Saturday, January 27, 2007


RATING: **1/2
RUNTIME: 116 min.

If ever there has been an inaptly titled movie, this has got to be the one. First questions first, where was the WAR in the movie? WAR OF THE WORLDS is one of the biggest disappointments of this summer and will probably rank as one of the biggest disappointments ever. WAR OF THE WORLDS is a unique movie the likes of which I have seldom seen. For three quarters of the way it runs as one of the greatest disaster/apocalyptical movies of all time and almost supersedes Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS. And then comes the downhill part from where the movie takes a turn for the silly and what ensues is some thing I have still to come to terms with. The last half hour of the movie is so ridiculous that you just cannot have words describe the events that follow. I guess this has to be the only movie I’ve seen where I can exactly pinpoint the scene where the demarcation between the genius part of the movie and the most idiotic part of it lies.
WAR OF THE WORLDS is based on the sci-fi classic by H.G. Wells. This isn’t a comparison of the book that was written almost 110 years back and the movie. If anything, this movie is a good enough adaptation of the same.
The movie starts of with the voiceover of Morgan Freeman (sounding weirdly similar to Charlton Heston for ARMAGEDDON) telling us about the impending disaster, no disaster would be the wrong word; about the apocalypse waiting for us. And the apocalypse would be brought down upon us by an alien race that has supposedly been studying us for a million years. Speaking of apocalypse, I guess APOCALYPSE NOW would have been a very apt title for the movie.
Anyways, these aliens are not in any way as benevolent as Spielberg showed us in his 1982 classic E.T.: EXTRA TERRESTRIAL. Rather these aliens are every bit a malevolent kind who intend to wipe the human race of the face of the earth.
Steven Spielberg is one of our greatest directors and arguably the greatest storyteller of our times. This concept of a war between humans and aliens as been used a number of times. In fact, when Orson Welles did H.G. Wells WAR OF THE WORLDS on the radio in 1938, many people fled from their homes and started running in the streets thinking that aliens had really attacked the plant. The novel itself has been made into a movie in 1952, which was quite successful in its time. More recently we had Roland Emmerich’s high on bombast and low on intelligence blockbuster INDEPENDENCE DAY that really revived the disaster genre in 1995. And then we have had the horror thriller SIGNS from Manoj Shyamalan which I consider to be the absolute best of the lot. So now we have the director who is the unofficial emperor of big budgeted movies. Spielberg is the absolute master of movies where the canvass is huge. And I daresay that he was in a way both the right and the wrong director for WAR OF THE WORLDS.
The way WAR OF THE WORLDS starts is absolutely top notch. The ridiculous bombastic dialogues of all the disaster flicks you’ve seen right from INDEPENDENCE DAY to the even more stupid ARMAGEDDON have no place here. This all is as real as they get. Spielberg so masterfully makes the alien attack so much believable, believable in a world plagued with the threat of terrorism. In fact there’re a couple of lines spoken about the same and it sounds so genuine, never forced, as it so easily can be. The alien attack sequences are not something eye candy but a real horror show. WAR OF THE WORLDS is probably the only movie I’ve seen that has got the feel of a real disaster situation absolutely spot on. There are no stupid sequences of the President of the United States giving a big speech or people foreign to the United States kneeling before tourist attractions of the respective countries as places of worship. This is an intelligent movie, at least for the first three quarters of the way. Credit has to be given to Janusz Kaminski who’s just brilliant, yet again, with his photography. WAR OF THE WORLDS gets the whole feel absolutely perfect. It is amazing when a sequence in the hands of a master has absolutely a different effect altogether. When something similar happened in INDEPENDENCE DAY with White House it is something that is sheer eye candy, a sight that we can sit back and enjoy. But not here. The destruction of the bridge, which by the way is absolutely jaw dropping, is anything but eye candy. WAR OF THE WORLDS is not at all a feel good experience and that is when it is at its absolute best. Till the part where Robbie parts with Roy and goes towards the war, the movie was going along as the greatest disaster movie ever and a much better apocalyptic vision than Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.
But alas, that is when everything changes. In fact the setting of the whole change in the movie is so aptly set. The sequence of the Demarcation, as I would like to call that sequence were Robbie and Roy get separated, so appropriately happens on the slope of what seems like a small hill. And it was as if there was two ways from there, uphill towards the war, an approach I would talk about later, and downhill where the movie goes. Downhill it goes, but I was absolutely shocked, no shell shocked the way everything took a turn for the ridiculous worst. I must tell you, I’ve still to come to terms with the way things changed so dramatically. The performances suddenly went over the top, an until now supremely intelligent movie went amazingly dumb, and a great actor was performing a supporting role which I wish he should never have done. Just think of it, what was that stupid Anaconda Intelligence doing in there? Why was Tim Robbins explaining us that it was extermination? Wasn’t it obvious? And when we see the alien searching for a single human being, WAR OF THE WORLDS passes all realms of stupidity. The blood as a fuel, the aliens being shown in the same stupid clichéd manner and the terrible ending just spoil everything the movie was until then, absolutely everything. I daresay if there’s anybody out there who understands his sci-fi movies who wasn’t livid at Mr. Spielberg for dishing the trash out in the last hour. And then it somehow ends suddenly with the now irritating voice over of Morgan Freeman again explaining that the aliens overlooked the microbes in our blood. Now, how stupid is that? I almost felt like taking my boots off and throwing it one the screen. The last half hour and the ending were offending to say the least. I just cannot stress enough on the way the movie changes from the sequence of the Demarcation. It is as if Spielberg and David Koepp were taken out of their chairs and replaced by Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich.
Three days have passed on since I’ve seen WAR OF THE WORLDS and most part of them have been spent in analyzing that very part of it. No prizes for guessing that THE WAR OF THE WORLDS has to be arguably the biggest disappointment of my entire life at the movies. I expected absolutely huge from two movies this year, Christopher Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS and WAR OF THE WORLDS. The former has been every bit worthy the wait for the past year and half since it was declared. But the latter has left me speechless and terribly upset.
I guess the movie’s undoing from the sequence of Demarcation has a lot to do with the inherent pink eyed view of Steven Spielberg. He’s a great director but he always tends to sentimentalize stuff. Neither Steven Spielberg nor screenwriters David Koepp and Josh Friedman are brave enough to take the movie into unchartered territories of the disaster genre. For this, I would like to salute Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick who were brave enough and had full confidence in their audiences when they put an absolutely uncompromising product in THE BIRDS and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY respectively. Steven Spielberg and his screen writers just chicken out and go for a silly feel good ending that just doesn’t do justice to the movie. The happily ever lived after just doesn’t stick together with the rest of the movie. That is what I meant when I said that Steven Spielberg is at once the right and the wrong director for the movie. It is so disappointing to see a director who wields so much clout chickening out for a timid ending when he has been incredibly brave and innovative with similar subjects in E.T.: EXTRA TERRESTRIAL and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. A great part of the blame must rest on the screenwriters as well who have come up with a product that could be best termed average.
I wished Spielberg had gone uphill from the sequence of Demarcation. He should have shown an all out war and a near annihilation of the human race. And end it there with that vision of his. There was no point in showing the aliens to be absolutely invincible for three quarters of the way and suddenly take a U-turn with a bunch of ridiculous ideas. At the end, all we have is a recycled product in the huge crowd of big budgeted productions that are barely in memory by the end of the year. Only, in this case, it could have been one of the greatest pieces of film making ever.
The performances are fine. Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning are good but once the movie goes awry, they too get incredibly loud. And Ms. Fanning seemed to get on my nerves towards the end. As for Tim Robbins, I would like to forget his part here in a jiffy.
The special effects are awesome but when the movie turns bad they don’t appeal to you either. WAR OF THE WORLDS has been made at a budget of $132 million but the movie is simply spectacular.
WAR OF THE WORLDS was never about the war itself. It was about the survival under the surprise attack of a malevolent extra terrestrial species. Somehow nobody involved behind the camera seemed to have grasped that and all that the final product can manage being is a big mumbo-jumbo. I doubt that WAR OF THE WORLDS would be a big box office blockbuster going by the initial reactions of the movie. If anything, I am pretty sure that WAR OF THE WORLDS will not make Spielberg any new fans.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


RUN TIME: 142 min.

And now we have the final entry in director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “death trilogy”. And what a crowning achievement to end it with. As was the case with AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS, this film is a monumental achievement.
AMORES PERROS was based in Mexico and 21 GRAMS was based in US. But BABEL is a movie for the world. A remarkable movie that tries to communicate to the audiences’ of the world and does a spectacular job at that, considering the movie is all about communication.
Babel, as is mentioned in the Holy Bible, is the city where a tower was built to reach heaven. But God spoiled the effort of everyone involved by bringing in a certain complexity never before known to man before that-the barrier of language. And each of the people involved couldn’t understand the other because of the incomprehensible languages.
BABEL, as told by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, tells us that it is not the languages that have brought theses barriers between men. It is a very simple thing-the refusal to listen and to understand others. IF you want to be understood, listen. Language isn’t a great barrier to be broken; all we need is to understand ourselves.
As was the case with Inarritu’s previous movies, BABEL deals with a multitude of stories and how the events on one end have a bearing on the other.
First, there’s the story of the Moroccan family. The father purchases a new Winchester rifle and asks his two sons to practice them.
Second there’s the story of the American couple who have left their two children behind in San Diego and are in Morocco to repair their relationship.
Third is the story of the governess of the couple who’s a Mexican but settled in the US for 16 years and is very close with the kids.
Fourth is the story of a mute Japanese teenager and her wealthy Japanese businessman father.
How the stories interconnect is what makes up for the movie.
Some might just say that BABEL is making some political statements but it isn’t the case. BABEL is just what it is, a gem of a movie on human relations in this mess of a world. It is a masterwork on how people interact and how a decision here can change somebody’s life 100,000 miles away, something akin to the Butterfly Effect [(physics) In a chaotic system, the ability of miniscule changes in initial conditions (such as the flap of a butterfly's wings) to have far-reaching, large-scale effects on the development of the system (such as the course of weather a continent away) (Courtesy:].
The direction is classic Inarritu. This is just his third full length feature and he already has shown enough talent to rank among the best in the business today. As everyone is saying, he has enough talent to change conventional movie making just as Martin Scorsese did in the 1970s. The best thing about his movies is that they are so heartfelt. Plus they are so powerful. He has made three movies and all three have changed the way dramas are made. Other dramas pale in comparison to the complexity and the profoundness of human relations weaved by Inarritu. In fact, last year’s Academy Award winner looks like a film made by a first timer against the monumental achievement that is BABEL.
The characterization is what makes this one of the best movies of 2006, if it was not that already. Much of it of course owes to the fantastic talent of Inarritu and his handling of the characters. There are few directors there who can match Inarritu in handling a character. Different viewers might find different characters touching. But the fact of the matter is that each of them is so painfully sketched that none of them might leave you for quite a few days.
I have not seen a director who is as skilled as Inarritu at extracting performances since Martin Scorsese. And BABEL is no different. Few directors can call themselves an actor’s director, but Inarritu is just that. Every actor must feel really special working with him. Be it Cate Blanchett as Susan or Brad Pitt as Richard or Rinko Kikuchi as Chieko or Adriana Barazza as Amelia, each one of them gives masterful performances. If not for anything, this movie is a must see solely for the performances. I was awestruck at the two actors who played the kids, Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchani, both of who are non-professional actors. I can’t help but single out Adriana Barazza and Rinko Kikuchi who are sure to compete against each other in the Best Supporting Actress category at every award ceremony there will be.
And the background score might take a while to get off my mind. And it sure got to do with Inarritu’s being a DJ. The music by Gustavo Santaolalla (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, 21 GRAMS, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES, AMORES PERROS) will just break your heart at the end of the movie.
BABEL is what can be termed as a true cinematic achievement. Every aspect of it just deserves one word – masterful. But much more than that it is a movie that truly touches your heart with its in your face real situations and such vivid characters. It is as much about global human relations as it is about parents and childrens and families. Especially, Chieko’s story that has little to do with the plot but is completely character driven. One could say that the movie gets a bit self involved at various points and I could point at least a couple of sequences that could have been edited out. But once you invest yourself into each of the characters, it all is worth it.
As I was exiting the theatre after watching the movie I just happened to overhear a conversation where a lady said –“It is a sad movie. Why do people say that all sad movies are nice?”
I agree with her on the question part but beg to differ on the first declaration she made. BABEL is not a sad movie. BABEL is too magnificent and too complicated to assign it one emotion. BABEL is the unison of all human emotions and much more. It is how we communicate. One of the front runners at the Academy awards for me.