Saturday, July 16, 2005

Movie Reviews, By Request

On our way to the theater today, the car overheated. We managed to get it into the cinema parking lot, and Brenda called our mechanic to come and deal with it. Since it took him more than 90 minutes to fix, we ended up seeing two movies while waiting. Starting with the film Chameleon has been asking me to review (which we actually saw second):

War of the Worlds - Spielberg practically invented the summer blockbuster, and really, no one else does them quite as well. As an adaptation, this is very much a post-9/11 version of the story. The scenes surrounding the initial attack are full of imagery that could have come straight from some of the video footage from New York, from people running through the city streets to the dust and ash that covers them. The film plays on the same fears we all had that day, the suddenness and inexplicability of the attacks, the scale of the destruction. I like the fact that the film stays rooted to the point of view of Tom Cruise's character, as this means that much of the conflict and devastation is implied rather than displayed, and it allows Spielberg to avoid having to explain too much: Why do the aliens need blood? What is the purpose of the red weeds? Some of these things are explained by Wells in his book, but here, to Ray (and therefore to the audience), they remain simply incomprehensible.

I have a few nitpicks: Boy, it sure is lucky that the airplane that crashed into their house managed to miss their van parked in the driveway. And, for that matter, that the debris from the crash left a path for them to drive the van out later. Also, the idea that the tripods were buried millions of years ago in preparation for this attack is just silly. This may have been an attempt to draw a parallel with terrorist "sleeper cells", but it's still silly. Granted, we have only the word of a single character with no real knowledge that "they've been planning this for millions of years", but the idea of the war machines being buried ahead of time is also mentioned by the reporter, so this seems to have been the intended explanation of how they got there (rather than, for example, postulating that the machines were either "teleported" in, or fast-assembled on site by nanotech, either of which could have been part of the "lightning" strikes). Granted, it would make some sense if the aliens had, for example, manipulated human evolution into a form they could "harvest" later (for our life-sustaining blood), and they were just waiting until they needed us (perhaps they harvested other planets in the meantime...). Fair enough, but then why vaporize a whole bunch of us when the tripods first emerge from the ground? If we're a resource they're harvesting, isn't that just wasteful?

But, again, the sheer incomprehensibility of it all is part of what makes it terrifying. And it is successfully terrifying. Definately worth seeing.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Tim Burton's visual style is absolutely perfectly suited to Roald Dahl, so this new film looks stunning. Freddie Highmore is perfect as Charlie. Deep Roy is great as all the Oompa-Loompas, and their songs are consistently more fun than those in the earlier Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (if only because it isn't the same song over and over again). As for the Big Question: No, Johnny Depp doesn't improve on Gene Wilder's portrayal of the character. However, I wouldn't say he's "worse", either, it's just a very different version of the character. My primary objection to Depp was always that he seems too young (he may not actually be too young, mind you, but he seems too young). When I read the book as a child, I got the impression that Wonka was sort of a wizened old man, though a rather spry one who had entered his "second childhood". Depp certainly has the "second childhood" aspect down, though, perhaps even more so than Wilder. He also seems more genuinely like someone who has had no human contact with anyone but the Oompa-Loompas for many years.

I was generally not very happy with the added subplot about Wonka's relationship with his father. I don't remember this being in the book, and in a way it seemed like part of the same misguided trend of psychoanalyzing classic characters that resulted in all the fluff about the Grinch's childhood traumas.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It won't replace the earlier adaptation (note that I am steadfastly refusing to call it a "remake", since it is more accurately a new adaptation of the same source material), but it will live comfortably alongside it. I wouldn't be at all upset to see the same team follow this up with Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Oh, and I'm not sure this is important, but the opening title sequence reminded me of the opening of Tim Burton's most underrated movie, Mars Attacks!

As an aside: On the way out, I noticed that along one outer wall of the cinema complex, there were four movie posters. Three of them were The Pink Panther, The Bad News Bears, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If only they had put up War of the Worlds in place of The Weather Man, they'd have been, four-for-four, all remakes/re-adaptations (of stories previously adapted to film). I find that somewhat unsettling.

1 comment:

Chameleon said...

Thanks Salvius! I immediately thought of the scene with the mechanic who changed the solenoids at Ray's instigation, which allowed Ray and his family to escape and then prevaricated too long about joining them in the car, assuming that Ray wanted to steal it, a hesitation that cost him his life. I agree that the choice of perspective was fortuitous, as it conveyed a sense of human helplessness perhaps better than in the Byron Haskin/George Pal version with the nuclear bombs (symbolising the ultimate in destructive power) failing to penetrate the shields. It certainly put the panic and confusion across effectively. Part of the pleasure of sci-fi/disaster movies for me are the battle scenes, so I was slightly disappointed that we did not have a chance to see more, especially now that the effects technology exists that can do justice to large-scale battle scenes (Lord of the Rings being the most magnificent example so far in my book). Ironically, the 1953 version did win the Oscar for best effects. The point about the choking clouds of dust in the aftermath of the Twin Towers calamity was well-observed. I also concur on the subject of the buried tripods - it would have been far neater had the lightning strikes been part of the assembly process. I also agree that the seemingly endless crop of re-adaptations is slightly worrying - perhaps it has something to do with risk-averse investors (tried and tested formula guaranteed to attract an audience) in a takings-oriented environment rather than a genuine lack of inspiration/creative imagination.