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Gavin Greig [userpic]

The War of the Worlds

August 16th, 2005 (11:15 pm)

The Pendragon/Tim Hines film of The War of the Worlds flopped onto my doormat on Saturday.

It flopped on my DVD player on Sunday.


Well, that's not entirely true - I signed for it on Saturday and it was so unbelievably bad on Sunday that it was actually oddly enjoyable!

A word of warning - do not watch this movie alone, especially if you are a fan of the story in some previous form. Without company to share the mocking duties (msinvisfem helped me out in this regard), you will be depressed and drained by three solid hours of awfulness. I can't honestly recommend this movie to anyone - but if, as I was, you're determined to watch it anyway, then here's the knowledge you need to survive.

Having guaranteed yourself suitable moral support, put the platter in the player...

Within seconds of the titles, it becomes obvious that this is an extraordinarily stylish production. Or, to be more precise: this is a production with a style that is quite extraordinary!

I was reminded, by the early scenes, of a combination of Gerry Anderson's original Thunderbirds and the recent computer animated Dan Dare. The tale opens with the Journalist and Ogilvy the astronomer in conversation in an observatory. Ogilvy holds his arms in front of him at about ninety degrees to his body, and jiggles as though his strings were being controlled by a tremulous puppeteer. The Journalist performs some eyebrow acting which makes Roger Moore look like he doesn't know the first thing about eyebrows. The scene is set!

What a bizarre movie! Let me remind you, before I go any further, that this is actually a live action film, performed by neither puppets nor pixels - though we'll come back to the pixels later...

I had thought that this film was supposed to be made at the actual locations of H.G. Wells' story. However, if that is so, I'm at a loss to explain why the producer appears to have felt it necessary to fly over the worst actors alive in America today, rather than employing random people off the street in the UK who would at least have been able to do plausible accents. It's official: Dick van Dyke is no longer the perpetrator of the worst British accent ever. Pretty much everyone in this movie has him beaten in spades, and the accents are sadly representative of their general performance.

Not only is the acting extremely mannered, but the cinematography is similarly exaggerated. Extensive use is made of filters. Given the extremity of their nature - for example, some brief scenes appear to be colour-cycled like a 1990s fractal screen saver! - it is likely that many of these effects are actually the result of digital grading rather than physical optics. Why? Grading can be highly effective, but you need digital artists who have progressed past Crayons 101!

However, the filters are perhaps the least of it. I've never seen a commercial film so badly shot. It's not just that some of the shaky hand-held sequences would benefit from a Steadicam - much of the film also has a different and artificial jerky quality that's a bit like early first-person shooter video games. At the end of the first hour, I had nearly nodded off: by the end of the second hour I was suffering from a mild case of motion sickness. I tried to give Mr. Hines the benefit of the doubt. Was he trying to evoke the films of the period, made long before Steadicam and hand-cranked or shot at 18 frames a second (compared to the modern 24 frames a second)? Well, if he was, all I can say is he failed. Badly. If he wasn't - I'm at a loss as to what he may have intended.

Perhaps I should mention the story. The War of the Worlds is a classic, and oddly enough, even a very bad film indeed cannot entirely louse it up. Mind you, it tries pretty hard to do so. Before the film's release, one of the supposed selling points was to be its faithfulness to the H.G. Wells novel. I applaud this sentiment; it's what interested me most in the film. But oh dear! What we want is a film faithful to the spirit, the period and the key plot lines of the novel. What we actually get is a film blindly faithful to the most minor and unnecessary detail, without consideration for the requirements of a different medium. Succumbing to curiosity part way through, I was able to read a page of unimportant dialogue word-for-word from the novel as it appeared before me on screen.

I think it may have been the strength of the underlying story that kept us going for three hours; but all credit to H.G. Wells and none to the film-makers for that.

Finally, I'm afraid I have to mention the digital special effects. I'm not usually one to condemn a production on its special effects. I have previously claimed (truthfully) that I would be happy with stage quality special effects in a TV production so long as the other aspects of it are good and the budget is limited. However, this movie, which purportedly aspired to a theatre release, has visual effects that would have shamed the pilot episode of the Babylon 5 television series over a decade ago. Texture mapping appears to be a foreign concept. Animated background characters have all the realism of a 1980s video game. Parts of peoples' faces disappear, like an early 1970s episode of Doctor Who, when they were still figuring out how to use CSO. Particularly after seeing what can be achieved on a limited budget by a bunch of fans working for the fun of it, I cannot excuse a supposedly professional production with effects this poor.

There is one point - and one only - in which Tim Hine's War of the Worlds surpasses Steven Spielberg's summer blockbuster. The dénouement of the tale retains a sense of climax that the Spielberg version failed to maintain. In the book, in Tim Hines' version, and also in Jeff Wayne's musical version, the Journalist, battered by the events of the invasion, takes his fate into his own hands once more at the end by deciding to die deliberately at the tentacles of the Martians. Tom Cruise's character in the Spielberg film remains a hapless victim of the fates until the end, and the resolution is, as a result, an anti-climax.

The perfect antidote to this War of the Worlds movie was to follow it with the disco-tripods of the musical version. Jeff Wayne is sublime in his rich, cheesy goodness - this movie is a dried out, mouldy chunk of cheddar in a forgotten corner of the filmic fridge. Look out for Jeff's "movie of the album", expected in 2007 - it is going to be better, because it couldn't be worse!

In honour of this awfulness, my new icon is a Podling (The Dark Crystal) being drained of its living essence.

Comments

Posted by: silverwhistle (silverwhistle)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 07:15 am (UTC)
Conrad's Ship

Sincere commiserations. I had a similar experience at the hands of Cecil B deMille on Friday: esp. last comment on the thread, due to his character-assassination of a heroic and tragic character who was physically Assassinated as it was... Awful!

Posted by: Marcus L. Rowland (ffutures)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 07:27 am (UTC)
Angel of the Revolution

I heard it was going to be a stinker. Sad to hear it's true, given my interests.

Posted by: Gavin Greig (ggreig)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 06:04 pm (UTC)
Vacant Podling

I heard it was going to be a stinker.

Stinker is the mot juste, I'm afraid.

Posted by: Nik Whitehead (sharikkamur)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 09:23 am (UTC)

That's a shame. I was hoping for something rather better than the terrible Tom Cruise version. I suppose I shall have to wait for the Jeff Wayne version instead - something I am really looking forward to.

Posted by: Toby Atkin-Wright (tobyaw)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 09:46 am (UTC)

It all reinforces my belief that it is nearly impossible to make a decent film from a decent book.

Why not just (re-)read the book instead?

Posted by: Gavin Greig (ggreig)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 01:17 pm (UTC)

I did/shall.

I'm not sure about the impossibility of making a decent film from a decent book though. I would agree that most adaptations do disappoint; but usually it's because of one or a few points that could have been addressed differently. A miss may be as good as a mile, but if most adaptations don't miss by much it makes me think it should be possible to get it right more often.

Posted by: Toby Atkin-Wright (tobyaw)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 02:10 pm (UTC)

I noticed that the Poirot episode on ITV3 on Monday (running time about 45 minutes) was based on a 12-page short story. And it worked quite well.

It must be very difficult to condense a novel (even a short-ish novel like The War of the Worlds) into a workable screenplay, without eliminating all the subtleties, subplots and details that make the novel interesting enough to bother filming in the first place. And while maintaining a structure and pace that make a film watchable.

Looking along the DVDs on my shelves, most of the literary adaptations that work well have played free with the source material - and have been made by consummate film-makers.

But if the film is as bad as you describe, one has to wonder whether it was made as some kind of tax-dodge, and they simply didn't care about doing a decent job?

Posted by: Gavin Greig (ggreig)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 02:54 pm (UTC)
Vacant Podling

But if the film is as bad as you describe

I still find it hard to believe just how bad it was. I had to make tough decisions as to what not to include in my criticism.

one has to wonder whether it was made as some kind of tax-dodge, and they simply didn't care about doing a decent job?

I guess that's a possible explanation.

Posted by: msinvisfem (msinvisfem)
Posted at: August 17th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC)
In the Living Room

First off, I wildly fan your icon! However, I don't recall taking any pictures of you watching WOTW on Sunday...

Secondly, great review. It was entertaining and informative without being ranty or babbly. Go you. Though I do think you could have mentioned the atrocious sound (FX, music and general quality)... However, knowing you you would claim the Jeff Wayne mention was a comment on the movie's sound. :-P

    However, the filters are perhaps the least of it... much of the film also has a different and artificial jerky quality that's a bit like early first-person shooter video games... by the end of the second hour I was suffering from a mild case of motion sickness... Was he trying to evoke the films of the period, made long before Steadicam and hand-cranked or shot at 18 frames a second (compared to the modern 24 frames a second)? Well, if he was, all I can say is he failed. Badly. If he wasn't - I'm at a loss as to what he may have intended.
Actually your guess is pretty much dead on! I had a look at Tim Hine's Q&A page on the War of the Worlds website and found the following:
    You chose a very daring look to the film with a sepia-like quality. What was the reason behind this?
    We knew we couldn't get a typical Hollywood look, so instead of fighting to make the movie something that it's not, I went for a classic age Hollywood look combined with a newsreel feel. Sort of The Wizard of Oz meets The World at War. I wanted it to feel old and archival. It was a constant tinkering process. Constantly evolving. All in all it came out pretty well.
There is so much delusional drivel on that website that maybe tobyaw is right about the whole tax evasion thing. Which maybe given some credence (if I am allowed to go down the conspiracy theorists route) by the fact that I can't find any figures now for the film's budget. Which I am almost certain I could find before the supposed theatrical release.

Posted by: msinvisfem (msinvisfem)
Posted at: August 18th, 2005 12:05 pm (UTC)
Considering your icon...
Chewiea

...this might interest you.

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