Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Thoughts and Deeper Thoughts on "War of the Worlds" (spoilers, duh)

Poor H.G. Wells and George Pal. Is this what their vision has wrought?

My wife and I had Sunday evening free with the kids taken care of elsewhere, so we decided to pursue some mindless entertainment. Unfortunately, it was getting too dark to watch grass grow and there were no freshly painted walls to watch dry so we decided to go see "War of the Worlds" instead.

Should've stuck with the grass.

Here are some of our thoughts on the latest from Steven "I gotta have a bigger hit this summer than Lucas" Spielberg and Tom "Insert your own joke here" Cruise.

1) This is an obvious one, but extremely stupid. OK, so the aliens have set off an EMP pulse that knocks out all electronics and power in the neighborhood. But still the neighbors are snapping digital pictures and shooting video of the invasion???? You're telling me NO-ONE on the film-making team caught this?

2) I had to run to the restroom during the short scene where Cruise fixes the car and drives off. Darn. If I'm ever in an EMP-pulsing/street-ripping/bridge-toppling alien invasion, now I won't know how to magically defy physics and start the car. I'm so doomed.

3) So, like, the aliens (Martians? Venusians? Klingons?) buried their war machines under the earth some umpteen millenia ago. They decided to wait till NOW to unearth them and wreak havoc? Obviously, the plan wasn't really affected by our level of technology but why wait until it was at least theoretically possible for some of our weapons to do damage to them before starting the invasion? Why not in 1950? Or 1898? The only answer I can hazard is they were waiting for the population to reach a 6.5 billion person level. I can understand that, I suppose.

4) But then...why people? Why human blood? Why not cows, or horses, or whales for that matter? How many cows are there on the planet? Deer? Elk? Animals roughly the same size and body mass (or greater) than humans? For that matter, why not dinosaurs? Maybe that was too far back.

5) And I'll ask the obvious question, the one Wells should've thought of a century ago really, but lacked the experience - why send your entire invasion force without fully testing the Earth environment first?

6) After seeing Tom Cruise's goofy grin all over TV these past two weeks, you can see he never takes it off of his face, really.

7) All right, here's the situation facing the people at the beginning of the movie. They've seen on TV reports of massive lightning storms hitting different places around the world. One even cause a blackout of an entire country. That would be enough to make me a little uneasy. Then there are reports the storms have reached America. That would make me a lot uneasy. Then the sky outside turns dark and ominous, with lightning beginning to flash. So then you go outside to watch like it's a freakin' Fourth of July fireworks display? You "ooh" and "ahh" at all the pretty lights?

(Side note - these are a generation of people who grew up watching "V" and "Independence Day" and even "Alien Nation" on TV and at the movies. When the dark swirly clouds start gathering out of nowhere, and a vortex starts forming...that means aliens are on the way. Count on it. It happens every time - just like when you see a fin in the water and there's ominous music, count on a shark attacking soon)

So deadly lightning flashes start hitting all around, which drive the people indoors. After it's over, there's no power so the people naturally start milling about outside. Cruise leaves the kids ALONE (more on that later) and wanders down to the town square where he meets several other similary bewildered citizens. (Luckily, Cruise happens to be one of the few citizens that are able to make it up RIGHT NEXT to the big lightning strike spot) Then the quakes start, and the pavement begins to buckle and split. This is bad juju, people - do you immediately run home to seek shelter? Nope, we're just going to dodge all the cracks in the earth and see what happens next...

The church gets split in half and everyone backs up to watch some more. (Um, Tom...your kids?) The pavement buckles into a huge sinkhole filled with horrible noises, and the crowd continues to watch (apparently with no TV, this is the only thing to fill their mindless voids). Finally the unthinkable happens - a large...thing begins rising up out of the crater. Do they people cut and run? Do they scream and panic? Do they rush back home to hide? No - of course not. This is way too cool - let's keep watching in jaw-dropping awe!

(Um, Tom...your kids? All alone? At home? Without their dad? Remember??)

So now the machine is obviously a giant robot/alien/killer/whatever. It emits a huge atonal burp (which should've deafened everyone, but didn't) and immediately begins vaporizing the crowd - one person at a time. Real efficient, there, Mr. Martian. Do the fair citizens finally decide this isn't the latest Spielberg extravaganza and get the hell outta Dodge? Well, sorta - they do run around trying to evade the death rays but a fat lot of good that does some of them. BZZZT--Poof! Instant sand.

Then the tiny sliver of a thought enters Tom's little head - hey, you know...home might be a nice little place. Let's go there. So he finally high tails it out of there (again incredibly lucky as at one point the persons to his immediate left and right are vaporized but he, amazingly, is spared. He must have a heck of an agent).

So what is Steven telling us? That we are a nation of mindless automotans who will watch anything as long as it's entertaining? That only the most immediate of dangers will shake us out of our drooling reverie and galvanize us to action?

We wondered if this was a commentary on the day of 9/11 and the NYC crowd's reactions to the fall of the Twin Towers. Possibly, but up until the point the first tower fell, no one around there had any real inkling it might actually collapse. Sure, after the planes hit and the survivors had made it out they cleared out quickly enough. There were onlookers, certainly, but they stayed a safe distance away for the most part. I can't imagine that many people were dumb enough to stay at the base of the towers as they were falling, snapping pictures all the time. Does Spielberg think we're that desparate from entertainment?

(Hmm...after checking the latest round of reality shows, maybe we are...)

But back to Tom. Or rather his character, Ray (get it? Ray? Death Ray? Ok, never mind). I've had it. I've completely had it with movies and TV showing us deadbeat dads and trying to romanticize or rehabilitate them by using external forces.

Ray knocked up his wife and she birthed two kids - obviously some years ago, because the younger girl is about 11. The older boy is about 15. Apparently he found the lure of dock working to be too strong to resist, so they split up. Naturally the kids are resentful (as we see by the universal sign of adolescent resentment, the everpresent earphones in the ears) but Ray is unrepentant. No sooner than the kids show up for their weekend with dear old dad, he goes to bed and instructs them to find their own food.

Ok, we got it. He's a jerk as a dad. But it's Tom Cruise, and this is Steven Spielberg, so the main character eventually has to become sympathetic, right?

As the movie progresses, Tom/Ray does try to protect his kids from imminent danger (though his son is correct that he does want to get to Boston so he can dump them back on his wife to take care of them). We get the big "Sophie's Choice" moment where Tom/Ray must choose between continuing to try and persuade his son to not join the resistance fight, and go back and rescue his daughter from well-meaning strangers. He wisely chooses to let his son go...but what does that decision cost him? Nothing, really, since the boy didn't die - he made it to Boston unscathed after all! Hurrah! There was no meat to Tom/Ray's decision after all.

But at the end we're supposed to feel...well, look at what he went through to make sure his kids were safe! He's funny! He's cute! He's witty! He sings "Little Deuce Coupe" for a lullaby!! Big hug for prodigal son and all is forgiven. He's a good dad after all!

What a load of bull.

Tell me, Tom/Ray. What are you going to do tomorrow? And the next day? How long till you decide fatherhood's still too much for you, and go back to New York? If you don't even know the freaking words to "Rockaby Baby" how can you ever be expected to take fatherhood seriously?

You weren't a dad to those kids the past couple days, you were a bodyguard. And a chauffer. But the worst part was you weren't there when your daughter needed you the most. Here's why, and it may not be what you think:

The girl has seen the destruction, she's seen the tripods, the bodies floating down the river, the airplane wreckage, the overturned ferry, the people grabbed out of the water, the eye probes, and the aliens themselves. She's also seen the red plants, and the blood that nourishes them. She's been chased all over the yard by the tripods, then plucked up and placed in a the holding cage with other wretched, writhing examples of humanity. Soon after, Tom/Ray is dumped in and joins her. He holds her at arm's length, studying her. The trauma is too much - she has retreated to a small corner of her brain (somewhere near "Hushaby Mountain") and now has finally achieved a kind of wide-eyed calm. Finally, mentally, she's safe - she's checked out of reality and found her "happy place".

Normally, this type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is to be discouraged and treated since it's almost always preferable for the victim to eventually be brought back into the land of the living so they can continue to have a normal life. But that's after the danger is past - here, the danger is still omnipresent and ever-growing in its repulsiveness. At this point, the girl's mind seems to have shielded itself from remembering past and future trauma. But what does dear old dad do?

He shakes her out of it...

Yes, dear old dad who apparently hasn't a brain left in his head willingly brings his daughter from her own private heaven back into hell. Why? Because he doesn't know better? Probably. Because he doesn't want to be alone? More likely. He sacrifices his daughter's mental safety for his own selfishness and in doing so potentially exposed her to all the many more horrible events to come.

Deadbeat dad? You have no idea.

So, I'm tired of it. I'm sick of movies that try to show us that deadbeat dads (or moms) aren't so bad after all - they're just misunderstood! They had dreams! Priorities! Responsibilities! They were neglected by their own parents as kids! It's not my fault! It's society! But hey, spend a couple days evading evil aliens and all is forgiven!


Yesterday, Sci-Fi channel was running a Twilight Zone marathon and I saw the episode where the girl and her brother were able to swim through a magical door in their pool to a land where a kindly granny took care of all the lost kids whose parents didn't want them anymore. And these two kids' parents were definitely too busy to take care of them, so the children escaped.

Too bad all the other kids can't escape in real life. But their parents apparently can in the movies.

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