|H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds (2005)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 28 June 2005|
With this, Audio Revolution reviews all three of movies based on H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel The War of the Worlds released in 2005. The big-scale Spielberg/Cruise War of the Worlds was a substantial hit theatrically (and is still playing here and there). The version entitled “H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds,” a three-hour effort set in 1890s England (but shot in Seattle) went to DVD earlier, and is available mostly at Wal-Mart. The 1953 version will be reissued on DVD in November. This low-budget, earnest outing has a slightly different title: “H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds” and a contemporary setting, but it, too, is based reasonably closely on the great old novel.
Here, C. Thomas Howell plays George Herbert—Wells was Herbert George Wells—an astronomer living 50 miles or so from Washington, D.C. When a meteor crashes nearby he reluctantly bids goodbye to his sexy wife (Tinarie Van Wyk-Loos)—seen topless in the first couple of minutes—and young son Alex (Dashiell Howell, C. Thomas’ real son) as they head for D.C. He’ll show up later, he assures them, but he has to check out this meteor.
Of course, it’s no meteor at all. No sooner has he joined the small crowd of curiosity-seekers at the landing site than the meteor stands up. It has become a huge, beetle-like, six-legged (as opposed to the novel’s three) walking machine equipped with a heat ray. Later, we see that the machines—many more soon arrive—can emit a fast-spreading instantly fatal green gas. (In the novel, it was black.)
Herbert rushes home, finds a neighbor arming himself, but is routed by a war machine. Now on foot, he struggles to reach D.C. and his family. Along the way, he meets soldier Williams (Andrew Lauer), a resourceful companion, but the duty-bound Williams leaves him to join soldiers led by cold-eyed tyrant Maj. Samuelson (Jake Busey). Still fleeing the invading aliens (we never know where they’re from) Herbert meets Pastor Victor (Rhett Giles), improbably an Australian. They see smashed cars and buildings, plus the skeletal remains of people, all that’s left after the alien heat ray. Pastor Victor is sure all this is part of God’s plan.
When they hide in a veterinarian’s office, the building is brought down by another “meteor.” Herbert hallucinates his wife’s disembodied head talking to him. A groping alien arm probes the ruins and Herbert injects it with a bacteria culture he found in the vet’s refrigerator. Some kind of slimy weapon melts the Pastor, so Herbert doggedly sets out hiking again, still intent on reaching Washington.
If you know the novel, you’ll recognize the major elements of Wells’ story. The low budget of this film eliminates the scenes of the protagonist’s brother in London; there are no vast landscapes of ruined buildings, no ships blown up by the war machines. (There IS a brother, though.) The movie has chapters, like the novel, and occasionally the chapter titles evoke those of the novel; Wells’ “How I fell in with the curate” here becomes “How I fell in with the pastor.”
Many moviegoers today are unaware that there’s a busy “alternate Hollywood” churning out movies for DVD release. These often don’t turn up in the major video stores, not even for rental, but can be located with online searches. The Asylum is a Hollywood-based company turning out a couple of these films every year; they’re usually exploitation, often science fiction or horror, and they’re competent enough in their low-budget way. David Michael Latt, the director of this film, is one of their busiest partners.
“H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds” is plodding and ordinary; there’s little sense of the epic scale of the novel (and Spielberg’ movie), and a great deal of talk. Howell—who as a boy was in Spielberg’s “E.T.”—is a competent actor and doesn’t embarrass himself here; he turns in solid, professional work, but doesn’t capture the screen. Rhett Giles as the pastor and Andrew Lauer as the soldier are also okay, but Jake Busey hams it up as the deranged major.
Latt’s direction is clumsy and lifeless, getting the job done but not going beyond that. Some scenes are badly paced; when Herbert and the pastor encounter a woman who had been in his congregation, at first the scene is interesting and involving, but overstays its welcome.
The script by Latt and Carlos De Los Rios is a satisfactory condensation of the novel, playing very fair with Wells. However, unlike any of the other versions, including the famous Orson Welles radio production, here the hero personally defeats the aliens by injecting one with bacteria. We are required to accept that this disease then spreads through all the other aliens at an improbable speed, but this idea both plays fair with Wells and allows Howell to be a hero.
The effects are okay, but there aren’t enough of them, and the beetle-like design of the machines is ugly and uninteresting. We barely get a glimpse of the aliens inside the machines; furthermore, they seem to look different from time to time. At one point they seem to have tentacles, but the one Herbert sees near the end looks awkwardly like a table.
As is often the case with these straight-to-video movies, there are DVD extras aplenty. There are two commentary tracks, one with Latt and a couple of the actors, and one with the producer, the cinematographer and an effects technician. A few deleted scenes show all too clearly why they were deleted, and a couple of outtakes are the usual actor-blowing-a-line stuff.
The photography is often muddy, although the (few) interiors are crisp and detailed. The effects are variable; the war machines work reasonably well, but the green gas is phony and unconvincing. But the basic problem here is that there simply aren’t enough effects. The sound is muffled throughout; occasionally, it seems that temp tracks were left in the film—at least I don’t think they really wanted the impact of an alien ship to sound like a few thin metal rods falling over. The music by Ralph Rieckermann is mostly pretty bad, sounding like a few droning notes plucked on a bass.
“H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds” is a cheesy, opportunistic little movie designed to cash in on the big Spielberg movie, but it has a few virtues, and is superior to “H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds.” Not bad for a straight-to-video shelf-filler.