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Round one: the product of Keith Nichols
For a hundred minutes I was filled with dread. There was this unbreakably spellbinding feeling of lurking doom. Spielberg does a great job of making you uncomfortable all the way through this movie. There is, of course, also a lot of action. The action doesn't really excite you so much as it heightens the dread. Action and dread. It was a great way to play an end-of-the-world movie.
I'd seen the original (upon which this one is very obviously based), but apparently I wasn't quite prepared as the bad things kept getting worse and it really did feel like doomsday. It started out though as another mundane day in the life of another mundane character. Tom Cruise is "Ray", a dockworker with dubious parenting skills. Those skills are put to the test when the storm of the century seems to awaken a long-buried alien menace -and the whole world (which includes his two kids) is plunged into chaos.
"Xenu" is the ruler of a galactic confederacy. His confederacy is cripplingly overpopulated, so he neutralizes most of the undesirables and transports them to Earth MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO. Earth is to be a prison planet for the transportees. However, instead of merely being incarcerated, they're incinerated in a conflagration of nuclear-enhanced volcanic super-eruptions. The simultaneous explosions around the Earth destroy their bodies, but the souls of these tortured "Thetans" live on. The alien ghosts survive by draining our life-force. And they drive huge, tripedal engines-of-destruction with microwave deathrays and trunks full of abductees like Katie Holmes.
Oops. Maybe I should've typed SPOILERS in front of that last paragraph.
Seriously... it really was a good movie. Cruise was cool, Dakota Fanning wasn't overly precocious, and the special-effects were awesome. My associates bitched about the Hollywood ending, but we all know that no one's gonna bet $200,000,000 (supposedly the highest approved budget ever) on a Complete bummer. The only real criticism I have myself is that, given the pervasive Dread, there should've been more of a pause before that dread found resolution. -Whatever. The movie rocked. If you're holding out 'til it hits HBO or DVD, I hope you've got at least a 52", 'cause this one was made for the Big screen. I may even go out and see it again.
Round two, presented by Noel Wood
So I'm encouraged to see this thing because of a lot of positive reviews right off the bat, but I'm far more concerned with getting closets in order and other things that people do when they get domestic. But while in the exciting town of Melbourne, Florida, on our own country's 229th Anniverary, I managed to get a viewing in.
Keith's right -- Spielberg gets you sucked in and actually puts you on the edge of your seat more than a monster truck extravaganza. For the first time in I can't Remember When, I actually felt uncomfortable while sitting in a movie theater. That's a compliment, by the way. And Roger Ebert's wrong (yeah, big surprise there) about the tripods taking away from the film. I mean, this thing is pretty awesome on the surface. They stay as true to a 110-year-old story as is physically possible, while still keeping it relevant. Unfortunately, the Hollywood Ending and mothafuckin' glaring flaws took away from what could have been a great movie.
But first: Tom Cruise. The general line swallowed by the folks seeing this is "it was pretty good despite Tom Cruise being all whacko lately. And I'm like "Zuh"? Tom Cruise has always been a whacko, he just had a much better publicist back in the day. But regarless of that fact, when was the last time Cruise didn't just kick a whole lotta ass on screen? I mean, dude can make crap like Vanilla Sky and Interview With a Vampire watchable. I mean, just look at the guy's stuff from the last decade or so: Minority Report. Magnolia. Eyes Wide Shut. Jerry fucking Maguire. The guy is the most consistently good movie star in all of Hollywood, and anyone who doens't think so is probably three inches from their head hitting their sphincter. Just because he's talking about "Xenu" now doesn't make him any less of a movie star.
But while I liked WotW, and Tom Cruise was as good as he usually is, the movie had flaws. We're not going to mention shit like the camcorder which continued to operate in spite of everything else electronic being dead like Kurt Cobain. We won't talk about the magic spark plug that made The One Van run when nothing else but Humvees were on the road. We won't talk about the "whole neighborhood is destroyed except for the Dodge Caravan which conveniently has a path out of the Cul-de-Sac" thing. And we won't talk about the whole "tripods buried for one million years while goddamn cities with very large underground infrastructures were built on top of them. We just won't.
Well, okay. We just did. But now we'll talk about the cliche that Mr. Spielberg is smart enough to not fall into, but did anyway: the fucking ending. I won't spoil it, but I just have to say this: One motherfucker should have been dead.
And as for the whole resolution of the thing, it was okay and all. People are bitching about the lack of human intervention in defeating the aliens, but I have a copy of Independence Day if I want to see Jeff Goldblum introduce computer viruses written for OS5 to an alien culture. At least Spielberg didn't overextend his ending as he has been wont to do in recent years (see A.I., The Terminal, and Catch Me If You Can) and ended it pretty quickly.
But what was the deal with Mr. Cruise running in to his friend/long-lost lover/whatever only to have her stranded on the mainland while he gets on a ferryboat (which, as an aside, is the fucking last place I'd want to be in this crisis?) I mean, when you saw clothing falling from the sky a few seconds late, I was almost waiting for a stupid Hollywood cliche to justify the whole sequence (the sweater she was wearing was bright, and I was expecting it to come fluttering out of the sky leading to a heavy music sequence and Tommy boy crying like he just found out that Katie Holmes went back to her last gay boyfriend, Chris Klein.) But for once, the lack of triteness actually took away fromt he whole scene's purpose.
Oh, and if dad's name is Ray, and rebellious son is gonna call his dad that, he should really stop shortening his lil' sister Rachel's name ot "Ray" too. I'm just sayin'.
But don't get me wrong: I liked it. It was certainly better than The Fantastic Four, which I haven't seen yet but I'm pretty good at predicting such things (you know how sometimes you accidentally typo "such" as "suck" and think you shouldn't correct it? I just did that.)
And finally, on a side note: Is Morgan Freeman this year's Jude Law? I mean, how many movies is this dude gonna appear in?
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