Thursday, June 30, 2005

The World According to Tom and Steven

With the tirade of Susan Roces still ringing in my ears, I decided to escape the stupidity that is called “Philippine politics” and watched War of the Worlds in Megamall.

I will admit that I have been a long-time fan of Steven Spielberg. I literally was afraid to go into the water after watching Jaws. His Close Encounters of the Third Kind made me want to be a director. E.T. The Extra-terrestrial was for the longest time my all-time favorite movie, until I realized there was more to movies than just summer Hollywood fare (I was in high school when that movie came out; by college I was exposed to classic and foreign films). With the Jurassic Park movies, he cemented his blockbuster-director status. Schindler’s List was a shocking change for Spielberg. Sure, he had his attempts at “serious” films with The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun, but with the Holocaust movie he achieved a level of artistry and control over his cinematic excesses. He soon followed it up with Saving Private Ryan, another fine example of his skill at storytelling and his masterly command of the cinematic language.

His weakness has always been his tendency to be excessive, especially with children and with maudlin scenes. With War of the Worlds, I’m now convinced of another Spielberg weakness: he sets things up so well that the eventual denouement pales in comparison. A Spielberg movie often ends with a big let-down.

(*WARNING: Spoiler alert! The following paragraph reveals a major plot point. Proceed at your own risk. Or just jump to the next paragraph.) Yes, War of the Worlds’s ending feels like a big wet blanket. Sure, it may sound cleverly ironic on paper. But coming at the end of such an exciting roller-coaster ride, with scene after scene of awe-inspiring set-pieces mounted on a grand scale (the lightning storm! the alien ship appears! Tom’s family escapes! the ferry capsizes! the army goes to war! Tom destroys an alien ship single-handedly!), the final solution is so (literally) small it makes the ending anti-climactic, like a small, insignificant fart at the end of a gastronomic meal. Plus it opens up a major plot hole—if the aliens spent millions of years hatching up this elaborate extermination plan, why didn’t they have the foresight to wear their space suits when they fumigate?

(End of spoiler. You can continue reading in blissful ignorance.) Still, Spielberg is a genius at setting up the huge set-pieces. There’s grandeur to his images, and he does them seemingly so effortlessly, it’s almost infuriating. (Although there’s a scene where Ray Ferrier [Tom Cruise] and family are zooming down the highway; the camera kept weaving in and out and around the car so much, you could either view it as an example of virtuoso camerawork or just excessive showing-off.)

What’s more, Spielberg manages to shift effortlessly from huge scenes to small, intimate moments. After the Ferrier family loses their car to a mob, the intimacy of the following diner scene further emphasizes the personal and harrowing loss that Ray’s family just endured. And after all those huge scenes of destruction, the claustrophobic sequences with Tim Robbins in the basement are an appropriate small-scale echo of the massive break-down between people in the previous scenes.

Tom does his usual Tom Cruise-gives-his-all effort to his role. His Ray Ferrier is a less-than-perfect father who manages to discover his inner Papa when his children’s lives are placed in danger. This is the first time I’ve seen Tom play a character that’s weak and flawed. In the past Tom often played scrappy characters that triumph above all odds. His enemies are usually from outside, and they bring out the strength within him to defeat his foes. In War most of Ray’s challenges are internal, a fight within himself to find a father capable of protecting his children. Because it’s a Tom Cruise movie, he eventually plays the action hero in the end. But Ray Ferrier is a welcome change from the usual Tom Cruise dramatis personae. Perhaps when he reached his 40s, Tom realized he could not play Peter Perfect on- and off-screen all his life. So he got himself braces and Katie Holmes. Talk about tumatanda ng paurong.

War of the Worlds is not the best of this year’s summer blockbusters (Batman Returns is the leader so far), but it is diverting enough. Besides, it has Morgan Freeman as a God-like voiceover—hey, Morgan’s the new voice of God after James Earl Jones. How cool is that?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: insignificant fart

i think that's the original resolution of h.g. wells's novel (sp?).

xander (only happens when it's raining)

9:48 AM  
Blogger Nelson said...

i didn't have much respect for spielberg's films, dismissing them as fluff [much like george lucas's star wars, but i'll admit they did shape the way entertaining movies should be made].

war of the worlds does have an interesting build-up, but sadly the ending is a blah. i consider this as one of his weakest movies [not films, mind you], along with a.i. [the movie with three endings]. minority report is better, and i wish he just stuck with thought-provoking themes instead of the wham-bam explosive stuff.

he's starting to emulate michael bay, jerry bruckheimer and jan de bont. big, explosive flicks with lackluster endings.

10:34 AM  
Blogger McVie said...

XANDER (no gander?): Precisely what I said--it sounds clever and ironic on paper. :-)

NELZ: Actually, it's Michael, Jerry and Jan who have been emulating Steven and George (o say mo, first-name basis kami! hahaha!)Remember, those two practically invented the "event movies" (Hollywood summer blockbusters) with "Jaws" and "Star Wars". But you're right; whereas before Steven had more thought-provoking movies, now he seems to be turning all fluffy. I wonder why.

11:39 AM  

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