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War of the Worlds (Timothy Hines, 2005)

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.

Martian War Machine.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.

The Narrator and his wife.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 by design.

The Heat Ray.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.

Martians attack.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 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, Spielberg.

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

The War of the Worlds: AKA Invasion. A quick and cheerfully bad version riding the coat-tails of the Spielberg film.

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