Right from the mitochondria to the cells to the organisms to the planet and the universe, life has so many things and so many wonders hidden inside it that it is almost impossible to contemplate on what might happen next. This is the idea that had prompted HG Wells to write a story that turned out to be a sensational success, the stuff legends are made of, when relayed over the American radio one fine morning. The story comes back to treat us to the possibilities of annihilation, this time in the avatar of a movie. And before you reject it outright as a stale idea (after the success of Independence Day and even spoofs like Men in Black, the idea does seem stale), let it be known that the person who has directed this movie is none other than THE Steven Spielberg and the lead actor, none other than THE Tom Cruise.
While this might have been enough to draw people to the theatres for the first time, the rest of the making-the-movie-a-hit part has to be done by the movie itself, which it fails miserably to do. Having directed movies in the same league earlier (Jurassic Park was also a case of bigger powers against humans), audience would certainly expect better from Spielberg. It may be possible that he was constrained by the elements of the original story, but then since when have directors stopped taking artistic liberties with the story line (and it is a re-telling of the original, remember)?
The story begins with Ray, a divorcee who lives all alone, enjoys his work at the docks, and lives a life of carelessness and monotonous sustenance. Ray (played in a rather lacklustre manner by Tom Cruise) has his kids staying with him for the weekend. While his son hates him, his little daughter does not trust him, either. Soon enough, Ray finds himself in a city where after multiple lightning strikes, tripod machines come out of the ground and start wreaking havoc, destroying man and material.
The annihilation continues as Ray and his kids run from city to city in a car that is one of the only cars to be working when all others are stalled on the roads ever since the tripods arrived. Overstretching the story from here onwards, Spielberg seems to be making a mess of holding the script together though he does have a few brilliant moments. I specifically liked the part where the news lady asks Ray if he had been a passenger of the plane that had crashed so badly the last night. On being informed that he was not, she expresses disappointment on having lost a probable story. Good stuff, Mr. Spielberg but what happened to the rest of the story?
The combination of Spielberg, Cruise, and of course the immensely popular War of the Worlds had given birth to so many expectations that on seeing yet another man vs beast movie where man has no clue but keeps fighting back, it turns out to be a major let down. The special effects are also not something to write home about and after trend setting effects like those in ET, there was more that one wanted to see in a Spielberg presentation.
Tom Cruise is the only actor worth mentioning in this entire movie though his son (Justin Chatwin) and daughter (Dakota Fanning) have equally long airtime but they fail to utilize the same to promote their histrionic talents. The daughter does a much more creditable job than the son, though. As for the acting acumen of Cruise himself, there is little to say but that he looks tired and jaded throughout the movie. While it is understandable that the character demanded portrayal as a dazed and helpless person but Tom does not limit his expressions to these, he goes on to look tired, even when there were no tripods and no running away from them. The difference between a tired and a scared person is obviously too subtly handled by the director and the actor.
Decent cinematography saves the movie from complete disaster although the rest of it is enough to make Independence Day appear a classic before this one. A shorter story or if that was not possible for staying true to the original storyline, a tighter screenplay would have certainly helped. So in effect, if you are expecting this movie to be as path breaking as some of Spielberg's earlier movies, you are in for a rude shock. However, if you take it as another of those whale-shark-tornado-anaconda movies, you might even enjoy your popcorn and the soft drink, of course!
Posted at 11:34 pm by Nitai