The Alexandrian

War of the Worlds

July 6th, 2005

I saw the new War of the Worlds yesterday. Cruise gives us his typical intensity. Dakota Fanning gives a surprisingly nuanced and subtle performance. Spielberg delivers a breathtaking vision and beautifully-crafted cinematography.

I won’t say that the movie is an unqualified success, but I will say that it sets a new and impressive standard for alien-invasion flicks. (I hesitate to say that, because I’ve seen some people mouthing the opinion that this movie somehow spells the death of Independence Day. I don’t see how this conclusion can possibly be drawn, given the fact that War of the Worlds and Independence Day exist at almost opposite ends of the spectrum: One doesn’t truly take itself seriously. The other is firmly rooted in reality.)

This post isn’t really meant to be a review, however. What I’m really aiming to do is comment on the stunning stupidity of audience members. There seems to be a sizable number of people who need to have everything spoon-fed to them: If a filmmaker asks them to give the slightest thought to the film; to provide the slightest bit of closure; to ponder the most immaterial of mysteries… these morons are lost at sea.

This is not surprising to me. What is surprising, however, is the willingness for these mindless fools to trumpet their lack of mental faculties far and wide. Apparently they are truly incapable of distinguishing the difference between a shortcoming in themselves and a shortcoming in the filmmaker.

With a certain degree of synchronicity, I first started to notice this trend with Cruise’s Mission Impossible. I thought the movie was clever, stylistic, and very well done.

I was shocked to discover, a few days later, that apparently there were many people who were incapable of following the film’s plot. In fact, I’ve never been able to truly comprehend what, exactly, baffles these people. But, apparently, it has something to do with the false-flashback sequence used to show Cruise’s character piecing together the truth of the catastrophe that befell him early in the film.

I remember watching Jay Leno make fun of the movie’s “incomprehensible” plot in his monologue and thought to myself: “If we ever wonder why Hollywood thrillers are so utterly simplistic, this is the reason why.”

In War of the Worlds, Spielberg quite intentionally leaves the true motivations and machinations of the aliens a mystery: The protagonists aren’t in a position to know such things and neither are we. From what we see of the aliens’ actions, intuitions can be drawn. But true answers are not to be found. In fact, we even see the characters in the film itself struggle to find the truth behind the invasion. Some of their answers are insightful. Others are simply absurdities.

For many audience members, however, this is simply beyond their ken. Somehow their minds leap directly from “Spielberg has not given us an answer engraved upon tablets of stone” to “this movie doesn’t make sense” before making a slight detour into the cul-de-sac of “this movie sucks”. Perhaps most amusing to me are those who accept the paranoiac rantings of a red-neck survivalist driven to near-insanity as gospel truth. They are apparently able to recognize the fact that these rantings are nonsensical, but are apparently incapable of grasping that this is entirely intentional on the part of the filmmakers.

So the next time you find yourself wondering why Hollywood produces so much simplistic crap, stop and reflect upon those who are baffled by the subtle intricacies of “complex” film like Mission Impossible and War of the Worlds. They get what they deserve. Unfortunately, we’re taken along for the ride.

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