Thursday, 11 June 2009

H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds (2005)

It was an ambitious project. Butting up against the Hollywood powerhouse of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, Pendragon Pictures released their own direct-to-DVD version of H.G. Wells immortal classic. Unlike any other cinematic adaptation ever, this version by director Timothy Hines was set in the original era of the novel, intending to be a dazzling piece of costume Sci-Fi that was as faithful to the source material as possible.

Unfortunately, let us say that it was too ambitious. It would be enough simply to be the underdog, the independent company working on a shoestring budget and forced into doing the CGI equivalent of Ed Wood's flying pie pans. That would certainly be enough to explain atrocities like the scene below, which defy description. Such things are a study in how many layers of bad effects one can put into a single scene, in almost a perverse contrast with Karel Zeman's genius.

Poor effects resulting from no financing can be an easy excuse, however. Would the film have been any better had it the kind of money behind it that Spielberg and Cruise's bastardized variation did? Beneath the flat CGI backgrounds, poor matting, horribly integrated tripods and obvious day-for-night shots, does one catch the hint of a good film stunted by circumstance or simply a bad movie?

The latter seems the more honest answer. As much as one would like to compliment a faithful adaptation of the novel, the sad fact is that it was shot like it was a novel rather than a film. The cinematography is, at best, the quality of soap opera television, and even that is stretching things. In a film where the budget allows for a cast of a dozen, wide-angle objective shots are not the filmmaker's friend. Nor are stiff-faced, nepotistically-cast first-time actors. In a case such as this, inventiveness with the camera is not a luxury, but a necessity. Instead, all possible drama is sucked clean out of the picture and into the vacuum of space.

What we have in H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, then, may best be looked upon as an extended fan film. From the hapless direction and acting to the horrible special effects, it bears all the hallmarks of something that ought to have gone no further than YouTube. Like a dozen Star Trek fan films that supremely value adherence to continuity in their adventures of Captain Mary Sue, the emphasis on faithfulness to the needless exclusion of every other virtue puts the mark upon it.

As a Wells' fan film, it is deeply and sincerely overambitious. Would that it were nothing more than a cynical DVD rushed to market, a King of the Lost World, meant to ride the wave of a Hollywood film. It always feels a bit mean to say that a fan's sincere best effort is actually just not very good.

1 comment:

Der Geis said...

I'm a War of the Worlds geek and had to purchase this film even though the leading I had been reading on the discussion groups filled me with dread.

This was absolutely the most inept piece of filmmaking I'd ever seen. "Catman", "Manos the Hands of Fate", "Plan 9 From Outer Space", "Battlefield Earth", heck, even the sci-fi channel's "Mansquito" were better than this piece of filth. The acting was bad. The effects were unfinished. The direction was amateur. The editing is almost non-existant. The cinematography was cut rate. I can find nothing good to say about this film. Heck, even the CD case had an odd smell to it when it arrived in the mail.

If we could harness the energy of H.G.Wells spinning in his grave we could make a better film than this. With a few thousand dollars, a big box of Lego and a digital camera *I* could make a better film than this. If I had pirated this film off the Internet I would feel I wasted my bandwidth and disk space.