The thing that REALLY pissed me off at the weekend was wasting Â£7.50 on going to see War Of The Worlds on Friday, which has to be the worst film I've encountered in living memory
What higher recommendation could you have - Marcia and I headed straight off to the cinema!
But seriously folks, we'd planned to see the film before reading Ian's comments, but his words along with the negative response from a good percentage of the broadsheet critics meant my expectations weren't that high.
I have always had a soft spot for intelligent Sci Fi (no Star Wars for me thank you) so I nevertheless have my fingers optimistically crossed but don't hold out much hope - though sometimes this is the best way to approach a movie (certainly better than if it has been hyped to the sky).
And it turns out 'War of the Worlds' is really a pretty good film. Yes it has plot holes the size of potholes, and moments of cloying sentimentality (particularly the tagged-on ending) but I'd even go as far as to say it's one of Spielberg's best, if not his best, since Jaws.
It stays faithful to the book, it pays respectful tribute to the 1950's version in its design and atmosphere, and it's as dark, pessimistic and anti-American as you could possibly hope for.
Spielberg is a far wiser and shrewder film maker than he is ever given credit for. Most of the critics have missed the fact that the America depicted here is a complaisant, ignorant and fearful America, unwilling to make the necessary changes to it's attitude to the outside world, and also disturbingly ignorant of that outside world. This is a brave statement to make for someone in his centre-of-American-culture position. But Spielberg is smart - he doesn't lay these messages on thick, instead he has the film's non-hero (rather than anti-hero) - hopeless absent father (played by Cruise) turn his nose up at the idea of eating humous, and his son mention 'Europe' as if it's another planet.
Spielberg has always done dysfunctional families well - the best scenes in ET are the ones around the breakfast table, where normality is established in order to make the appearance of the extraterrestrial all the more effective. But in WOTW the family is in meltdown, there is bitterness and resentment between separated husband and wife, between teenage son and father, and an innocent but plucky young daughter caught in the middle of it all.
We learn all this in the opening five minutes in a scene which could function as a master-class in screen writing and directing - there is now direct exposition, just banal dialogue, facial expressions and body language telling you all you need to know. The next half hour is orchestrated with the same deft control that Hitchcock exhibited when he worked us all up into a state of anxiety in 'The Birds.'
I think it is still yet to be fully appreciated what a visionary Spielberg can be. The casual viewer of this film might simply see just another Sci Fi meets disaster movie, but there is a lot more going on here. The scenes of destruction are of the Babylonian grandeur of a John Martin painting. The alien machines have an awe-inspiring bulk, and a credible way of moving that can only mean months were spent on their CGI design, under the director's exacting standards.
The early scenes of destruction have a post 9/11 resonance and horror which I'm sure is no accident - later we see a dust covered Cruise frantically rubbing the dust from his hair and clothes - he and we know that part of this dust is all that is left of frazzled human beings. Later he and his family walk past a wall covered in photos of missing people.
But none of this seems gratuitous or insensitive as it might in a lesser directors hands. In fact what he's done is shown the American populous what the American military have done - with their futuristic hardware - to a helpless and baffled Arab world. This is a morality tale. Just as the original film version reflected commie paranoia, Spielberg's version reflects the current insular, head-in-the-sand America, with chilling exactitude.
The set pieces are astonishing, genuinely frightening, and devoid of the usual disaster movie clichÃ©s. For example when the Cruise character and his son and daughter find a miraculously functioning car, there is no gung-ho ride to freedom, no crashing through the balsa-wood barriers into a safer place. They've only hit five miles an hour when the car is besieged by fear-crazed people wanting to take it from them. Cruise is pulled from the car, and after a clumsy scuffle (rather than a Hollywood fist fight) Cruise just lets the other guy have the car! He won't get far anyway. And this man is no hero - yet.
On a later occasion when he and his daughter are holed-up with a jittery gun-toting Tim Robbins (yer average American citizen), it's not the aliens that get Tim, it's Cruise - realising that if he doesn't silence this nutter, his daughter's life is in jeopardy. This is a war-zone where morality has to be refashioned fast, and previously unimaginable acts have to be perpetrated. Once again Spielberg surprises by having the killing take place behind a closed door after Cruise has blindfolded his daughter and told her to sing to herself (to block out the screams) until he returns. The film is full of such moments where expectations are turned on their head.
But the one image, of many searing images, which stays in my head, is when Cruise and his daughter finally escaped the horrors of the city. She has crossed a sun-kissed field to look out across an idilic stream. This moment when both audience and survivors get a chance to catch their breath, is short lived. A dead body suddenly floats into view, followed by another, and another. The daughter simply can't believe what she is seeing. Eventually her father catches up with her and covers her eyes, drawing her away from the scene. So yes - no ordinary Sci Fi movie...