early 1900's. I can't decide if the style of acting was actually
desired and encouraged by the director, or if they are just bad actors, but it is
a truly strange thing to watch. Men's upper lips (generally sporting some great
stunt moustaches) quiver, women swoon, and really, if a man in a black cloak ran
past carrying a big sack and preceded to tie one of the heroines to a railway track,
I don't think you would think anything of it. As such, this may in fact be construed
as high praise for Hines, if he actually engineered these extraordinary performances
Turning to the special effects, one can only despair further. They are awful.
Had this film been made by a couple of 15 year olds on their weekends with an old PC,
I'd be calling it a masterpiece, a daring exciting production and a credit to their
skills with a home computer, but this is meant to be a professional film and I'm sorry,
but there is an expectation that the film will look like it has some production values.
This has nothing of the sort, but rather than be cruel and blame the special effects team,
I'm going to be charitable and assume that there simply wasn't a budget in place to do
anything approaching a decent job. The green screen work is pitiful and obvious and the
Martian war machines look like they have been crudely superimposed in great haste. When
they wade through the water to attack the Thunderchild, their legs don't even disturb the water.
At three hours long this is a real
endurance test of a film, not least because there
is an enormous amount of pointless exposition. Characters seem to spend an incredible
amount of time just wandering back and forth, having long drawn out conversations, then
going for another wander. Then there is a degree of hilarious gore; several people are
trampled by tripods at which point great gouts of blood spurt from under the feet, but
like everything else in this film, you can't quite figure what Hines was intending. The
effect is so badly done you just smile painfully so you can't say it is in any way
disturbing, though I don't think I'd be inclined to watch younger children watch it.
Truth be told, I wouldn't advise adults to watch it either. The whole thing is just
too depressing, and not just because of its epic length. It's also exhausting to watch
because you sit, fists clenched, teeth gritted, willing it to get better, but every
time there comes a glimmer of hope, (and there are a few such moments) your hopes are cruelly dashed.
The only ray of light I can offer is this. The Spielberg version is amazing in its own
way, the George Pal version is a classic of its day, but with this sad failure behind
us, we still don't have a definitive War of the Worlds movie. So, after the dust has settled
from the Spielberg movie, perhaps in 5 to 10 years time, we can look forward to the day that
some enterprising producer with a really big budget takes a chance on the intelligence of
audiences and greenlights a truly authentic version.
See also in:
Film & TV
The War of the Worlds by George Pal. The action relocates to cold war America, with the Martian war machines re-invented as sinister flying machines.
The War of the Worlds Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise get a huge bang for their bucks in this massive re-imagining of the story.
The War of the Worlds: AKA Invasion. A quick and cheerfully bad version riding the coat-tails of the Spielberg film.