When Steven Spielberg's upcoming version of War of the Worlds was announced, the emotions of the fanboy world was split. While it was nice that a filmmaker of Spielberg's acumen was helming the project, it was also going to be yet another updated version of the story, and those of us who grew up on the Classics Illustrated comic book or thrilled to the illustrations in Jeff Wayne's 1978 musical version (itself a computer-animated movie slated for 2007) really wanted to see the story in its appropriate period, 1898 England. Then news trickled down that there was a period version being lensed, by an upstart company called Pendragon Pictures. We sighed and waited....
This is not necessarily the movie we wanted.
As far as a faithful adaptation goes - and forgive me, the reading of the actual novel is about forty years in the past - it seems 85 - 90% of the book is represented here. Very nice. Director Timothy Hines was obviously quite passionate about this project. However, at three hours in length, it seems the passion went in sometimes dubious directions.
Quite obviously, this version of War does not have anywhere near the budget of the Spielberg/Cruise picture, which could be the kiss of death for a story involving such scope and spectacle... and whether that kiss was delivered or not will depend on your tolerance for the methods undertaken. Most of the FX work is done with CGI, and much of it is, sadly, so obvious and uncluttered by detail that it would not be allowed in a video game. Big time computer animators like Pixar constantly struggle with the lack of "weight" in their creations, and this becomes awfully apparent in the tripods -possessing no apparent mass or scale - and the Martians themselves, who glide about on frail tendrils even as characters describe how feeble and crushed they are under Earth's gravity.
Digital compositing is the order of the day, but foreground lighting rarely matches the background elements. Day-for-night is frequently confused. And - the ultimate bane of such productions - you're going to see the same panicked mob run past the camera many times.
As I said, the movie is three hours long and feels it. Hines obviously - and rightly - wants to spotlight the human drama in his low budget retelling, but so very often the drama takes a uniform tone of crying, whimpering and sniveling... and walking. Good Lord, vast stretches of the movie are composed of people walking toward the camera, then walking away from it, ad infinitum. Judicious editing (by someone other than writer/director/cinematographer Hines) could have gotten this sucker down to two and a half hours, if not a mere two.
Most of the reviews thus far have slammed the acting, though little of it actually stoops to the dreadful (though when it does, it does so with an awful magnetism, drawing your eyes like a car wreck). Anthony Piana as "The Writer" has the toughest road, being in charge of most of the emotional distress, and I feel he actually does quite well (his patently fake moustache does not, however). The Curate (John Kaufmann), possibly the most interesting character in the novel, starts out whiney and desperate, and has nowhere to go thereafter. The brash Artilleryman (James Lathrop) is a breath of fresh air, but alas, his section of the novel is largely jettisoned (though at the two hour and forty minutes mark, this is a relief). I shouldn't go without mentioning co-screenwriter Susan Goforth as "The Wife", who, being a Victorian woman, vanishes from the proceedings after the first hour, but who is luminous and warm while onscreen, easily one of the best performances in the movie.
This movie can be recommended, but only with a novel-length list of reservations; as a testament to Hines' passion for the project, it is at least interesting. As an exercise for the armchair director/producer, it can be entertaining. For the low-budget aficionado, it holds some charm. For the casual viewer, however, it will be a case of ejecting the disc twenty minutes in, and loudly demanding a refund.
Hard information on the filming has been strangely difficult to find online, but this was apparently filmed on digital video - which makes sense, given the need for digital FX - which was then processed through a number of filters. Sometimes color filters are applied with little rhyme or reason apparent, but the worst offense is frequent strobing of the image. To be fair, that may be the mastering of the disc and not the source material, but it is certainly one more blow against a movie already in dire straits.
Not much here. There is a trailer which bears the rather hopeful end graphic "In Theaters March 2005"; a photo gallery in which the stills are shown in a small window, advancing themselves as music from the score plays; and an adequate five-screen bio and bibliography of H. G. Wells.
Dr. Freex, 6/27/2005