and there are many.
let me begin by saying how excited i was for this film. the trailers were fantastic, promising something shattering, insightful, never before seen, i was immune to the tom cruise backlash, having loved 'minority report.' i couldn't wait.
i came away from the film feeling slightly peeved, but overall entertained. but the more i think about it, the angrier i become. i feel it's among speilberg's biggest let downs since 'ai' and 'the lost world.' do you even remember that movie?
where to begin?
i spent so much of this film annoyed that none of my questions were being addressed - i don't expect that my questions be answered
, but i need to know that the characters are asking the same questions i am, for instance, as ebert wonders: why are the aliens now harvesting the humans that they were previously vaporizing? if the tripods were buried millions of years ago, how have they been undetected? how could the aliens predict the evolution of humans and have the foresight to design their buried craft to so perfectly kill and harvest them? and if they had that foresight, why would they be so stupid to drink our water and breathe our air? it's as stupid as humans spending millions of dollars to go to the moon, and then opening the hatch with no spacesuit on.
i'm not pointing these out as plotholes - a plot can be as perposterous as you want, and still work - but i truly feel that logistical questions must be put to rest before we can be asked to engage emotionally with the characters. if we're just going to have inexplicable events thrown at the charaters - then keep us in the dark, explain nothing. use 'the birds' as an example. fill the film with intelligent characters theorizing about what the hell is going on, all of them plausible, conflicting, but none of them confirmed.
the central conflict of the film is not man vs. aliens, it's man vs. himself - which is fine, but then all i ask is that you give the opposing sides viable arguments. the son wants to fight. but the son is young and irrational. his desire to run towards the aliens is driven only by the plot's need to have him go that direction. tim robbins wants to fight. but tim robbins is not only overacting to unintentionally comic levels, the character is insane. imagine how much stronger the film would be if cruise was not up against irrational or insane people, but people with good, persuasive, logical arguments!michael lucas
says it should have been called 'tom's choice' and describes the laughter in the theatre at what should have been a harrowing moment. instead of caring, i spent the entire scene wondering what the hell was wrong with the son - why would he be so driven to run towards a giant machine that could kill him effortlessly in a fraction of a second? all i ask is that the characters be smart. it's fine that he wants to fight, but please, at least give him a strategy.
the climactic argument with the son consists entirely of:
'let me go!'
'let me go!'
the son runs over the hill which promptly burts into a screen-filling explosion.
emotional connection to the son's death: none.
prepare to have the movie ruined/saved for you:
the son turns up at the end, completely unharmed, somehow beating cruise and fanning to boston. the groans are audible.
emotional connection to the son's return: none.
note to speilberg: you must earn an emotional attachment to a character. you can't simply show people crying about something and expect us to empathize.
half of the film takes place in basements, in which, as ebert
points out, we get not one, but two scenes constructed identically (but less effectively) to the exquisite raptors-stalking-children scene in jurassic park. stephen, it's ok to crib the scene once, but twice?
cruise and fanning do their jobs. they may be the true aliens in the film, but their acting is fine. fanning deserved more to do than utter her one line: AAAAAHHHH! i predict she will inherit the chloe sevigny crown in a few years and play excellent rape victims and drug addicts.
as i watched, i had no choice but to come up with disturbing answers to my questions.
why do the aliens vaporize people?
so that speilberg can evoke 9/11 imagery of survivors covered in ash, a sure way to make us cry. so that he can ask us to equate his hurriedly produced
1950's b-movie with the greatest tragedy to hit this country. in fact, all of the 9/11 imagery in this film - especially the ashes and the 'walls of photos of missing people' setpieces really rubbed me the wrong way. not being attached to the characters, i imagined production meetings where steve asked his designers to copy 9/11. i imagined his secret glee on that horrible day, that at some point he would be able to use these images to sell tickets.
why do the aliens later decide to harvest people?
so that when our heroes are captured, they are conveniently not killed.
note to david koepp: establish that people are being harvested before having it happen to the main characters. without establishing anything, the story is built on convenience, and each turn feels cheaper than the last.
it's clear that speilberg was using hitchcock's 'the birds' as one of his models for this film - i even recognized several sound cues lifted directly from 'the birds' as an homage.. why not take a lesson from that film's brilliant ending and leave the conclusion a bit open ended? i despise stephen's urge to erase all intrigue, to lose all faith in the intelligence of the audience, to put the little girl in the red coat, to make david a real boy, to sugar coat every last morsel.
and the other question is 'why do i care so much? why have i written a book about the problems with this film?' and it really is because it brushes up to greatness, and then lets us down so dramatically. it begs to be an important film, and for that i resent it. it asks us to care as much about it as we cared about 9/11 - which, actually, is OK - as long as you give the film the same care, respect and treatment that you would give a film about 9/11
. and that is so obviously not the case here.
dave and steve, take a lesson from christopher nolan, who knows how to write and direct a tight, intelligent story derived from cheesy roots. he gave batman more respect than anyone could ever have guessed possible. full review coming soon.lol