Why didn't anyone tell me that War of the Worlds was this bad? I'm sure I wouldn't have listened, but it would have given me lowered expectations. It's Spielberg, so I expected this grand spectacle and a decent level of quality (I expect even more from his drama). It's based on the 19th Century novel by H.G. Wells, so I wanted to see how that vision translated. The story is timeless enough that whether it is 1898, 1952, or 2005, the fear of an invading alien host with no warning can work in any era. It can certainly find resonance today, though not quite as exact as it did with the Imperialism of Britain when Wells first wrote the novel (that's right, science fiction as political criticism).
What is this movie? There are these massive alien tri-pods that come up from underground. They must have been there for thousands or millions of years, just waiting. These tri-pods start attacking, frying any human they come across, destroying cities and towns. There is no message of warning, no quarter given, just all out annihilation. The humans are all in fear, running and fleeing for their lives but anywhere they go they encounter more tri-pods. Tom Cruise plays a working class father of two who are given to him for the weekend. He barely knows his children but he needs to protect his kids. More running, more wanton destruction. I'm not sure what Spielberg's budget was, but I'm pretty sure he used it all with stuff being destroyed.
But the movie was just pretty much in general...awful. Tom Cruise is able to turn in a good performance and Dakota Fanning gets all these kid roles because she's one of the better child actresses out there, and the son plays sullen well, but I think there is only so good of a job you can do acting in front of nothing pretending to be scared of an alien attack. But other than watching the aliens make the humans go poof, it was just silly...and I like this sort of thing! The ending is faithful to the book, but it is just so anticlimactic that it doesn't work. It doesn't have the same resonance as that imperialistic empire thing from the 19th century. I don't know how you change it, stay faithful, and make a good ending, but...c'mon.
The other movie I watched this weekend was The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. Pretty good movie. Features a couple of parochial school boys who do some destructive stuff for fun and draw comic books. I forget the names of the actors there, except that one is the brother of Macauley Culkin. I'm not sure they are bad kids, per se, but their pranks are awfully destructive and brazen. For instance, the movie opens with the two boys doing a math experiment in triangulation. They figure how far back they need to stand if they are to cut down a telephone pole and have it fall and crush a beer bottle and not hit them. They triangulate, place the bottle, use a chain saw, and then run to be a couple feet past the bottle. The pole falls, misses the kids but hits the bottle. Brilliant, I'll grant you, but it's hard to say these are good kids. But I don't want to say they are bad because they are seldom truly malicious. Just...bored. One of the boys is interested in a girl at the school played by Jena Malone (I remember her from "Saved" where she is also at a highly religious school). The boys feel that the nun in charge (Jodie Foster) is their nemesis and she is the main bad guy in their comic book, and part of the movie is animated with their comic book work. It gets across the inner mood of one of the boys better than his acting.
Honestly, the story itself isn't so grand that I could describe it and you'd say "Wow! I have to see this", but it is well made, well acted, and interesting enough. I enjoyed the movie and when taken in comparison to the Spielberg here, this one comes off even better.