September 22, 2005

What Do You Go To Movies For?

Movie image
War Of The Worlds
5 out of 5 stars

Okay, this might be a tad unfair coz it's not entirely a review. I'll start with one anyway.

It's a 10/10.

Review ends. Rambling begins.

Many people didn't like this movie. That vexes me a lot – when people don't like movies that I like, it really vexes me. That's insane, you say … and actually, I agree. Why should I worry about whether or not someone else likes a movie I like?

I don't really know how to answer that yet. I can say that one big reason why that is so is that many times people miss the point. As I have mentioned in a previous post – most, if not all film critics fall into this category.

Thing is, it takes a huge effort to make a film – it also takes a huge effort for the audience to understand that. I think it was Billy Wilder who said, "Audiences don't know somebody sits down and writes a picture. They think the actors make it up as they go along." The set is already there. The music – how difficult is it anyway? Special effects? Easy peasy – takes probably a couple of weeks.

Partly what that huge effort in making a film leads to is a LOT of time to think about how to structure the plot and pacing so that the audience pays full attention, how to manipulate the audience into a certain emotion here, how to make the audience understand this point there without making it too obvious and thereby insulting their intelligence. Plus, all 300 people involved in making the film need to agree on exactly what needs to be done, and be able and willing to do that.

So, what of that? In War Of The Worlds there were many criticisms about plotholes – the working camcorder, the only working car, the Ferriers are the only one who descend upon Ogilvy's house, and so on. Too lucky. And Robbie surviving and actually getting to Boston before Ray and Rachel. Spielberg's a pussy, they say. Wouldn't let a kid die. Forced happy ending. Completely nonsensical – how could he survive the wall of fire?

What people don't realise is that we are looking at the story of a family who survived. Three months down the road at the endpoint of the movie – let's say news networks and all have been brought back to basic working order. People are beginning to watch TV. And let's say that Oprah survived, and is determined to go on with her show. The Ferrier family would be THE family to be interviewed. They were the lucky few who survived intact. Completely intact. Many close calls – but they were fortunate. It's miraculous – but these things happen. Did they have a hard time? Did Ray have to see the consequences of him carrying the gun, and kill Ogilvy to protect Rachel and himself?

As for the very much abrupt ending – what would you have Spielberg do? Put yourself in the director's shoes. The movie has ended when the family reunites. What more are you going to tell, to show? Do you want to show a three months later sequence? That would be boring the hell out of an audience who wants to go back. Besides, it doesn't seem consistent to the decision to tell the story chronologically and in a in-the-moment manner. Also, peculiarly to Spielberg, he has been criticised many times for throwing in the 'fourth act'. (A.I., The Terminal, The Lost World, etc.)

The ending also reveals another aspect of the movie that makes it different from all other alien invasion movies that has come before. There are no longer scientists there to explain everything as if they immediately knew what's going on. No longer presidents and generals to make decisions to strike at the aliens. No longer heroes who are ordinary people called on to take on extraordinary missions to save the world. Those are still enjoyable films, really – Independence Day, to me, is still one of the best films of the 90's. Many of you would disagree. Anyways.

In War Of The Worlds, we follow the events that happened from one single family's POV. They do not understand what is happening. They probably guessed immediately that it's an alien invasion – if nothing else, coz Americans are paranoid and alien invasion's the first thing that comes to mind. (And terrorists of course, which is what the little girl thought of first.) They don't see everything that goes on. Maybe there was a city that was being destroyed by 10 tripods simultaneously – what an awesome sight that would have been seen from above! But nope, they don't see that. One tripod is terrifying enough – the human ashes and all.

More importantly – they don't know at the end that the tripods die due to disease. Why do the shields break down? Not sure. Is the tripod partially organic? We never know. Perhaps, three months down the road, when the world is back in order, scientists will announce their results on TV - tripods shut down due to virus. Findings reported in the newspapers. Suddenly everything makes sense. At the end of the movie, when the movie should end, the Ferrier family don't know that. Hence, the Morgan Freeman voice-over in the end to provide closure.

And why do the tripods die? That doesn't make sense. These beings are supposed to be buried millions of years- wait, who told you that? Ogilvy? Why do you assume what he says to be the truth in the film? Still, the point is, these beings are powerful and knowledgeable. They built these machines, man! How could they die from something so insignificant as viruses and bacteria?

Remember when the probe went down into the basement to look for Ogilvy and Ray and Rachel? It noticed a rat, observes – then ignores it. It's primary preoccupation is to exterminate humans. Even if they did detect microorganisms, it is not likely to have garnered much of their attention. If that doesn't make sense, try this - what did we look for when we sent probes to Mars? Did we miss the point? From our point of view, no - coz water is everthing to us. But in Mars, our points of view don't count.

And then there's the explanation about immunity. Aliens have none – they haven't been living here. Wouldn't take more than influenza to knock them dead. (This explanation would lead to the possible afterstory that some of the tripods do survive the germs and the human race is eventually exterminated anyway, though to a far greater cost to the aliens than expected.)

I could keep giving reasons to support the 'plotholes' to the film – and you'd say, but you're only defending the film coz you like it. Now we get to the crux of the matter.

Why did you go and watch a film for, if you're not there to try your best to enjoy it? Some movies appeal naturally to us – we just sit there and we completely enjoy it. If not, well, the director can't please everyone – and since you paid for your ticket, look for what the cast and crew were attempting to do. Look for things they put up on the screen for you, the audience's sake. If there is nothing at all – fair enough, you don't like the film. That's fair game.

Watching a film is about immersing oneself in the story. Are you inside the screen or outside? Ideally the kind of attitude that audiences should bring to the cinema is one of trying to understand what the director is trying to portray – not what you think about this and that. There's always time for debates after the film. Again, if you really can't do that – it's not your sort of film.

Watching War Of The Worlds was one of the most intense experiences I've had. I went home carrying that sense of having been through the most frightening and sickening of experiences. I really liked what Spielberg did. I was utterly surprised that many, probably more than half of the people who went in walked out completely unhappy, screaming that cheesy lament 'I want my two hours back'.

Perhaps I'll understand why that is so some day.

Next stop for Spielberg – Munich.

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