Monday, October 8, 2012

Night of Terror #7: War of the Worlds

"Horror movies are scary, but you know what's really scary? 9/11." That's what I imagined the filmmakers behind War of the Worlds saying after I saw it in 2005. I thought that Steven Spielberg and company let a bunch of too-obvious 9/11 imagery get in the way of a really cool monster/disaster movie. Now, seven years later, the 9/11 allusions seem a lot less obvious and a lot more fascinating, which just goes to show that all that stuff about waiting to see how a movie looks years later is true after all.

But enough about 9/11! Take off your 9/11, make your 9/11 comfortable. The important thing here is that Spielberg's War of the Worlds is probably the darkest thriller he's ever made (unless you count Munich I guess), with enough dead bodies to choke a river - he's not known for the really scary stuff but when he sets out to scare there are few filmmakers out there who can top him. And he's in top form here - with some downright virtuoso sequences - my favorite is an early scene made to look like one continuous shot as the camera tracks in, out, and around a speeding van as Tom Cruise and his children inside shout and argue about the oncoming alien invasion.

Since this is late-period Spielberg though, there's going to be some lumpy pacing to go along with those virtuosic set-pieces. The extended sequence with Tim Robbins, for instance, has some fantastic special effects and suspense but it's nearly derailed by Robbins himself, who contrary to the rest of the actors in the movie seems to be going for some kind of over-the-top characterization from a different movie. I normally like Tim Robbins but his work here is pretty miscalculated.

Then there's the ending, which I guess I won't spoil but it's dumb dumb dumb. And I'm not talking about the way the aliens die - you'll know what I mean when you see it (if you haven't already). But all in all, this is a gleefully dark and suspenseful horror movie, exactly the kind of stuff I love to watch in October. And, even though I imagine this to be a controversial opinion, I think it's distinctly better than Jurassic Park.

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