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February 19, 2013 1:15 PM   Subscribe

In Defense Of Spielberg's War Of The Worlds
posted by The Whelk (197 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
You’d think we live in an era where bravura filmmaking is just flooding our movie theaters, judging by the way people react when you talk to them about Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The first half is incredible, they’ll say, but it falls apart after the Tim Robbins bit. As if 50 straight minutes of perfect, genius filmmaking is invalidated by 50 minutes of very solid, very good filmmaking.

Bit more if a drop off than that, IMHO, and I'm not even one of the people who dislikes the movie all that much.

To me the thing that really kills the last half is having the older kid run off like an idiot to die fighting aliens and them he shows up again alright at the end because it's that kind of movie now. Bleeeeergh.
posted by Artw at 1:27 PM on February 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


It was a great ride...until that dopey scene with Tim Robbins. They should've just left Cruise then and leave his survival an open question and then followed more mayhem for the remainder of the film.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:27 PM on February 19, 2013


This appears to be about why the casting for Eyes Wide Shut is brilliant but it keeps getting the name of the movie wrong.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:27 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I was happy to read this. I really dug this film when I saw it in theaters and have been stuck telling dubious friends, "No really! It's good!" ever since. A very underrated movie.

The kid showing up alive at the end bugs me, too.
posted by brundlefly at 1:28 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh? He's saying it is good because, well, Tom Cruise is in it? He's saying that Spielberg was prescient enough to cast Tom Cruise because he would be playing against type? What about the fact that for 3/4 of the movie the little girl is screaming!!! God I hate that kid.
posted by Gungho at 1:28 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm just going to come out and say it. I love Tom Cruise.
posted by phaedon at 1:28 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


because it's that kind of movie now

It was directed by Spielberg; it was always that kind of movie. He does a lot of things amazingly well, but he just can't resist those big sappy moments.
posted by yoink at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Heh.

Oh, and they hate that the son doesn’t die.

Yep.
posted by Artw at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2013


This essay makes the movie sound much better than I recall it being.

Mostly, I just want someone to make a truly faithful PERIOD movie of War of the Worlds. Part of what is so scary in the book is how completely and utterly screwed the earthlings are by the technology that the martians possess. In 1898 we were two steps up from neanderthals - before flight, before relativity, before Penicillin. We had coal-fired ironsided ships, and telephones, sort of. Against giant prehensile robots.
Never before in the history of the world had such a mass of human beings moved and suffered together. The legendary hosts of Goths and Huns, the hugest armies Asia has ever seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede--a stampede gigantic and terrible--without order and without a goal, six million people unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of the massacre of mankind.
THAT is what I want to see on the screen. When Spielberg announced he was making War of the Worlds I thought he was going to be the guy to do it correctly. He could have been, but wasn't.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2013 [27 favorites]


True confession...WotW was the last movie I saw in a theater.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:30 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


War of The Worlds would be better titled "Road trip to Boston"
posted by hellojed at 1:31 PM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'll say it right here:

War of the Worlds : Steven Spielberg :: Sleepy Hollow : Tim Burton
posted by shakespeherian at 1:31 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


The ending aside, I really enjoyed this movie. I think the best part was the viewer's viewpoint of the action. We saw no more than what Tom Cruise's character saw.
posted by NoMich at 1:31 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Great review, sounds like I should see this eh?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:32 PM on February 19, 2013


It was directed by Spielberg; it was always that kind of movie. He does a lot of things amazingly well, but he just can't resist those big sappy moments.

Maybe. He can go pretty dark at times when it's the right movie, and I think he did a good job at the start of doing just that, but in the end I guess it was just one of his popcorn munchers and he has to save the dog/kid/whatever.

I suspect that's a lot of why folks don't like it: they're frustrated by the promise of it.
posted by Artw at 1:32 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Great review, sounds like I should see this eh?

Definitely! On a nice TV with the sound turned up. I was seriously floored by the first Tripod attack. Stared slack-jawed at the screen. Unbelievably amazing special effects. Lots of the movie is meh-worthy, but it's still a whole lot better than most schlocky action films.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:34 PM on February 19, 2013


Just checking - do people know that Tim Robbins' character was in the original book, right?

Also - I didn't feel like Robbins' scenes were a weak spot at all. I actually thought it was a wonderful slow-burn realization that "oh....wait, he's completely nuts." He sounds all plausible and smart towards the beginning - a little weird, maybe, but still some smart ideas about how to dodge the Martians and practical ideas about how to lay low and horde food and whatnot, and you sort of sneakingly start thinking that the others can do okay hanging out with him for a while before it starts sinking in that his mind just completely broke somewhere along the line and you're in even bigger danger staying in what you thought was a safe haven.

...And there are more than a few people who get broken like that in any disaster. And, to continue the 9/11 paralell, I think I may have met a few here in New York.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:34 PM on February 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


The kid did die. Tom Cruise died. His daughter died. They all died when he made himself a suicide bomber in the belly of the tripod. The rest of the film after that is a dying man's fantasy in which an invading army of superintelligent monsters with advanced technology is destroyed by a common cold, but bring no diseases of their own that can possibly hurt us.

Proof? How did they get to Boston? One second, Boom, the next second, Boston, where the aliens are dying, Cruise miraculously finds his son not dead, and his parents are the actors from the original War of the Worlds film, and then Morgan Freeman comes on as a narrator to tell us, in his voice of god, that it all turned out okay. This is how a dying man hopes his story will end, but it actually ends with an explosion and with everybody he loves dead and the world overrun.

Am I wrong? Of course I am. But that's my take on it, and I'm sticking to it, and fuck you Spielberg because I reinterpreted your ending into a better one.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:39 PM on February 19, 2013 [22 favorites]


The first half hour or so really gives a good feeling of tension, but the rest of the movie is such a dog (and everything about the "invasion" is so ridiculous) that it just ruins that half hour for me.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:40 PM on February 19, 2013


Spielberg's War of the Worlds: a masterpiece of proselytizing, paint-by-numbers cinema.
posted by Perko at 1:41 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The rest of the film after that is a dying man's fantasy

Hmm. Only now do I see the truth of that comment not so long ago that said something about criticism not having been done a kindness by the existence of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:41 PM on February 19, 2013 [16 favorites]


I'd almost forgotten about this movie. I saw it six or seven years ago it didn't really stick with me at all. I'm a fan of both AI and Minority Report and was amazed at how flat and un-involving War of the Worlds felt. The initial attack was cool in a video game sort of way but the whole thing seems underwritten and schematic.
posted by octothorpe at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2013


> I suspect that's a lot of why folks don't like it: they're frustrated by the promise of it.

Good films that could have been Great are like an itch you can't quite scratch.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:42 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Tim Robbins bit was taken from the book, and so forgivable.

The downing-the-tripod-with-scavenged-grenades bit was lifted without attribution from a completely different book, John Christopher's The White Mountains, and I'm inclined to think less kindly of Spielberg and the screenwriters for it.
posted by Iridic at 1:43 PM on February 19, 2013 [18 favorites]


The kid being alive is annoying not because it's sappy, but because it feels like a cheat -- he disappears over a hill and seconds later a giant....fire or laser or whatever blast seems to destroy everything.

But I didn't feel like it was a happy ending at all. Ray standing alone in the street as his children join in a joyful family reunion with the man who's taken his place....that's a punch in the gut as far as I'm concerned.
posted by the bricabrac man at 1:43 PM on February 19, 2013


Oh man, don't drag The Tripods into this, that makes things so much worse.
posted by Artw at 1:44 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It was a remake, it starred Tom Cruise and it was a Spielberg film. It never was going to be a good movie.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hmm. Only now do I see the truth of that comment not so long ago that said something about criticism not having been done a kindness by the existence of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

I WAS RIGHT
posted by shakespeherian at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


"This is a quality movie you should see," says website that decided "Badass Digest" was a quality name it should have.
posted by Legomancer at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


WOTE peaked with Jeff Wayne's album... you're never going to beat that. ULLLLLAAAHHHHH!!!!!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:48 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's a lot of screaming in that movie. I did not like it, no sir.
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:50 PM on February 19, 2013


Just checking - do people know that Tim Robbins' character was in the original book, right?

Kinda sorta. In the book he's a curate (Wells's atheism driving that plot point, in part) and he's the hero's companion for a good long time before the fatal confrontation--steadily pissing him off more and more as the story progresses. It plays very differently in the film than it does in the book.
posted by yoink at 1:51 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The aliens being finally revealed as awful movie-killing CGI muppet-goblins is yet another aspect of Speilberg that JJ Abrams stole to make Super 8 a godawful mess.
posted by Artw at 1:53 PM on February 19, 2013


It was a remake, it starred Tom Cruise and it was a Spielberg film. It never was going to be a good movie.

For what I recall, the filming time was really tight, due to Cruise having to go off and do another movie. That always made me think that Speilberg was just testing himself to see how quickly he could do a movie.

Otherwise, since seeing the movie in the theaters and being disappointed, I've never thought much about it. This post reminded me of the awesome escape scene, but really the whole damn thing felt like a by the numbers story.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:55 PM on February 19, 2013


fearfulsymmetry: I just saw War of the Worlds: Goliath, which is a sequel to WotW set 15 years after the original attack, when we have all kinds of awesome steam-powered anime steampunk technology. And right on the eve of WWI, the Martians attack again and we have what is basically 'steampunk Voltron'. It's fun, and Teddy Roosevelt killing Martians with a heat gun while dirigibles that are both armored and yet somehow still lighter than air (SHUT UP, RATIONAL BRAIN, IT'S NO SILLIER THAN THE MARTIANS) float overhead. Also, the architecture is Deco-tastic. But I digress!

My favorite thing in it is that there are not one but *two* covers of "Forever Autumn" (from the Jeff Wayne album) in the soundtrack. (Over the opening and closing credits, iirc.) I thought it was a great way to link it in with an adaptation of the original.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:56 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speilberg's film was a mess that couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a life affirming family film, a gritty war film, or a tense thriller. It had its charms but I saw it once on DVD and never thought of it again until now.

It did contain this excellent scene though.
posted by AndrewStephens at 1:58 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember the first hour of this film completely draining me, emotionally. I have never seen a movie that made me feel such dread, such an all-encompassing sense of absolute doom. The images of all the empty clothing floating slowly downward really did a number on my head. I had nightmares.

And I remember the emotional surge of vicious satisfaction I felt when Cruise's suicide bomber routine worked, and then being horrified at my own reaction, because of what it implied.

This is a dark, dark film, and its Hollywood ending ( which is faithful to the spirit of the novel's ending btw ) doesn't change that.
posted by KHAAAN! at 2:00 PM on February 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


War of the Worlds is terrible because it betrayed Spielberg's legacy of being one of the only voices in popular culture (and certainly the loudest) to express the idea that contact with extra terrestrials isn't necessarily something to be feared. It's the work of an obscenely wealthy middle-aged man with seven children. A man who, post 9/11, obviously felt he had everything to lose by a changing world, and let these feelings poison his worldview.

Contrast this to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which contact with extra terrestrials is portrayed as something that could be joyous, something that could redefine humanity's relationship with itself, something that could be all but indistinguishable from a religious experience.
posted by incomple at 2:01 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


But in War of the Worlds Cruise's Ray is never hot shit. Not only is he a crummy dad right from the start, he’s blue collar in a most non-Cruise way.

I thought the opening scene establishes that Ray is hot shit at work — fastest container slinger in the West or something. For me, that started the movie on a real eye-rolling note, and now the article has me wondering if I should have given it a bit more time. It is interesting that his being hot shit never really helps him...

And so we come to Robbie, and his ultimate survival, perhaps the most often used criticism of War of the Worlds. I’ve never had a problem with this turn of events, and I’ve never quite understood why others have; yes, the ending is a hopeful reunion, but considering the extraordinary darkness of the preceding 110 minutes, some hope is welcome.

The author's attitude in the argument starting from this point is quite alien to me. He argues that the ending hits the right emotional note, or a needed emotional note, which is fine, I guess, but the son re-appearing makes so little sense plotwise — they show us his death as directly as possible given that the movie follow's Ray's POV almost exclusively, and give no sign to suggest any uncertainty about it — that it destroys suspension of disbelief, which means the desired emotional note seems false and manipulative.
posted by stebulus at 2:02 PM on February 19, 2013


The son was obnoxious and needed to die; they should never have shown the martians; and no way does Tom Cruise beat Tim Robbins in a fight. But I still think this is a pretty good movie.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:04 PM on February 19, 2013


I saw this movie twice in and theatres and thought it was a great ride. But, to be perfectly honest, I have no recollection of Tim Robbins being in the movie or why.
posted by ageispolis at 2:05 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The first half hour or so really gives a good feeling of tension, but the rest of the movie is ...

I'm so tired of movies that inspire statements such as this that I'm inclined to hate them more than your average dross for having teased, then not delivered. Because they play to my perhaps paranoid notion that Hollywood secretly despises me. Sorry, that's personalizing it too much. What Hollywood despises is works of genuine greatness, because these only come when genuinely talented people are allowed to really go for it, chase a unique vision and realize it. Yeah, call it art. Hollywood hates hates HATES art.

And so what we generally get are these teases. They start out offering one thing, testing our boundaries, pushing them even (doing all those things that great art does), but in the end, they turn around, flip on their backs, offer up their bellies and want us to pat them. Fuck that shit.

Also this ...

It was a remake, it starred Tom Cruise and it was a Spielberg film. It never was going to be a good movie.
posted by philip-random at 2:05 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought the opening scene establishes that Ray is hot shit at work — fastest container slinger in the West or something...

But it subverts our expectations! They Chekhov's gun Tom Cruise as a container slinger and all through the movie we're like "When is Tom Cruise gonna find a big crane and just sling a container right into a tripod?"

But, to be perfectly honest, I have no recollection of Tim Robbins being in the movie or why.

Tim's character was going crazy in a basement and gave Tom and his daughter food and shelter and then started digging a hole because he wanted to do guerilla warfare on the tripods and so Tom killed him to death to protect his childs. Then a big tentacle eye crawled and waved around the basement for, like, three hours.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:08 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The only thing I remember from this movie is the burning train, which I must admit was an incredibly evocative and disturbing image.
posted by Rangeboy at 2:08 PM on February 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


I quite liked War of the Worlds (I thought it was scary and horrifying and had some stunning images, and I loved the realism of it), but, then again, I do like Spielberg, and I have fairly low expectations for the product that Hollywood typically churns out.

I mean, it's not like there were a bunch of sexy 8-foot-tall smurfs running around.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:09 PM on February 19, 2013


The only thing I remember from this movie is the burning train, which I must admit was an incredibly evocative and disturbing image

People being vaporized into crematory dust did it for me. Horrible.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:10 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm with Rangeboy - the burning train moment is the one really awesome moment I remember from what seemed like an otherwise unremarkable remake that we didn't really need.
posted by never used baby shoes at 2:10 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember being repulsed by War of the Worlds when I saw it in the theater: it felt like the movie invoked the horrors of 9/11 with no accompanying message to go with it - it felt exploitative of the tragedy, using it to trigger our horror synapses in a crass way. Don't put 9/11 imagery in your slick Hollywood entertainment unless you have a damn good reason to, I thought.

A year later Spielberg had Munich which, in my opinion, is smart, brave, multilayered and uncompromisingly ambiguous take on terrorism, the I/P conflict, and Iraq. I've been meaning to go back to War of the Worlds since seeing that - how come the man put out such a nuanced political movie a year after such a dumb one?

Thanks for this article, I think it cleared up some things, especially the way Spielberg juxtaposes and contrasts victim and insurgent, terrorist attack and heroic revenge. I can buy that this is a subversive political statement camoflouged as a mainstream thrill ride.
posted by naju at 2:11 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


it betrayed Spielberg's legacy of being one of the only voices in popular culture (and certainly the loudest) to express the idea that contact with extra terrestrials isn't necessarily something to be feared

This depends, of course, on your reading of the film Always.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:12 PM on February 19, 2013


Contrast this to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which contact with extra terrestrials is portrayed as something that could be joyous, something that could redefine humanity's relationship with itself, something that could be all but indistinguishablefrom a religiousexperience.

LOL. They totally butt probe that guy for every day of his cold miserable prison life on Pluto, when they're nit taking him to peices and putting him back again.
posted by Artw at 2:13 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now y'all done and gone make me rent this.

:P
posted by mazola at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2013


The only thing I remember from this movie is the burning train, which I must admit was an incredibly evocative and disturbing image

People being vaporized into crematory dust did it for me. Horrible.


This is all great stuff! And the scene at night in the house where they are menaced by outside noises, which is amazing sound design, and the bit with the ferry - it is certainly a movie with great moments.
posted by Artw at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2013


Oh good, I enjoyed this movie; not my favorite in the world, but I was really surprised how many people straight up HATED it.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2013


Sounds like a religious experience to me. (zing)
posted by 23skidoo at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2013


Don't put 9/11 imagery in your slick Hollywood entertainment unless you have a damn good reason to, I thought.

Huh? Not every explosion that has happened in a movie since 9/11 is there because it's "9/11 imagery". Correct me if I'm wrong, but the only structure I remember seeing getting blowed up real good in WotW is a big elevated freeway. Certainly no skyscrapers collapsed.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:18 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wasn't one of Ebert's big criticisms of the movie was that Tripods weren't all that stable?

On preview: yup.
posted by mazola at 2:19 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


But it subverts our expectations!

Yeah, I'm seeing that angle now, thanks to this article. I guess I took the setup at face value and got too annoyed by it to see that the movie might be using the setup in a more sophisticated way... in short, I assumed bad faith. Bad me. Bad.
posted by stebulus at 2:19 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The people being turned into dust/ash didn't strike you as evocative at all? Running down the street in a panic, covered in dust?
posted by entropicamericana at 2:20 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


His 3 paragraphs on waking up in bkln on 9/11, failing to donate blood, etc were pretty close to my feelings. I made it into manhattan that day on the train and saw both the towers still standing burning.

Blah.

That movie was obviously pretty good, regardless of allegorical meanings.
posted by nutate at 2:20 PM on February 19, 2013


Oh, yeah, the train scene. Wow. I kind of wonder if Spielberg didn't dream that or something years ago and then make that whole movie just as an excuse to film it.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:21 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have always thought the first 20 minutes where Cruise plays the absentee father with no idea how to talk to his children was the start of a good movie and then aliens arrive and fuck it all up.
posted by zzazazz at 2:21 PM on February 19, 2013


Also: is there a print version of 'Badass Digest'?

This seems like a subscription worth having, if only to scatter around my place for people to discover.

Or to impress the mailman.
posted by mazola at 2:22 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The aliens have a ragging RAY-GUN that turns you into 9/11 dust! That's insane! And kind of brilliant, but absolutely a use of imagery from that day.
posted by Artw at 2:24 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't believe Artw doesn't already have "raygun" programmed into his autocorrect.
posted by theodolite at 2:25 PM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Very tangential, but at some point Tom Cruise is going to blow out his knee or suffer some other injury that removes his ability to RUN WITH INTENSITY TOWARDS THE CAMERA. And I don't think his career is going to survive that.

Mostly, I just want someone to make a truly faithful PERIOD movie of War of the Worlds. Part of what is so scary in the book is how completely and utterly screwed the earthlings are by the technology that the martians possess. In 1898 we were two steps up from neanderthals - before flight, before relativity, before Penicillin. We had coal-fired ironsided ships, and telephones, sort of. Against giant prehensile robots.

I've wanted that for years and years. It wasn't just the balance of forces mismatch; the tragedy was enhanced by humanity being close enough to see what it would take...but still too far from parity. People actually did take out the war machines with cannon fire, and the Thunder Child went down like a hero (the last battle of the Thunder Child is cinematic as hell, and it's a crime that it's never been translated to screen). It was just rare, and the Martians systematically smashed infrastructure--they cut telegraph lines, they destroyed shipping, they destroyed railways--that would have allowed the inferior forces to stand against them. They could be fought, they could be destroyed--but the attack was so massive and the technology superior enough that it was hopeless.

Compare to the war machines being simply magically force-field-immune to everything, and there's no comparison.
posted by Drastic at 2:25 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


They said the odds of Spielberg making this movie works were a million to one
A million to one, they said....

But still he filmed...
posted by mephron at 2:28 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Very tangential, but at some point Tom Cruise is going to blow out his knee or suffer some other injury that removes his ability to RUN WITH INTENSITY TOWARDS THE CAMERA. And I don't think his career is going to survive that.

Unless he just up and starts that Frank TJ Mackey teevee show.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:29 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always liked this movie, and felt like people didn't give it a fair shake for whatever reason. I'm glad to see such a spirited, well-thought-out defense.
posted by ErikaB at 2:30 PM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am more meh on WotW than this guy. Minority Report however could have benefitted from stopping at the point when Cruise gets haloed.

One thing that has always struck me as most interesting about Minority Report is that it basically lifts the Spacey-Cromwell 'Rollo Tomasi' scene from L.A.Confidential but with Colin Farrell in the Spacey role. It goes without saying that Spacey is far superior.
posted by biffa at 2:30 PM on February 19, 2013


It is the only movie that alludes to 9/11 metaphorically that doesn't anger me. It angered me in the last scene of The Avengers last summer, and I really felt for a while that J.J. Abrams should've been scolded for what he did with Cloverfield. But Spielberg, I dunno, maybe it's the schmaltz factor?
posted by angrycat at 2:32 PM on February 19, 2013


Oh Spielberg said it was his 9/11 movie. Don't have the time to look up the reference.
posted by angrycat at 2:34 PM on February 19, 2013


I really felt for a while that J.J. Abrams should've been scolded for what he did with Cloverfield

I really liked the movie, actually. And I like this article - Badass Digest is great, if only for Film Critic Hulk. I'll give the move another watch.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:34 PM on February 19, 2013


Very tangential, but at some point Tom Cruise is going to blow out his knee or suffer some other injury that removes his ability to RUN WITH INTENSITY TOWARDS THE CAMERA. And I don't think his career is going to survive that.

This is the real reason he just tried to get Jack Reacher going as a franchise, despite Cruise's overwhelming physical inappropriateness for the role. One of Reacher's few weaknesses is that he is rubbish at running, so this would be a good retirement option given the career breaking injury.
posted by biffa at 2:36 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Minority Report however could have benefitted from stopping at the point when Cruise gets haloed.

I don't know, I think it would have been much better if they had stopped at the point just before SPielberg said, "Action."
posted by adamdschneider at 2:36 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Has anyone seen Daleks: Invasion Earth or whatever the name of the TV movie about Daleks invading Earth that has a bunch of similar story beats to War of the Worlds, including a suicide bombing and survivalist?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:37 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Hammer movie or the storyline on the regular show?
posted by Artw at 2:38 PM on February 19, 2013


The Hammer movie, as its the only one I've seen on TV.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:38 PM on February 19, 2013


You know how they have those YouTube compilations of Schwarzenneger (sp?) screaming? Somebody should make a whiz-bang Forresst Gump-style tribute to scenes of Tom Cruise running. I wonder if it would be possible to accurately measure the distance Tom Cruise has run on-screen! MeFi project anyone?
posted by ReeMonster at 2:38 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


He'd still be able to talk! With! Intensity!
posted by Artw at 2:40 PM on February 19, 2013


Very tangential, but at some point Tom Cruise is going to blow out his knee or suffer some other injury that removes his ability to RUN WITH INTENSITY TOWARDS THE CAMERA

There's a new one where Tom Cruise is running with intensity towards the camera in a robotic exoskeleton suit so even with a busted knee, nothing will stop this man from running with intensity towards the camera. It is his meat and drink.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:42 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hmm. Only now do I see the truth of that comment not so long ago that said something about criticism not having been done a kindness by the existence of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

I WAS RIGHT


Actually, you're dreaming.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:46 PM on February 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Here's a choronological montage of his running.
posted by biffa at 2:48 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Running down the street in a panic, covered in dust?

Oh yeah, forgot that bit.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:50 PM on February 19, 2013


Just another comment here about the amazing burning train scene. It was the most shocking moment in the movie for me and one of the most powerful things I've ever seen on film. Just so surreal and awful.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:54 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love Spielberg's sci-fi. In a five-year period, Spielberg made a kind of sci-fi trilogy: AI, Minority Report, and War of the Worlds. I think they are fantastic. However, none of them is particularly well-regarded or thought of very highly. The problem is that with each of them, Spielberg made the ending so sappy that it brought the movie down in the eyes of the sci-fi advocates who would otherwise be exalting it. The end of Dick's Minority Report short story was brilliant; Spielberg mucked it up. War of the Worlds turned into schmaltz. And although I will defend the end of AI until I die, it's pretty clear that the tear-jerking ending made sci-fi nerds check out.

I'd like to see Spielberg direct one more sci-fi movie, and have him decide, "Y'know what? Let's not give this one a happy ending." I think it'd be amazing.
posted by painquale at 2:57 PM on February 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


It was directed by Spielberg; it was always that kind of movie. He does a lot of things amazingly well, but he just can't resist those big sappy moments.
Yeah, like how that little girl with the red coat shows up at the end of Shindler's List. Totally ruined the movie.
Mostly, I just want someone to make a truly faithful PERIOD movie of War of the Worlds. Part of what is so scary in the book is how completely and utterly screwed the earthlings are by the technology that the martians possess. In 1898 we were two steps up from neanderthals - before flight, before relativity, before Penicillin. We had coal-fired ironsided ships, and telephones, sort of. Against giant prehensile robots.
Actually someone did exactly that, actually around the same time as Speilberg's - probably to capitalize on it. The work is in the public domain, anyone can make a movie out of it.

But the thing is, scientific advances since then haven't just changed technology, but also the fundamental way in which people see the world. For one, the most obvious is that we all know what's actually going on mars; it's not a big mystery. Same reason that stupid John Carter movie couldn't be called the Princess of Mars like the book it was based on.

Secondly, though we didn't know much about fighting bacteria or viruses in the 1900s - but now we do. And it's not just implausible that a civilization from another world could figure out how to get to earth but not understand basic medicine. So it's a plausible story for the time but would need to be changed, I think, even if the time period was kept the same.

Anyway, I definitely do think the first part of the movie was pretty good, but yeah I think it did get kind of dumb after the basement scene.
I remember being repulsed by War of the Worlds when I saw it in the theater: it felt like the movie invoked the horrors of 9/11 with no accompanying message to go with it - it felt exploitative of the tragedy, using it to trigger our horror synapses in a crass way. Don't put 9/11 imagery in your slick Hollywood entertainment unless you have a damn good reason to, I thought.
That's pretty ridiculous, something with that big of an impact on people is obviously going to be reflected in popular culture, and it's going to influence artists even if they don't think about it directly.
People being vaporized into crematory dust did it for me. Horrible.
I thought that looked completely ridiculous - it looked like something out of a video game, hit them with the laser and their entire body, not just parts that are hit turn to dust? Why not just have them blink a couple of times then disappear? (and It doesn't seem to affect anything except the people it hits)

If anything it seems like something they might have done to avoid getting higher rating by showing people burning more realistically.
posted by delmoi at 2:58 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just watched the first Tripod attack scene again (yakety sax enhanced): so the death rays instantly vaporize human bodies, toss cars like toys, and cut through buildings, but they leave the street completely unscathed? Man, this movie blows.
posted by mediated self at 3:02 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just watched the first Tripod attack scene again (yakety sax enhanced): so the death rays instantly vaporize human bodies, toss cars like toys, and cut through buildings, but they leave the street completely unscathed? Man, this movie blows.

I never got this. 'Realism' has nothing to do with whether a movie is good, especially when it's sci-fi realism. What matters is emotional effect.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:03 PM on February 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, like how that little girl with the red coat shows up at the end of Shindler's List. Totally ruined the movie.

It's funny you instance that, because the decision to colorize the little girl's coat is precisely my favorite example of Spielberg's fatal attraction to kitsch. "Hey, all these Jews are being murdered by Nazis and one of them is even a sweet little girl...but how on earth will I make it clear to the audience that I really want them to care about this?"

"Sappy" doesn't mean "happy"--it just means big, fat and dumb, and utterly unwilling to trust the audience. It's like that awful, awful scene near the beginning of Lincoln where the two black soldiers talk with the President. "I must make sure that the audience knows that SLAVERY WAS BAD and that C19th America WAS NOT A PLACE WHERE BLACK MEN AND WHITE MEN WERE TREATED EQUALLY, EVEN IN THE NORTH and that somehow despite this BLACK PEOPLE WERE UTTERLY UNCOWED AND QUITE HAPPY TO TALK BACK SASSILY TO ANY WHITE MAN" etc. etc.

Again, there's nearly always a great deal to admire in Spielberg's films, but there's always a few scenes that are just great, stinking turds of the "HERE'S WHAT YOU MUST FEEL NOW!" variety.
posted by yoink at 3:12 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I never got this. 'Realism' has nothing to do with whether a movie is good, especially when it's sci-fi realism. What matters is emotional effect.

But an audience's emotional response can be severely dulled if something blaringly illogical occurs onscreen and causes them to step back mentally and go 'that doesn't make sense.'
posted by shakespeherian at 3:14 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


This post has inspired me to download and prepare to watch the Asylum's version of War of the Worlds. For some reason.

Sometimes Metafilter deserves a big kick in the balls, and then sometimes the one whose balls deserve to be kicked is me.
posted by item at 3:14 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridg

Or, less darkly, the finale of St. Elsewhere.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:19 PM on February 19, 2013


But an audience's emotional response can be severely dulled if something blaringly illogical occurs onscreen and causes them to step back mentally and go 'that doesn't make sense.'

Not if the emotional logic of the scene holds. FILM CRITIC HULK puts it better than I can:

MOVIES CONTAIN SO MANY OTHER ELEMENTS OF VITAL IMPORTANCE THAT "LOGICAL PLOTTING" ONLY ENDS UP A SMALL PART OF THE GREATER EQUATION. WHICH, BASED ON HULK'S EXPERIENCES, REVEALS A STARTLING, 100% TRUE FACT THAT FEW PEOPLE EVER REALLY CONSIDER:

THAT MOVIES ARE A THOUSAND TIMES MORE COMPLICATED THAN STRING THEORY COULD EVER BE.

....

FAR MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE OCEAN SOLUTION HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH MAKING THE MOVIE "BETTER." IT WOULD IN FACT MAKE IT INFINITELY WORSE. IT LITERALLY WOULD CREATE A NON-STORY. IT'S AN AGE OLD QUANDARY WHERE SOMEONE ASKS "WHY DIDN'T THEY JUST DO ____ TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM?" AND THE ANSWER IS BECAUSE THEN MOVIE WOULD BE OVER. EVERY SINGLE CONFLICT SCENARIO YOU HAVE EVER SEEN ON SCREEN HAS PROBABLY HAD A MORE LOGICAL SOLUTION THAN THE ONE THAT PLAYS OUT IN THE NARRATIVE, BUT THAT TRULY DOESN'T MATTER.

THAT SENTIMENT SHOULD BE BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS TO ALL OF US, AND YET WE STILL LOVE TO ASK THOSE LOGICAL QUESTIONS. ESPECIALLY WITH HORROR MOVIES (THIS IS LARGELY BECAUSE WE PLACE OURSELVES IN THE STALKEE'S SHOES A GREAT DEAL IN THOSE KINDS OF MOVIES AND ACTIVELY LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS ON OUR OWN). BUT THE REAL ANSWER TO "WHY DIDN'T THEY JUST DO _____" IN A HORROR MOVIE IS ALWAYS BECAUSE IF THEY DON'T, IT'S THE WAY TO MAKE THE MOST EFFECTIVE, DRAMATIC SCARE, WHICH, LEST WE FORGET, IS UTTERLY THE POINT OF WHY WE ARE IN THE THEATER. OF COURSE, THERE ARE A MILLION OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE TO DO WITH MAKING AN EFFECTIVE SCARE OR AN EMOTIONALLY EFFECTIVE SCENE, BUT HULK ASSURES YOU THEY OFTEN DON'T HAVE ALL THAT MUCH TO DO WITH PLOT LOGIC EITHER.


posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:19 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "movie blows" comment was intended tongue-in-cheek, Charlemagne. That scene terrified me in the theaters, though watching it again now I did find the destructive force of the death rays highly convenient for plot and SFX purposes (as you would expect from a movie, of course).
posted by mediated self at 3:21 PM on February 19, 2013


My point is not that all of the film's sci-fi logic needs to be 100% sound. My point is that blatant illogic can be a distraction, which (sometimes) weakens the emotional logic. I am not positing a hard and fast rule. Film Crit Hulk is not disagreeing with me, here.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:22 PM on February 19, 2013


I enjoyed this movie; not my favorite in the world, but I was really surprised how many people straight up HATED it.

I'm in the same boat. It's like a collection of scenes that I really like with some filler. I want to like it more, but I don't hate it.
The train scene did it for me too. So much from the film works from a survivor standpoint. I like that a lot of things aren't explained.
It might have been better had they left the mechanism of invasion in that ambiguity.
There's all the slack in the world to not being able to figure out how a far more advanced civilization does things.
And the not knowing, surreal kind of edge is really where you want to put people you want to scare.
Where'd that burning train come from? I don't know. Let's keep moving or we'll die.

Wasn't one of Ebert's big criticisms of the movie was that Tripods weren't all that stable?
I'm no engineer, and correct me if I'm mistaken, but... HRRUNNGH! *bends the tripod's leg* ... but don't you seem to have rather a design flaw in these three-legged things? Now, don't get me wrong, God created a lot of useless, stupid-looking creatures on this world, too but he didn't... NURRRGHH! *rams the leg of the tripod* ... He didn't see fit to make any of them three-legged. Why was that, do you think?
posted by Smedleyman at 3:24 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nobody mentioned yet the '90s TV series about WoTW2, a.k.a. Let Me Rip Off 'The Puppet Masters' While Making teh Martians Terrorists? Come on, it wasn't -that- bad, I mean, martians in gooey drum storage!
posted by Iosephus at 3:25 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed the movie too. The ending with all the hugging kinda bugged me; what, Boston didn't get a shit sandwich like everyone else? But it wasn't bad enough to ruin the movie for me. I think Spielberg did a great job of conveying the utter hopelessness of the situation for humans.
posted by Brocktoon at 3:25 PM on February 19, 2013


Not if the emotional logic of the scene holds.

This isn't something you can be right or wrong about; different people have different degrees of tolerance for logical inconsistency. If you notice one and it bugs you, then you're being bugged by it, and no amount of telling yourself to focus only on the "emotional logic" will cure that. If you don't notice it and the emotional logic is compelling to you, you'll be happy.

I would say that, in general, a writer needs to keep the logical problems reasonably in the background. That is, if you watch a space movie and can't get past "hey, FTL travel is just not. physically. possible" then there's nothing the writer can do for you. If, on the other hand, you make it a huge plot point in your movie that the Phlebotenum Cannons can only be fired when you're in sub-FTL mode and then you suddenly have the good guys win the climactic battle by firing them while in FTL mode, with no explanation or "It's a one-in-a-million chance" hand-waving, you're going to have a pretty large section of your audience going "but, wait, didn't they say???" and no matter how satisfying the "emotional logic" of that scene they'll have dropped out of the necessary suspension of disbelief that keeps the whole thing afloat.
posted by yoink at 3:27 PM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sure but everyone knows Phlebotenum Cannons can only be fired when traveling below the speed of light.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:29 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree with yoink. If a film creates its own world and gets me invested in that world then that is a major point in its favour. If it suddenly steps outside the internal consistency for its own convenience i am no longer invested and the movie will be proividing reduced enjoyment. I'm not talking about shooting a few holes in the plot for the sake of it, but of the film just abandoning its premises.
posted by biffa at 3:32 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


CHECK THE COIL!! I'M THE ONLY PERSON ON THE FREAKING PLANET WHO THOUGHT TO CHECK THE COIL!!

(Don't get me started.)
posted by Trochanter at 3:33 PM on February 19, 2013


turgid dahlia 2: "There's a new one where Tom Cruise is running with intensity towards the camera in a robotic exoskeleton suit so even with a busted knee, nothing will stop this man from running with intensity towards the camera. It is his meat and drink."

That picture might be the single most gloriously stupid thing I have ever seen. Thank you for showing it to me.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:35 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


That exoskeleton is awesome. The fists remind me of the power fists from Fallout.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:43 PM on February 19, 2013


And although I will defend the end of AI until I die, it's pretty clear that the tear-jerking ending made sci-fi nerds check out.

But man do people misread that movie and it is so not a happy ending at all but really bittersweet. And perfect for the premises that were established.

I think you're on to something, though. I liked both Minority Report and AI quite a bit but I think their sentiment is taken as too . . . dare I say, girly? by many sci-fi audiences. But you know what? I'm fine with that. I find some films too sentimental--Super 8 was one--but it's only when the emotion at the end doesn't match the established conflict. This loose SF trilogy of Spielberg's has sentiment, but I don't think it's necessarily "sentimental."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:47 PM on February 19, 2013


LOL. They totally butt probe that guy for every day of his cold miserable prison life on Pluto, when they're nit taking him to peices and putting him back again.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE ANAL KIND
posted by Sebmojo at 3:47 PM on February 19, 2013


Basically every movie Spielberg has directed in the last fifteen years is a thousand times better if you cut off the last few minutes. WotW, AI, Minority Report, Lincoln, whatever.
posted by Jairus at 3:52 PM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Now, don't get me wrong, God created a lot of useless, stupid-looking creatures on this world, too but he didn't... NURRRGHH! *rams the leg of the tripod* ... He didn't see fit to make any of them three-legged. Why was that, do you think?

Radial symmetry has been passe since the Cambrian.

The Train Scene
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2013


I didn't like AI or Minority Report, but here's Outlaw Vern defending AI.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:53 PM on February 19, 2013


Good comments on the Outlaw Vern article, and lots of defenses that include my own preferred reading of the ending:
One common criticism I never got was that David’s final day with his simulated mom was supposed to be heartwarming, Spielbergian uplift. To me it’s a final punch in the gut – at best you’re glad the kid is in his own happy place as they euthanize him.
Yep, pretty much how I read it in the theater at 17 and so I've always been surprised that [well, people read the future bots as aliens and] most viewers thought that really happened. It just doesn't make sense within the framework of the film. Which is why it's really not a happy ending at all. And like I said, I think Spielberg understands the emotional framework that he himself builds better than most directors.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:12 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sick of the 'this happy ending is just a dream' theory that gets tossed around for every movie, but I guess its valid for AI.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:19 PM on February 19, 2013


I didn't hate Minority Report because it had a sappy ending, I hated it primarily because it was an overlong, boring chase movie.
posted by adamdschneider at 4:19 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't hate Minority Report because it had a sappy ending, I hated it primarily because it was an overlong, boring chase movie.

I hated it for the same reason I hate the 6th Day and Paycheck: one random criminal makes the protagonist hate a whole new technology. It also feels very un-Dick.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:20 PM on February 19, 2013


I wouldn't say WOTW is a great film, but it's really solid and has a lot of great stuff in it. When people knock the movie for Dakota Fanning's screaming, I feel like they're missing something important. If you went into the movie expecting goofy sci-fi disaster porn like Independence Day or something, maybe you were baffled by this screaming kid in the middle of the thing. But this isn't Independence Day, it's a very dark movie that was very clearly a response to 9/11.

She's reacting in a realistic way, and she's supposed to be a stressful, frustrating presence in the story. It's the end of the world, and Cruise's character, who was watching his family disintegrate before the aliens showed up, now has to deal with protecting his little girl while she is totally losing her shit and just wants to get away from him and go back to her mom. He's an angry loser fuck-up, his kids kind of hate him, and aliens are destroying his freaking planet. It's just about the most tense, high-stakes situation a person could cope with, and Cruise is not the man for the job.

Watching Close Encounters a few years ago, I was struck by just how raw some of the scenes are where we see Richard Dreyfuss' family falling apart. Dreyfuss is having this crazy, quivering, weepy manchild meltdown, begging his wife to stand by him, while Teri Garr is just screaming and the kids are screaming, and it's ugly and real in a way that's hard to watch. Spielberg has a sometimes deserved rep for bogus uplift in his movies, but he can go to incredibly dark, horrifying places. Think of that scene in Saving Private Ryan where Adam Goldberg gets shived by the German soldier, who quietly, urgently tells Goldberg something over and over as he's taking his life. If you don't speak German - and it's pretty clear Goldberg doesn't - you don't know if the German is apologizing or ranting about the Fatherland or what the hell. Whatever problems that movie had, it's got more than a few masterpiece scenes like that where Spielberg kicks your ass and just does not stop.

>Also - I didn't feel like Robbins' scenes were a weak spot at all. I actually thought it was a wonderful slow-burn realization that "oh....wait, he's completely nuts."

Oh, yeah. I thought that whole sequence was fantastic, the way this refuge they've found is slowly revealed to be just as dangerous as the Martians, in its own way. When Robbins tells Fanning that if something happens to Cruise, she can stay with him and he'll take care of her, it's so sad and creepy and wrong and scary.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:26 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sick of the 'this happy ending is just a dream' theory that gets tossed around for every movie, but I guess its valid for AI.

Yeah, it doesn't work for me for the end of War of the Worlds (which I enjoyed because of the way it was both happy and unsatisfying--something about the constructive felt subversive), but it's supported in the framing of the end scenes of AI. We cut from the discovery of David to a recreation of his old house where he converses with the Blue Fairy, where Teddy is still functional, and which is pretty explicitly a simulation watched over directly by the advanced bots.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:36 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My theory about Spielberg's War of the Worlds is this:
You know how, when an average guy (well, average by Hollywood standards) gets through whatever his movie has done to him, and he's back together with his significant other (and/or kids), and says, "I must be the luckiest guy in the world!"?
Well, Tom Cruise in this movie really actually is the luckiest guy in the world. Not the smartest, or the strongest, the bravest or the richest, no. Just the luckiest.
It's why he doesn't get zapped, it's why he survives a suicide bombing (!!!), and it's why his son survives.
Thereby making him Lucky, Junior, I suppose.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:38 PM on February 19, 2013


Actually, that failed sandwich attempt scene should have been the last part with Cruise. Then they should have died when the airliner crashed on their street. Then, we could have followed the curt reporter lady and her deaf cameraman to the last scene. They could run down Robbins with their van if he still had to be in there for continuity.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:38 PM on February 19, 2013


Minority Report also has those unnecessary Tom-Cruise-In-A-Cartoon-Chasing-His-Eyeball-And-Eating-A-Racid-Sandwich scenes; AI has Robin Williams being awful. The problems aren't just with the endings.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:40 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


AI has Robin Williams being awful.

I was about to say you were confusing it with Bicentennial Man, but I just looked it up and, huh. Robin Williams was in AI. I have no memory of that whatsoever.
posted by brundlefly at 4:46 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't see it linked above, so the burning train scene. Super creepy.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:47 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


But an audience's emotional response can be severely dulled if something blaringly illogical occurs onscreen and causes them to step back mentally and go 'that doesn't make sense.'

Like coming up from the basement and la-di-dah, there's a burning jet engine in the living room and the house hasn't burnt down eight hours ago.

But the spider crawling across the girl's cheek while the Martians were in the basement with them part was cool.
posted by y2karl at 4:55 PM on February 19, 2013


Robin Williams was in AI. I have no memory of that whatsoever.

It's voiceover only ... he's the voice of the Dr. Know service they go see in the city, the one that has the clue hidden inside it that leads David to Manhattan.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:56 PM on February 19, 2013


Except he basically just plays Robin Williams, or at best the genie from Aladdin.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:01 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's what WOTW got right: The confusion and terror at the beginning. The lack of explanation regarding the sudden appearance of the tripods. The horror of unfeeling machines harvesting people like livestock. The infantile helplessness of humanity in the face of an incomprehensible and unstoppable force.

Here's what it got wrong: everything else. More specifically, it took all the chaos and horror and confusion it had built up and clumsily unraveled it. For example, by revealing the terrifying, malevolent force to be your garden variety stupid-looking CGI aliens, doing stupid-looking CGI alien things like poke around a darkened basement for no reason.

The ending felt like Spielberg just got tired of making the movie. "And then they all died. The End."
posted by dephlogisticated at 5:01 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]



I'd like to see Spielberg direct one more sci-fi movie, and have him decide, "Y'know what? Let's not give this one a happy ending." I think it'd be amazing.


What you would like is a possible future that won't ever actually exist.
posted by srboisvert at 5:02 PM on February 19, 2013


Here's what I dislike about Spielberg's sci-fi: The movies he makes don't have any respect for their own premises as a world-building exercise. He's just fucking around.

War of the Worlds: The aliens are underground? How have we not noticed this? The aliens are spraying blood everywhere? There's not enough blood to explain what we see. Just leave the aliens at "kill everyone" and you're good.

Minority Report: You only need to stop the murders. You don't need to incarcerate people that haven't committed any crimes yet.

A.I.: They included a complex scheme of passwords to make David imprint on his mother. But they didn't include an OFF switch? Heck, use the same complex scheme.

Spielberg respects his subject matter, if it's reality-based (Lincoln, Schindler, Munich, etc). But he doesn't respect his audience.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:05 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Except he basically just plays Robin Williams, or at best the genie from Aladdin.

It's the same stunt-casting he does with Chris Rock as the jive-talking robot that gets melted.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:07 PM on February 19, 2013


Minority Report: You only need to stop the murders. You don't need to incarcerate people that haven't committed any crimes yet.

Oh. That's what bugged me about that movie.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:15 PM on February 19, 2013


That's assuming the police state cares about keeping people free.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:16 PM on February 19, 2013


Minority Report: You only need to stop the murders. You don't need to incarcerate people that haven't committed any crimes yet.

A.I.: They included a complex scheme of passwords to make David imprint on his mother. But they didn't include an OFF switch? Heck, use the same complex scheme.


Those are both problems with the source material (the original PDK short story, the Aldiss and Kubrick treatments) more than with Spielberg himself.

Count me as someone who also didn't remember Robin Williams in AI (and I've seen the movie five or six times). But the stunt casting didn't bother me; it seems like something like "Dr. Know" would be voiced by the genie from Aladdin, essentially. Besides, the shift in his voice when he starts reading Yeats is amazing. Really, it gives me shivers every time.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:18 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's assuming the police state cares about keeping people free.

Still, the movie in which an idealistic inventor resists the police state's misuse of his murder-prevention machine would be good.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:18 PM on February 19, 2013


I don't hate the ending of Spielberg's WoTW because it's sappy; I hate it because it makes no sense. Robbie just reappears without explanation in the very last scene like he's a bonus prize for Cruise making it to his ex-wife's family's place in Boston. I honestly think that reintroducing Robbie on the road just outside of Boston or even at the scene with the Tripod in Boston with a quick "I was able to get away after that explosion/realized I wasn't capable of fighting back in a meaningful way but couldn't find you, so I headed this way . . " would have made the ending work better for me.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:19 PM on February 19, 2013


When people knock the movie for Dakota Fanning's screaming, I feel like they're missing something important.

Your reading is certainly consistent with the movie, but I think mine is simpler:

Spielberg doesn't like kids very much and resents his own.

So of course the kids are nothing but walking bags of irrational complaints that need constant protecting, just annoying scream machines that won't shut up no matter how many time you say their stupid rhymes at them, and just refuse to do anything right, ever, because they're so fucking stupid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:35 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


9/11 imagery

In addition to the scenes also noted, there's a lingering shot of a noticeboard full of "MISSING" photos and messages -- I believe just before the ferry? -- that seemed to me a very direct post-9/11 reference.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:37 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not one of my all-time favorites (#139 of 503 on my Flickchart!), but I did like it quite a bit, and don't get the criticisms of it being forgettable. There are so many images from it that stick in my mind:

- the unbearable build-up and then chaotic terror of the first tripod
- Cruise's utter shell-shockedness when he stumbles back home, covered in ashes
- his fatherly bonhomie falling to pieces in the quiet suburban McMansion, while knowing the rest of civilization is "lighting up like Hiroshima" silently offscreen
- the hijacking of the car (and the increasingly violent hijacking of the hijackers, etc.)
- the burning train (followed by incongruously cheery 50s music)
- the attack on the ferry
- the river of bodies
- the blood in the wind, underscored by that ominous pumping sound
- Cruise bursting out of the darkened farmhouse to follow his abducted daughter, stumbling into the nightmare wasteland of ruins and alien weeds like some horror show version of The Wizard of Oz
posted by Rhaomi at 5:37 PM on February 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The aliens are underground? How have we not noticed this?

Urrrrgh, god, you are making me relive it. They for some reason, forget about how, put their hundreds of machines here millions of years ago and went away...why? Just so they could make a grand entrance with their stupid "storm drive" after we evolved and developed civilization (which they totally knew was gonna happen)?
posted by adamdschneider at 5:39 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


As far as AI goes:

And Monica’s crying too and she says “I’m sorry for not telling you about the world.” And if this is the first time you see it you think Oh shit, what did he need to know about the world? What’s out there, anyway?

Nope. If this is the first time I see it, I think "That's the worst line in the history of the universe, pornos included. Fuck you, Spielberg!"
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:40 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The kid not being dead pissed me off, but what really pissed me off was the in laws chilling in suburbia (um, or Boston, i guess) waiting to welcome everyone home for thanksgiving. Mom-in-law was wearing fucking pearls. Come one.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:44 PM on February 19, 2013


I'm surprised there's debate about the 9/11 imagery; when the film came out this was practically the only thing discussed. (I guess it's been a while. How did I get so old?) The handheld video, the running and screaming, the ash, and the topped church during the first tripod scene all point in this direction, and even the metallic creak the tripods make as they rise is said to evoke the sounds heard in lower Manhattan that day.

The flags are even still up on every stoop in the opening montage. It's definitely a 9/11 film.
posted by gerryblog at 5:48 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The aliens are underground? How have we not noticed this?"

A shit-ton of them, not buried all that deeply and in well-developed areas.
posted by Ardiril at 5:57 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


A shit-ton of them, not buried all that deeply and in well-developed areas.

We never find out how deep, y'know. We never know. It's the not-knowing that makes a lot of parts of the movie work.

I play a lot of Mass Effect, and every time I hear that foghorn from the Reapers, I think of the Tripods and wonder which developer(s) in the MASSIVE team that developed that game decided that it was a good idea.
posted by Thistledown at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2013


I was about to say you were confusing it with Bicentennial Man...

Oh, huh, yeah. Bicentennial Man. Now I remember. I pressed 'Play' on that movie ten years back and it's just been running ever since on this old TV I've got in the corner, lemme just check if-...yep, yep, it's still going. Looks like it's about halfway. Man, I hope I didn't miss any good bits*.

*Hint: I didn't miss any good bits.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 6:18 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Welp, I just downloaded the book to read it again, 25 years after my first reading, because I realized I can't remember any of it. And I enjoyed this movie simply for the imagery that Rhaomi points out. It's good to watch at home because you can turn the sound way down for all the shrieking. It reminds me of Shyamalan's Signs; I give the hackneyed ending a pass simply because of all the great ominous buildup.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:49 PM on February 19, 2013


Huh, actually the train scene is less creepy than I remember. I remembered them being alone, kind of looking down on it from a hill, and it being entirely shot from a wide angle. Stupid memory!
posted by adamdschneider at 6:59 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought the impact of that scene was more the almost disaffected reaction the onlookers had to seeing a flaming train speeding out of control, which was kind of minor compared to what they had recently seen.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the "underground but unnoticed for millennia" thing was painfully dumb, it was hard to take the movie seriously after that.
posted by octothorpe at 7:18 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I give the hackneyed ending a pass simply because of all the great ominous buildup.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:49 PM on February 19 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:23 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's the thing for me. It's this big, dumb popcorn movie, and I totally didn't think it was okay to slather 9/11 imagery all over it. (One other that I don't think has come up in this thread is all the bulletin board shots of people trying to find people.) It's cheap button pushing stuff and I've had that against Spielberg since ET. Obviously, he's one of the best film makers ever, and yet he's always got this overt, emotionally manipulative element that I find pretty darned invasive; like you've been felt up by a sleazy uncle.

The higher Spielberg's aspirations are, the more offensive I find his manipulations. I don't think I'll ever watch Shindler.
posted by Trochanter at 7:36 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you read the ending of AI as a happy one, you weren't pay attention. (Apparently a lot of people weren't pay attention.) It's a flawed film, but it's another one that's got plenty of brilliant stuff in it, including that weird, complicated and terribly sad ending. The whole movie would be worth it just for Teddy, the utterly creepy yet absolutely adorable teddy bear sidekick. That grim, intense old man voice, coming out of that fuzzy little face. Brilliant.

Spielberg actually wrote the screenplay, and it's full of weird, poetic little flourishes that most pro screenwriters would probably cut. Stuff like the death of Gigolo Joe: "Tell them, I am... (He gets grabbed and ripped away from David.) I WAS!" It's kind of straining for profundity, and it's awkward... and yet there is something kind of profound about it. So long, Joe.

The Dr. Know scene is the same deal. When Williams' voice over switches from jolly manic fun-time Williams to serious actor Williams, reciting the poem, Spielberg is straining for a Great Moment. And he gets there, even if you feel the strain.

The underground aliens thing in WOTW was just weird and seemed tacked-on, but I suppose they were fumbling to come up with some take on an alien invasion that hadn't been done before. They didn't really dwell on it, and if a silly premise like that was enough to kill the whole movie for you then you must have hated every second of The X-Files, which was all about scaring the poop out you with some very, very silly premises. (Sometimes they seemed to be challenging themselves to see how scary they could make something really stupid. "Mulder you're not seriously suggesting that these people were killed by a sentient, carnivorous carton of expired buttermilk...")
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:37 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]




That's the thing for me. It's this big, dumb popcorn movie, and I totally didn't think it was okay to slather 9/11 imagery all over it. (One other that I don't think has come up in this thread is all the bulletin board shots of people trying to find people.) It's cheap button pushing stuff and I've had that against Spielberg since ET. Obviously, he's one of the best film makers ever, and yet he's always got this overt, emotionally manipulative stuff that I find pretty darned invasive; like you've been felt up by a sleazy uncle.


I think it's harder to name a good sci-fi or horror work that doesn't have either overt or covert references to contemporary events. If Cloverfield is tasteless for referencing 9/11, what about the original movie, Godzilla, which was made partly to deal with the aftermath of the nuclear tests? Speilberg is a populist storyteller, so we do need him to respond to 9/11.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:38 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's what I dislike about Spielberg's sci-fi: The movies he makes don't have any respect for their own premises as a world-building exercise.

I have the same problem with a film like "Looper." They had Bruce Willis slam the restaurant table with the great line "IT DOESN'T MATTER!" and then it goes on to show that it does in fact matter.
But that world was really, really interesting. And we only got bits of it.
I watched "Real Steel" and so obvious are the relations to AI.

War of the Worlds seemed to be knocked over by the 9/11 references and Scientology.
I don't know if that's a fair criticism, but that's what I thought of hearing the aliens coming down through the lightning explanation.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:41 PM on February 19, 2013


"We never find out how deep"

Not to the inch, but given the evident disruption of the ground as they surface and the resulting craters, no more than 30 to 40 feet.
posted by Ardiril at 7:45 PM on February 19, 2013


Speilberg is a populist storyteller, so we do need him to respond to 9/11.

He may be populist, but that doesn't mean he needs to respond to anything, nor does it mean his audience needs a response from him.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:53 PM on February 19, 2013


Time to bring out my movie-rating scheme: every movie is rated by an integer. A lower number is better than a higher number. The best score a movie can have is zero.

The number indicates how many minutes before the end of the movie one should leave the theater and to still love it. I liked War of the Worlds and would give it a score of "15". But it's not anywhere near zero, on account of the sappy ending.
posted by Triplanetary at 8:08 PM on February 19, 2013


I recall sticking it out until the point they "revealed" that the aliens "plan" was to sink their slimy, superintellegent resources to develop the tech to create an unstoppable force to cross interplanetary space to harvest humans as inefficiently as possible to use as fertilizer, or something. My suspension-of-disbelief fuse blew and I never saw the end. There were some pretty spectacular special effects, but the st00pid burned too much.
posted by kjs3 at 8:13 PM on February 19, 2013


I think using sci-fi to talk about 9/11 (and other catastrophic real world events) is fine, as long as the artists treat the actual events with the gravity they deserve. The 2004 Battlestar Galactica miniseries was full of 9/11 imagery, and it was very raw and powerful as a result. These people were watching their civilization fall down around them, and for an American audience in 2004, it all felt very immediate and real, and there wasn't anything trivializing about it.

I think things get more dicey when sci-fi or fantasy creators try to take real world events and make them literally a part of their story, where you have cyborg supersoldiers fighting in Afghanistan or somebody goes back in time to rescue their girlfriend from the Twin Towers. That seems cheap, the made-up stuff is an awkward fit with real-life tragedy. Genre stuff can make for an excellent forum for addressing painful real-life subjects in a new way, as long as its not too blunt about it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:18 PM on February 19, 2013


Obviously, he's one of the best film makers ever,

I've never figured out why this is the consensus. And I don't say this to bash Spielberg-- he's good at a lot of things, and a handful of his films are absolutely fantastic. But I don't understand the coronation that apparently took place at some point-- is it just because he's the biggest-name director to make Serious Pictures About Issues in between his popcorn grabs?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:19 PM on February 19, 2013


I think the one thing that remains for me on WotW is the sound effect, the blaring siren. That sound was awesome. On par with the sheer physical force involved in the T-Rex in Jurrassic Park.

I agree with Ursula Hitler on the AI moments, Jude Law's plea, and the sudden switch in Robin Williams tone, I thought, both worked well. I still, and will forever, believe that the film should have ended under water, with the submersible pinned under the wreckage, with David believing that if he just wishes hard enough, the blue fairy will turn him into a real boy. He'll wish forever, wishing just as hard as he can every single time because he's not programmed well enough, or self-aware enough, to give up. And Teddy will sit there, next to him, knowing all of that, but knowing that there's nothing he can say or do to make David stop, and that even trying would be horribly damaging to David, or at worst, invoke a violent response. David would kill Teddy for interfering, and he would, in the next moment, return to wishing as hard as he could, with no thoughts of the heap of fur and circuits that used to be the last thing in the world that cared about him, until his battery finally died.

That? That would've been a good movie.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:23 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


But man do people misread that movie and it is so not a happy ending at all but really bittersweet. And perfect for the premises that were established.


The ending of AI is so filled with emotional horror that I can only assume that Spielberg himself didn't understand his story thought it was a typical schmaltzy Schpielberg ending...
posted by ennui.bz at 8:38 PM on February 19, 2013


I think WoTW was fine with a happy ending, but at least put them in a refugee camp or something.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:39 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


it betrayed Spielberg's legacy of being one of the only voices in popular culture (and certainly the loudest) to express the idea that contact with extra terrestrials isn't necessarily something to be feared.

That depends on how familiar you are with Firelight, Spielberg's Super-8 film that he made for $500 in 1964 when he was 17, and is the template for Close Encounters -- certain scenes in the later film are shot-for-shot remakes of the earlier film. At the end of the film, the main character goes with the aliens, as he does in Close Encounters, but discovers they intend to keep him in a human zoo.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:41 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or, less darkly, the finale of St. Elsewhere.

Or MORE darkly, the series finale of Roseanne.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:44 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only things I remember liking about Spielberg's War Of The Worlds were the visual references to Night of the Hunter.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:06 PM on February 19, 2013


>>Obviously, he's one of the best film makers ever,

>I've never figured out why this is the consensus.


I tried to use as 'crafty' a term as I could. He's good at making movies. He knows pacing. He can really race around. Everybody praises his knack for keeping his action scenes coherent and grounded.

And even the manipulative stuff -- I'm not saying he doesn't do it well, just that I don't like the feeling of having my feelings felt for me.

I haven't seen a lot of Hertzog, but I've really liked how he's let me react to his movies. He hasn't tried to feed me my own reactions.
posted by Trochanter at 9:28 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Like the Curates Egg - "great in parts". The kid showing up alive at the end makes the audience feel like idiots - suckered again by Hollywood.
posted by fidelitarean at 10:02 PM on February 19, 2013


Spielberg is an absolutely master film-maker. He possesses all of the tools, all of the knowledge. He knows the craft, inside and out. The problem is the button. The human brain is wired to respond to stimuli. If you feed it the right stimuli, you get the response you want. Show a Mefite a picture of a cute kitten, you get a 'dawww' response. Then there's the 'reduce this human to a quivering pile of tears and sadness' button. Spielberg knows that button, intimately. He has a wide array of tools with which to push that button. The problem is, he's gotten too used to hitting that button with a sledgehammer. Sure, he's got other ways he could push that button, but he's in love with pounding on the button, nodding to John Williams, and demanding that the audience weep themselves hoarse.

Spielberg as master: Jurassic Park, when they escape to the helicopter, Hammond stops and looks back at his park, his life's work. He's totally lost in the moment, so oblivious that when Grant (?) comes back and taps him on the shoulder, he starts, shaken from his dream of what could have been, and is brought back into the horror of what he's done. It's a profound, powerful moment in an otherwise first-rate popcorn adventure/horror summer film.

Spielberg as hack: At the end of Saving Private Ryan, "Tell me I've been a good man." Goddamn, that was an abusive pounding of the cry-now button. The film had more than enough to it (seriously, all quibbles aside, ignoring the shiny teeth of the Damon, or the infuriating translator as Spielberg character), that moment was horribly handled. He knew his audience, though, and knew they'd bawl. I did, but that was also the moment I stopped trusting him as a filmmaker. I knew it was coming, I knew he was going to demand that emotional response in that way, and I resented it.

He's an amazing filmmaker. Unfortunately, he's become complacent with the craft he's mastered, and doesn't really feel the need to challenge himself anymore.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:23 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, some of these comments remind me of my friend who saw Up and complained that it was 'too emotionally manipulative'. I thought that was the point - he was basically saying it was too good at its intended job.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:32 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's his constant compulsion to use the "in a child's eye" trope that consigns his work to the dustbin for me. Technically, he's a master. Emotionally, he's still the boy who never grew up.
posted by Wolof at 10:39 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The ending of AI is so filled with emotional horror that I can only assume that Spielberg himself didn't understand his story thought it was a typical schmaltzy Schpielberg ending...

"I was saying Boo-sads."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:59 PM on February 19, 2013


For my part, I thought the first fifteen minutes or so of the film were good, up until the alien attack. But the magical ray that powders people while leaving their clothing intact was just too silly for words.
posted by happyroach at 11:01 PM on February 19, 2013


I'm another one who finds Spielberg too emotionally manipulative (another subjective measure, like suspension of disbelief). But I want to qualify it by adding "...for a director I want to respect".

I want to be moved by a movie, but I also want to be surprised by it. I don't want to feel like I'm crying on cue, as if I'm an actor. I can't help but cry when the dog/kid/sidekick dies, so if you're going to put something like that in your film, you'd better have earned it in terms of plot and tone. If a film is nothing but emotional manipulation (a.k.a. misery porn), I just won't bother to watch it.

But Spielberg has so many great scenes and moments in his films that I'm always tempted to see his next one, and then I get suckered in to the Big Sappy Moment and feel like I've been tricked. Again.
posted by harriet vane at 11:01 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, Charlemagne in Sweatpants, I'd say that Up, which was, in it's own way, hella emotionally manipulative, was a master class in how to do that the right way. I wept openly, and often during Up. I never once felt forced into it, I never once resented it. On the other hand, it's gotten to the point where I have a nearly physical reaction to when other filmmakers pound the 'cry now' button.

Take, say, Field of Dreams. "Hey, dad? Wanna have a catch?" I doubt there's a film with a line more manipulative than that. On the other hand, the whole movie is working to that one moment, and it's what we've been waiting for. Gets me every damn time. The movie is built around that scene. Private Ryan throws 'Earn this' out of nowhere, onto a character that is pretty much a cypher with nice teeth. We've got no reason to be emotionally involved in him, and then, bam, we're supposed to cry over him? Seriously, fuck that.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:04 PM on February 19, 2013


Oh and AI is one of those movies that I respect without actually liking all that much. The first two sections do a great job of showing us the evolutionary midpoint between the robots we have now (Roombas!) and the artificial life we see in the third section, which is very cool and it makes me think of 2001. It ambitiously tries to raise and even answer questions about the nature of life and what being a human really means, which is very Kubrick too.

But it just doesn't gel for me. I hate Monica and her horrible family, and even though Haley Joel Osmont is meant to be playing a resident of the uncanny valley I just can't handle watching him do it for hours on end. It's just too unpleasant for me to sit through.

And yep, Up was very emotional, but I didn't feel manipulated into that emotion. I felt like it connected with experiences I've had myself, and hope to have myself. The emotional moments didn't come at the climax of the movie, but at odd times like they do in life. If it weren't for my fear of being devoured by a pack of dogs it'd be my favourite Pixar film.
posted by harriet vane at 11:11 PM on February 19, 2013


I liked AI as a succession of interesting images, and I wish it had less heart and more of that chilly Kubrick feel. But the images! Gigolo Joe, the drowned city, the entry into that city, the ending half an hour before the film ends - those are amazing.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:16 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the images are stunning. It's an incredibly, incredibly beautiful film. The moon/balloon moment of sheer beauty changing so swiftly into irrational terror is a pure moment of cinema.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:27 PM on February 19, 2013


OK, so I just watched it online again, and... damn, it's even better than I remembered it. I've seen it a few times before, and I still got chills at the clothes drifting down through the midnight woods, the disintegrating grimace of heat ray victims, the lights of apocalyptic military battle shielded by a rural hillside, the tripods' Lovecraftian searching tentacles, the refugees uniting to save Ray, the panorama of Hell that sprawls outside the farmhouse. The score was excellent, too -- uneasy and disorienting.

Even the sequences in Ogilvy's basement weren't that bad. I loved the silent struggle over the rifle, Ogilvy bloody-faced and horrified, the image of Rachel singing blindfolded, the fact that Ray had to sing her the Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe" ("...you don't know what I got...") because he didn't know any lullabies. (The movie's driving plot of Cruise-as-failed-father gets forgotten under all the talk of 9/11 allusions, but I think it carried the film well.)

And so what if the ending is schmaltzy, it's literally less than three minutes long, and IMHO a welcome reprieve after so much unrelenting, masterfully orchestrated horror and dread. (And the brownstones weren't festooned with American flags, FWIW; that was at the very beginning.) It reminds me of the above-the-clouds moment from the last Matrix movie, a similarly brief moment of beautiful relief after hours of oppressive darkness and death.

So, no, it's not a Great Film, and doesn't strike some rich vein of deep emotion, but it succeeds as a tense, well-directed thrill ride through horrors alien and human, with a touch of melancholy and heart, and full of haunting, memorable images. (Also, Morgan Freeman).

PS - If you liked the movie for these reasons and want to see something similar, check out Danny Boyle's Sunshine. It has a more relaxed pace than WotW's relentless terror, but it has an equal heaping of striking, beautiful imagery, and is likewise a bit weaker towards the end, though the weakness is more in the tonal shift brought on by the film's "villain" and not in the very last scene like with Spielberg (which in Sunshine is actually quite entrancing).
posted by Rhaomi at 12:43 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't hate Minority Report because it had a sappy ending, I hated it primarily because it was an overlong, boring chase movie.

In fairness, the tagline is 'Everybody Runs', which might have been a hint.
posted by biffa at 12:53 AM on February 20, 2013


For all his craft, I feel like Spielberg can't really do human moments anymore. In earlier movies there's a lot of quirkiness to his characters. The families in ET and Close Encounters are interesting. I can remember character details from older movies, but the newer movies are not very believable or human at all. Maybe the characters are defined too sharply, the actors are too attractive and too well-cast to the shallow role. Maybe the character moments are dealt with too efficiently, so it doesn't feel earned when the story comes back heavy handed and obvious for the payoff, like an emotional booty call.
posted by fleacircus at 3:19 AM on February 20, 2013


The underground aliens thing in WOTW was just weird and seemed tacked-on, but I suppose they were fumbling to come up with some take on an alien invasion that hadn't been done before.

....Wait, no, the aliens themselves weren't underground, their crafts were. The aliens rode down on lighting, remember the newscaster showing Tom Cruise that in some of their footage?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 AM on February 20, 2013


I don't remember the film all that well, but I do remember the first half (if not more) is very tense, dark, and engrossing. And scary. It's easy to forget that Spielberg can crank up the tension when he wants; just watch Jaws again and it will scare the shit out of you. As some have already mentioned, this is a dark film.

Until the last, what? Twenty minutes? The conflicts are all wrapped up very very nicely and it's very disappointing.
posted by zardoz at 5:06 AM on February 20, 2013


The ending of AI is so filled with emotional horror

It might have been if the movie hadn't spent a chunk of its early scenes convincing me that David was just a jumped-up Furby. But it did, and actually did a good job of that, so I really didn't care what happened to it.

There's no there there. There's no David. All there ever was was a program whose "goal" was "Mommy smiled at you." That's it.

Which is a shame, because you could have made a good movie where David is clearly modeling and simulating Monica's reactions, and begins to model its own actions as part of this loop, and becomes sentient (if maybe still of pretty limited intelligence) after this self-modeling becomes complex enough. At which point, given the programming, David becomes a hopelessly devoted, utterly willing slave.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:03 AM on February 20, 2013


It might have been if the movie hadn't spent a chunk of its early scenes convincing me that David was just a jumped-up Furby. But it did, and actually did a good job of that, so I really didn't care what happened to it.

There's no there there. There's no David. All there ever was was a program whose "goal" was "Mommy smiled at you." That's it.


That's exactly what makes the ending great! It tells you that you shouldn't care about David, and then it challenges you to not feel stirred anyway. It's Spielberg actively pushing the tearjerk button while telling you that it's a hoax, and that's the whole point of the movie. The tearjerk button might not have worked on you, but it sure worked on the people in the theater I went to.

I don't need another movie where I'm supposed to care about the protagonist. There are enough of those.
posted by painquale at 8:19 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Minority Report" became a better movie to me when I realized that it was all a plot by the precogs to escape.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:29 AM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, also, regarding "A.I.": my girlfriend brought some friends to see it and told them to leave before the actual ending, around the point where you think things are ending and David is dying, before the aliens show up. These folks enjoyed the film much more than most people who sat all the way through it.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:50 AM on February 20, 2013


this overt, emotionally manipulative element

Kermode & Mayo did an interesting interview with Spielberg, I think maybe around the time that War Horse came out. Paraphrasing here because I can't remember the exact words, but Mark Kermode asked him something like "isn't that terribly emotionally manipulative?"

Spielberg's immediate answer was (again, something like) "but isn't that what movies are for?"

It struck me as both fundamentally true and fundamentally revealing of Spielberg's approach to his craft.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:59 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spielberg as master: Jurassic Park, when they escape to the helicopter, Hammond stops and looks back at his park, his life's work. He's totally lost in the moment, so oblivious that when Grant (?) comes back and taps him on the shoulder, he starts, shaken from his dream of what could have been, and is brought back into the horror of what he's done.

I like also Hammond's quiet "spared no expense" as he and Ellie eat melting ice cream and wait for their loved ones to return.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:05 AM on February 20, 2013


something like) "but isn't that what movies are for?"

Charlemagne in Sweatpants suggested this counter upthread too, and it seems to me to miss the point. When people say that a movie is emotionally manipulative, they're saying not just that it *is* manipulative, but that they *experienced* it as manipulative, which absolutely means that the manipulation failed.

(Except, I guess, in the rare case that the feeling of being manipulated was actually part of the goal, as some have kind of suggested for AI above.)
posted by stebulus at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's exactly what makes the ending great! It tells you that you shouldn't care about David, and then it challenges you to not feel stirred anyway. It's Spielberg actively pushing the tearjerk button while telling you that it's a hoax, and that's the whole point of the movie. The tearjerk button might not have worked on you, but it sure worked on the people in the theater I went to.

And I think it's an interesting meta-argument. These robots aren't sentient but elicit responses in us that make us feel like they are--see also Paro Therapeutic Robot. It's why Monica can't return David to the factory to be destroyed, why she sets him "free" instead. He makes her feel enough like a person would that she thinks she's doing a kindness by allowing him simply to exist, not realizing that due to his lack of free will, she's dooming him to forever be a slave to his programming. Having David gain sentience would break the SF premises of the movie, not to mention the emotional premises. The ending we're given--where other robots are able to recognize David's fundamental limitations and therefore that euthanasia is the only kindness--is one that fits the arguments about the differences between robots and humans built in the movie. Humanity really doesn't understand robots. Only robots ever can.

I think most people understand David in the movie more for the responses he elicits in them--seeing him as a painfully cute kid with mawkish, Spielbergian mommy issues--rather than by the actual hard facts we're shown about his programming and life. And I think that's pretty brilliant. It's a story that does to us what the robots in the story do to the humans in it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:22 AM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I walked out of the theatre 100% certain I was never going to watch AI again, but damn you MetaFilter...
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:40 AM on February 20, 2013


The first episode of the new season of Black Mirror reminded me of AI.
posted by painquale at 10:48 AM on February 20, 2013


before the aliens show up

I don't understand why people say this. There are no "aliens" in AI. The creatures at the end are evolved robots, unconstrained by serving flawed humanity. Surely, this is obvious?
posted by SPrintF at 8:36 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also I think that David being not much more than a very sophisticated Furby is what makes the robots at the end so intriguing. They give him a nice pleasurable experience before putting him down, like you would for a beloved pet who is incapacitated enough that there can't be any more pleasure for them in life. And that is more humane (geddit? yeah I know you do) than how Monica treated him. They've not only evolved past David's limitations, but past our own.
posted by harriet vane at 9:10 PM on February 20, 2013


They give him a nice pleasurable experience before putting him down

They don't, though, because David is incapable of experiencing pleasure. Or pain or love or hate or frustration or anything else, simply because he has no self to experience anything.

And that is more humane (geddit? yeah I know you do) than how Monica treated him.

But it isn't, because there's not really any David there. You can't treat David humanely or inhumanely any more than you could be kind or cruel to a hammer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 PM on February 20, 2013


They don't, though, because David is incapable of experiencing pleasure. Or pain or love or hate or frustration or anything else, simply because he has no self to experience anything.

That question is fundamentally irresolvable--and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of philosophical arguments out there about the problem of Other Minds to support my contention. You simply cannot know what you are claiming to know here. Your claim that David is "incapable of experiencing pleasure. Or pain" is simply a decision that you will not take his expressions of "pleasure" or "pain" seriously because you choose not to extend personhood to him. This is always, in the end, an arbitrary choice. For a long time, for example, we did not accept that animals were capable of experiencing 'pleasure' and 'pain' in the same way that humans did (Descartes argues explicitly that an animal is merely a machine, a kind of robot, and that its expressions of pleasure or pain are mere external simulacra of what, for a human, is internal and truly 'felt'). Nowadays we are, at least in the 1st world West, generally, far less confident about that. But this is not because of any new scientific insight--it is simply a choice--to extend our presumption of ethical significance further or not to do so.
posted by yoink at 9:50 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


They don't, though, because David is incapable of experiencing pleasure. Or pain or love or hate or frustration or anything else, simply because he has no self to experience anything.

They allow him to fulfill his programming, which is the ultimate "joy" a robot like him could experience, in as much as we can understand robot "joy."

I'm not sure that he has no self. Does David introspect his own brain states? Does he have mirror-self recognition? He recognizes that the Other Davids are both him and not him--his own uncanny valley moment. I'd guess that it wouldn't be so disturbing if he had no sense of self.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:03 AM on February 21, 2013


I'm not sure that he has no self. Does David introspect his own brain states? Does he have mirror-self recognition? He recognizes that the Other Davids are both him and not him--his own uncanny valley moment. I'd guess that it wouldn't be so disturbing if he had no sense of self.

Yes. It's pretty hard to read suicidal depression as simply "carrying out his programming." Although that choice is always available; you can just say "oh, it was a glitch in the programming" or what have you. But the same option is available to us for every Other Mind we encounter--including human minds. If I decide that you're simply an automaton going through certain programmed motions there's really no action you can perform to disprove that.
posted by yoink at 10:21 AM on February 21, 2013


I haven't seen AI in quite a while, so this might be a stupid question: Is there basis in the movie for David being an automaton other than that the William Hurt character says so?

But this is not because of any new scientific insight

I'm not too familiar with the history of ideas here, but isn't the recognition of greater continuity between human and animal one of the products of the advances in biology and psychology in the 1800s, Darwin and Freud and all that? I mean, sure it's a choice, but it's a choice informed by knowledge about the world, isn't it?
posted by stebulus at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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