Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Does Tom Cruise Die In War of the Worlds?

Does Tom Cruise die at the end of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. You’ve probably never heard that before and there’s no direct evidence that he’s dead, but I think he does.

Think about the odds that Cruise can walk from Staten Island to Boston in the middle of this alien invasion AND finds that these aliens have somehow missed the neighborhood where his ex-wife lives in the heart of Boston. Keep in mind, the aliens literally wiped out every other building along the way. Doesn’t that seems oddly coincidental?

Further, his ex-wife and her parents all look happy and normal, just like they’d stepped out of a J.Crew Catalog. There are no signs here of people who fled from aliens, people who have been living without water, food or electricity for days/ weeks, people who have been living in fear of death.
Also, Cruise’s son is with them. This kid was last seen charging into a hopeless battle, a big mass of fire. Yet, somehow, he survived and decides to give up his incredible desire to fight back so he can rush to his mother’s house in Boston? How does he arrive before Cruise? And why is he dressed the same as when Cruise last saw him? He lives here, his clothes are here, why not change out of what he wore to walk from NYC?

None of this rings true.

Also, why does Tom’s son suddenly respect Cruise when he has hasn’t throughout the film and when Cruise has done nothing to earn his respect that he could possibly know about? The ex-wife suddenly being so friendly with Cruise also seems odd. Yes, Cruise brought back her daughter, but he let her son run off into a battle.

None of this is impossible to believe, it just feels “too perfect.”

Tom’s destruction of the tripod which captured him seems odd as well. How can they be that easy to destroy? And why didn’t anyone else try this before? Even the soldier with the grenades didn’t think to try this, why not?

And what about that walk to Boston? This film meticulously followed Cruise’s every moment of the journey right up to the point where he blew up the tripod. Suddenly, we skip days or weeks ahead right to where Tom heroically tells the military to shoot the stumbling tripod and then skips again to his ex-wife’s house where we get an overly-happy ending where everybody looks just like Tom remembers them and all sins are forgiven? None of this fits the early part of the film. It feels more like a dream.

And that brings me to the final clue. This whole final scene is bathed in a strange, fuzzy light, which is normally reserved for “other worldly” sequences or dreams.

I suspect what’s going on here is that Tom died in the tripod and what we are seeing as an ending to the film is either a last second heroic fantasy Cruise has before he is killed or this is Cruise in the afterlife. Either way, I think he’s dead.

Thoughts?

Also, can you think of any scenes from other films which aren’t what they appear?


86 comments:

rlaWTX said...

or it's just a bad movie ending?

I haven't seen it, so I can't really comment - but when has that ever stopped us (me)?

DUQ said...

I've never thought about it, but I did notice it was a bad ending. And like rlaWTX says, I also think it's just a bad movie.

ScottDS said...

I agree with rlaWTX, it's just a bad ending. :-)

What really kills it for me is the reappearance of the son and for this, I place the blame solely on Spielberg. Bless him for retaining a streak of sentimentality in a business that frowns on that kind of thing but this was one case where he should've put that aside and killed the little f---er!

And today, the actor who played the son gets to romp around naked with Emmy Rossum on the Showtime series Shameless... so for that, I hate him. :-)

POSSIBLE SPOILER

Re: endings that are not what they seem, I just watched Drive for the first time and one can come up with at least two possible explanations for the last few shots in the film.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, That's very possible too. I am, however, trying to give Spielberg the benefit of the doubt here that there is a reason for this very strange ending tacked onto the movie.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, It's not a great movie. I've tried to like it, but I can't. It really reminds me how bad Spielberg has gotten at storytelling. If he'd done this in the 1970s, I think it would have been an incredible movie. Instead, it's just a weak and gimmicky movie.

The problem with the ending, however, is a different problem. It's incredibly incongruous. It almost feels like someone else wrote and shot the ending.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I haven't seen Drive yet. It's second on my list and I am looking forward to it, but I haven't gotten there yet. (Just watched Paul and will review for Friday.)

It is very possible this is just a Spielberg sentimental ending. "How do I make everything happy?" But I honestly do wonder if there isn't more going on here because it's not just that it's a happy ending, it's everything:

1. The happy family and the son appearing.
2. The untouched neighborhood.
3. The family showing no signs of having been under any sort of stress at all.
4. The skipped time and dream-like feel of the entire sequence.

I am the first to claim that Spielberg is ham-fisted at times, but I also think he's a competent film director who doesn't make a lot of really big mistakes. And I suspect there is meaning behind all of this other than "he over did it on the happy ending."

T-Rav said...

Andrew, that had never occurred to me; and honestly, I kinda doubt it. I mean, the ending is extremely implausible, especially the son's reappearance. Personally, I think he should have gotten fried right off the bat, but then I'm morbid like that.

However, I don't think the rest of it is impossible. Remember, at the beginning Cruise and what seemed like everyone else in town was dodging the death rays as the neighborhood exploded around them. Yet his own house was just fine when he got back, and no one in the immediate vicinity had a clue what was going on. So it's possible his ex's place in Boston could have made it through unscathed. As for why no one else had thought of taking down the tripods the way he did, Tim Robbins' character did say the Japanese were rumored to have knocked out some of them. He didn't say how, but maybe it was just through improvising/trial and error, the way Cruise did it.

Also, while the final scenes do skip around a bit, I think that's probably attributable to poor editing or simply running out of time. (It was a pretty long movie, after all.)

But my main problem with the ending you're suggesting is continuity. If Cruise did die, when? It must have been in the tripod, but as I recall, there wasn't anything to lead one to believe he didn't make it out of there. He nearly got sucked into the "human juicer," if you will; the crowd pulled him back out, but not before he'd thrown some grenades in to blow the whole thing up. Reasonable enough. Plus, what was the purpose of that whole "take down the Boston tripods" scene if he was already dead?

Point is, I don't see a sharp move from reality to obvious unreality, which makes me think he didn't die and this was all a real ending. But it is interesting to think about, which I guess was partly your point. :-)

ScottDS said...

It's a big summer blockbuster movie (that was made because Spielberg and Cruise each had a gap in their schedules)... it just doesn't seem like the type of project where Spielberg would do something so ambiguous like what you're suggesting.

Spielberg is quite competent (though Chris Nolan probably has him beat) and if it were another filmmaker, I'd believe it, or like I said, Spielberg and another movie. But Spielberg and this movie? Nope. This movie is too conventional for such experimentation.

Now, A.I.... that's another story. I know we had an epic conversation about it one day but that's a movie full of ambiguity.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Yep, that was my point, to toss out an idea and see what people thought.

This ending has bothered me since I first saw the film because of the incongruity of it. The movie changes in every possible way right after he tosses the grenades into the tripod -- in terms of lighting, pacing, dialog, etc. It's so noticeable that my first thought (when I saw the film) was that Spielberg handed off the ending to some other director because he switched projects.

Then I started wondering if there wasn't some other reason and that's when it struck me that this might be a hidden meaning. But I've never heard anyone talk about it.

What bothered me is that the ending just feels all wrong for this film, it's bizarrely erratic and has a dream-like quality to it. And it's exactly the kind of ending Tom Cruise's character would have wanted -- he's the hero, the world is perfect, and everyone loves and respects him. That's when I started to wonder if this wasn't meant as something like him being dead and this is his vision of Heaven?

I'm certainly not saying that IS the case and as I note, the evidence is all circumstantial. But I wonder if that was Spielberg's intent.... and maybe he couldn't quite pull it off, so he just never said anything about it?

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. T-Rav, On the evidence, each piece in isolation can easily be explained. But I tend to think of Spielberg as too good of a director to create an ending like this, so I see it all together as evidence of something other than just a bunch of mistakes.

tryanmax said...

It's been done before (Minority Report, Taxi Driver, Total Recall, Observe and Report) so I wouldn't be surprised.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Allow me to counter that point:

This film was made at time when Spielberg was trying to stretch his wings and be seen as something of a genius again. A lot of the things he was saying at the time sounded like a "mid-life" crisis from a guy who was used to hearing himself described as "groundbreaking" and had now spent 20 years being known as a generic filmmaker.

Think about Jaws, Close Encounters, Schindler's List, Roger Rabbit, and Jurassic Park as examples where he was seen as doing things no one had ever done before. But by this point, he was known as a big blockbuster, generic director... the kind of guy who milked sequels.

That's where A.I. and Minority Report come into this. Those were attempts to regain his credibility as someone who took risks and revolutionized the genre. War of the Worlds has a similar feel. This film feels like Spielberg picked a well-know topic and did his best to make it stand out, like he was trying to show us all that he was still the old Spielberg. So in that sense, I think it's wrong to dismiss this film as just a quick, summer film he made between projects. And I think it's very possible he was aiming for something larger.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Minority Report? Good call on Total Recall. I remember people debating the ending on that one for a long time, but in this age of DVDs, I think it's clear that his reality is indeed fake. In fact, if you look at the images they flip through before giving him the implant, you will see the entire ending of the film.

tryanmax said...

Yeah, the ending of Minority Report doesn't fit the rest of the film at all. Tom Cruise takes the tub psychics and they go live in a cabin? Okay, so technically he wouldn't be dead, but in an induced coma.

BTW, anybody ever heard the theory that Zion is just another part of The Matrix?

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That is an odd ending indeed, but I've never thought about it having a second meaning. I'll have to watch Minority Report again. :)


I'm a firm believer that Zion is in the matrix.

For one thing, why would Neo's abilities extend to the real world? Even if he is "the one," the one's abilities are limited to manipulating the matrix, not affecting the real world.

Secondly, the architect makes it clear that they needed to do something with "the remainder and an unbalanced equation" who would not accept the regular matrix programming. Thus, they let them think they have escaped and are fighting the machine. It is, as he put it, "another form of control."

That also explains certain problems with the story, like where the technology the humans are using came from, where these massive sewers came from, how they survive in a world where they can't grow food or raise animals, etc., and why the machines can't stop them by just preventing them from tapping in. None of that really makes sense unless you realize that this is all inside the matrix and is intended to give the humans a chance to think they are fighting back.

Ed said...

I have honestly never thought about this. I just dismissed it as a lousy ending. But you make an interesting point and I can see why you think this might be true. I guess there's no way to know unless someone asked Spielberg directly, but it's a neat thought.

Ed said...

tryanmax, I think Zion is inside the matrix as well. The only thing that bothers me with that theory is the end when the Oracle and the Architect sit together and talk about the future and they seem to imply that the humans and machines are separate.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed! That's what I wanted to hear -- that people are thinking about it. You don't have to agree as I could be entirely wrong. But I think it's worth mentioning.

On The Matrix that scene is somewhat troubling to the theory in tone, but not in substance. In other words, if you go in thinking they represent free humans versus the machine, then they are talking about the new unsteady peace deal. But if you listen, they are really talking about a new approach to balancing the equation. In other words, rather than just starting over by killing Zion and then letting a new crop of people form the new Zion, this time they are going to let the humans think they are independent and see where that leads.

The Architect is basically scoffing at the idea it will work because he thinks humans need the feeling of rebelling to accept the programming, whereas the Oracle thinks it's enough that they believe they have escaped. It's really about the meaning of how we define independence.... can you feel independent if your independence is sanctioned by the authorities?

Kenn Christenson said...

It must be a dream - why else would your in-laws be played by the leads in the first "War of the Worlds" film? ;)

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, Good point! LOL! That would explain why they aren't troubled by the invasion too -- they've seen it all before! ;)

Joel Bocko said...

"Also, can you think of any scenes from other films which aren’t what they appear?"

Yes - the end of Taxi Driver. I've always agreed with Ebert's theory that it's Travis Bickle's dying vision rather than part of the same reality as the rest of the film.

Of course, this isn't what Schrader intended (he's explicitly said so) and I don't think Scorsese intended it this way either.

Yet it works, and I go with it anyway! At a certain point, films have a life independent of their creators.

I saw War of the Worlds when I was living in NYC, and my friends hated the ending for letting Boston off the hook. Of course, since I grew up in New England I was more ambivalent. I've never considered this reading (and haven't seen it since it came out) but it works for me, in theory at least, since so much of Spielberg's work hovers on that line between fantasy-projection and reality anyway: escapism as psychodrama, you might say (think of E.T. with the alien taking the place of the absent father, or CE3K in which the hero's marriage dissolves and he escapes into the cosmos).

Joel Bocko said...

Oh, and another, kind of offbeat example since it isn't actually part of the "film proper": in the movie Forbidden Games, they added a prologue and epilogue in which the little children, shown in the movie itself surviving brutal wartime conditions, appear in an idyllic forest and sit down to read a story which turns out to be the movie. At the end we cut back to them and the little girl is crying and the boy says not to worry, it's just fiction.

This framing device has been criticized in many quarters as mitigating the film's seriousness (after all, children suffering in wartime was hardly fictitious) but what I like about it is that it's so obviously false - in a way it makes the main part of the film that much more upsetting, because we're reminded that the lightness belongs to fantasy, and the darkness to reality, however the kids might try to convince themselves otherwise.

I think this framing device is included as extras on the DVD, but I like to think of it as part of the film itself. Adds an undertone of desperation to the film's general air of stoicism and fatalism.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That's a good point: "At a certain point, films have a life independent of their creators."

I'm a firm believer that what's important in films is not what was intended, but what actually appears on screen. What was intended can certainly explain or add to a film, but ultimately, I think what matters most is what people take away from the film.

In that regard, it's like an advertisement. You may intend to make a product look good, but if the public takes a different message from it, that's what become relevant. I see films similarly.

I agree with you about Taxi Driver, it absolutely has the feel of being a dying vision.

On War of the Worlds, to me the biggest clue as I've said above is that this ending is just too perfect and too different from the rest of the film. To me, that either means that Spielberg really had no feel for his film (which is unlikely) or he's trying something. That "something" could just be a switch to a more "artsy" feel or it could be something more. I tend to think it's a death vision of some sort because it's literally everything Cruise's character would hope would happen.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I haven't seen that one, so I can't comment. But I looked it up and it looks interesting.

Joel Bocko said...

Thinking about it this way also makes for an interesting comparison to Super 8, the ultimate Spielberg-tribute movie. I saw that the other night and, while enjoying the stylistic touchstones (a refreshing reminder of a more, to my mind, "cinematic" way of storytelling in entertainment films) and the numerous references, felt that Abrams fundamentally messed up by trying to combine the emotional Spielberg blockbusters (E.T., Close Encounters) with the pure "popcorn" ones (Raiders, Jurassic Park). In the latter films, there's a high body count and a lot of visceral thrills/action/violence but he doesn't try to tug our heartstrings. In the former films he does and the stories are more humanist. But Abrams tried to make us feel sorry for the boy and the alien in the midst of mayhem and it just didn't work for me. In fact, asking us to care about the kid and the monster while glibly dispatching convenient victims like the fat sheriff and lady with curlers in her hair (and boy does this movie ever subscribe to the "black-people-die-first in horror movie" ethos!) struck me as kind of distasteful. The only Spielberg film I can think of that takes the cynical and glib approach is The Lost World, with its sickening PETA subplot in which we're supposed to empathize with the T. Rex but not the Hispanic underlings he stomps on - the worst kind of limo liberalism (here, if not necessarily in other political areas, I suspect we're in complete agreement). And that's one of his worst, most phoned-in, and least typical.

It was fun seeing the kids mess around making the movie but I thought it kind of lost track of itself as time wore on.

tryanmax said...

On Taxi Driver, Schrader and Scorsese have been pretty evasive when discussing the final scene. I'm not aware of any straightforward denial of any interpretation by either man. I think it's one of those endings that is meant to be mulled over rather than being decisive.

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, I've been racking my brains trying to think of a film where something isn't what it appears. I can't think of any unless it's the point to the film, like "Inception."

Joel Bocko said...

With Schrader, it's less an outright denial (I don't know that he ever directly engaged the death-dream theory) than that he talks about the ending, whenever I've heard him talk about, very straightforwardly as if it's a statement on the madness of society and the media. Which not only doesn't quite ring true to me, but isn't really consistent with the rest of the film in which the only outside element satirized is the vapid politician. If it's satirical it seems kind of tacked-on to the main body of the film. If it's personal/psychological on the other hand, it flows naturally out of the material.

Joel Bocko said...

Ah, here's another good example, where it's REALLY unintentional: The Magnificent Ambersons. There the studio massacred Welles' film but they did it in an odd way; they don't seem to have messed much with the early passages but by the end of the movie their interference (reshot scenes, missing segments, a general decline in the aesthetic quality and narrative coherence) is blatant. Because the movie itself is about the decline of a wealthy family, and the emergence of modernity, the movie's stylistic decline mirrors the fall of the Ambersons themselves; style reflects content. I'd rather have Welles' version, but the correspondence is interesting nonetheless.

BevfromNYC said...

Umm, Gone With th...oh nevermind.

ScottDS said...

Joel, et al -

Interesting thoughts about Super 8. I liked it but not nearly as much as I wanted to. I don't think I'm the only person who thought the story with the kids and their movie and the romance was more interesting and compelling than the actual monster plot.

I haven't given it much thought since I saw the film but here is an interesting article that dissects the film and why the ending doesn't work at all.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, it's certainly an interesting argument, but I don't know if the evidence alone is enough to bear it out.

The real reason such an explanation bugs me is because it totally up-ends the human element in the film. The major subplot is Cruise's character starting off as a deadbeat dad who can't really connect with his kids and doesn't try all that hard. Then disaster intervenes, and by the end, he's killed a man to protect his daughter. So his struggle to retain his family is supposed to be what makes it compelling.

Well, if he's dead in the ending you posit, that would imply his kids are dead too, so basically he failed. Kind of a crappy message. And for all we know, the humans who are still alive haven't turned the tide against the machines at all; they may be nearing extinction by now. So that also sucks. I don't think that's the ending Spielberg was going for. But it's something to think about.

Lastly, what does it say that I know nothing about a third of the movies you discuss, but can go on for a long time about this sub-par one? Nothing good, right?

T-Rav said...

And incidentally, I can explain all the problems raised by the Matrix sequels with three simple words: Phoning. It. In.

Backthrow said...

Now I'm beginning to think that perhaps Indy actually died in that nuked fridge, which would also explain a lot... :D

Interesting theory on Cruise in WAR OF THE WORLDS... not sure I'd want to watch it again, as I didn't really like it (nor Cruise, usually, COLLATERAL being an exception), apart from the spectacle of the martians attacking the ferry.

One (great) film that's fairly ambiguous throughout is John Boorman's POINT BLANK (1967), and can be interpreted at least 3 ways; gangster/thief Lee Marvin is shot and left for dead by his two-timing partner, John Vernon, in an abandoned Alcatraz, at the start of the film.

1.) Marvin has somehow survived the murder attempt, swam to shore, and sets about his plan for getting his share of the loot.

2.) The shot was fatal, and all that he does afterward is a fantasy playing through his head, as his final moments of life drain out of him.

3.) The shot was fatal, but he returns as a ghostly figure to wreak vengeance on his partner and The Organization, through his pursuit of his share of the loot.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Yep, we can absolutely agree that Lost World is the worst kind of limousine liberalism. That film really struck me as sending a message that some people (and some animals) are just more important than others. I think they tried to cover this up with the assumption that all the people getting killed were on the team of the bad guy, so they must be bad guys. But that doesn't really hold water. For all we know, these guys are just normal employees brought along with no idea whether they were doing anything right or wrong. And it's interesting that they are dehumanized so thoroughly by not giving any of them any personality at all.

You make an interesting delineation of the Spielberg films that he's working on two tracks -- those that care about the characters and are highly sentimental and those that are interested in action and really don't make an effort to get sentimental. And War of the Worlds really is a movie that tries to mix them both -- just like Super 8. Perhaps that's why this film is ultimately rather unsatisfying?

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, The thing is, that I suspect whenever someone thinks of something like this, they probably use it as the hook for the movie. So it's unlikely that you're going to find a lot of films that just happened to have these moments in them without it being a centerpiece, like in Inception.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Brazil is like that. Gilliam came up with a really fascinating and interest film. But the studio chopped it to pieces to create a version they felt American audiences would accept. And the resulting studio version is insanely incoherent because they try to turn a dream into reality without the footage they need to make that happen. It's fascinating to watch the two versions back to back and see the difference.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, But of course, the way Scarlett wakes up back in Kansas when it's all over! ;)

Joel Bocko said...

I was thinking about that myself - that War of the Worlds mixes the two modes more than earlier Spielberg films did - but I liked the film overall, and I think the reason it's stronger than Super-8 is that, well the action is obviously exciting on a gut level, it isn't played for "Oh, cool" so much as tapping into fear and anxiety. Whereas in Lost World we see the guy flapping from the T. Rex's foot and supposed to think, "Woah, awesome!" Even when the good guys get eaten the film presents it rather indifferently, more a matter of technique than concern for the character. I think WotW was more an attempt to tap into post-9/11 fears & anxieties whereas the earlier films were made in a context where explosions and violence were considered foreign enough to the average American experience that everyone could watch them for sheer enjoyment.

Mostly, though, whether or not its thematically coherent I just liked the movie for being well-made, which doesn't seem much to ask of a big summer blockbuster...but since the advent of CGI filmmaking seems to me to have gotten much sloppier, lots of movement and fast-cutting, losing the satisfaction of a visual storytelling. Spielberg's always been good at that, it was nice to see him return to that touchstone in the year of (blech) Jackson's King Kong.

Although I haven't seen Indy 4 yet, and from what I've heard am not in any rush to...

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, There certainly isn't enough evidence to say that my theory is fact. That's clear. I'm just piecing things together and I could be entirely wrong.

You make a good point that this kind of a downer ending would see to go against the theme of the film. But let me make some counter points.

1. Except for the ending, we're pretty sure the son is dead. So he's already failed on that account.

2. Secondly, he's not very good at connecting with his daughter either. I won't go so far as to call him careless or anything, but if you remove the ending entirely and stop the film right before the Boston scene, he's still pretty much a failure as a father. His only success would be in blowing up the one tripod.

So in a way, it's the Boston ending which creates the happy ending that isn't there in the rest of the film. In other words, if we never saw the ending, would we still think this was meant to be a happy movie about redemption? Or would we see it as a downer about Cruise's total failures as a father?


What does it say that you don't know the better films? Sounds to me like we need to lock you into a theater for a month or so! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, That would explain a lot if Indy died in the fridge. LOL!

Interesting take on Point Blank. I've never thought about it, but it's very possible he died at the beginning because the rest is almost a little surreal. I've always put that down to the more surreal style of filmmaking at the time, but it's very possible there is something intentional going on. I'll have to watch that again.

Yeah, I don't really recommend watching War of the Worlds again.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I agree that it's well-made, though ultimately I find the film unsatisfying.

Indeed, there are some great moments in the film. When the daughter is looking at the extremely beautiful river and the bodies come floating by, or when the flaming train comes running past, or even when the tripods emerge, those are all great images.

I also like the theme of Cruise of redeeming himself as a father. And I think Spielberg did a great job of capturing how people would act, which other films rarely bother with. In effect, Spielberg delved into how the "common man" would handle this rather than the superhero.

I think those are pluses.

T-Rav said...

You know the scene I really like in War of the Worlds? The one where they're all waiting to get on the ferry. Cruise's character sees something coming over the crest of a hill behind them; he's looking that way while everyone else is looking toward the ferry--and then the tripod appears and makes a sound, and everyone shuts up and looks that direction at the same time. I thought that was very well coordinated, and it reminded me of a herd of animals being startled by a predator. Which no doubt is what Spielberg was going for.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That was really well done too. I also like how the tripod is shown underwater with the lights. I thought that was extremely well shot.

T-Rav said...

Frankly, I thought the British big-game hunter who wanted to track and kill the T-Rex was the deepest and most sympathetic character in The Lost World. The "heroic" Vince Vaughn character who destroyed the group's equipment and emptied the bullets from his gun so he couldn't defend the camp--now he should have been freaking killed. Or brought back to the mainland in handcuffs and held for involuntary manslaughter. Either way.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I had the same thought. Pete Postlethwaite was easily the most interesting and sympathetic character in the film. Vaughn was his usual a-hole self -- hard to like, uninteresting.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Interesting article. I agree that the other parts of the Super 8 story were better than the monster itself. I think, ultimately, this is another one of "those" films where they do a lot of little things right, but it doesn't add up to more than the sum of its parts because they didn't do anything great and the story itself isn't strong enough to weave it all together.


BTW, I got distracted at the link you provided with this really cool set of wedding pictures: Nerd Love

:)

ScottDS said...

T-Rav and Andrew -

I agree, re: Pete Postlethwaite's character. Not only that, I even remember Siskel and Ebert's review where one of them mentioned his character and how it was a shame Spielberg didn't do more with him since he was the only one worth watching.

He's in a deleted scene which kinda sorta fleshes out his character, where he and his men are at a bar and he beats up a guy who's harassing a woman. (The scene is on the DVD and was added back in when the film premiered on TV.)

On the plus side, this film did introduce Vince Vaughn to the world. His only major credit up to that point had been Swingers. Yeah, his movies kinda suck nowadays but I'm a fan.


Andrew -

Interesting idea about Super 8 not adding up to the sum of its parts - a reaction I have too frequently nowadays when it comes to movies.

If you want nerdy wedding photos, check these out. They're Up-themed. Okay, they're not "nerdy" in the traditional sense of the word... they're actually very sweet, I hope I'm lucky enough to meet a woman who'd do something like this one day.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I prefer the zombie honeymoon -- much nerdier and surprisingly sincere. :)


I agree, it would have been a much better film if they spent a lot more time with Pete P.

I'm not a Vaughn fan because he strikes me as a total jerk and I've never liked any of his characters that I can think of.


I get the feeling all the time from modern movies that they don't add up to more than their parts and I suspect it's because so many are assembled from parts rather than whole stories. In fact, I'm amazed how many times films seem to be created from generic parts and stock characters rather than anything organic.

Joel Bocko said...

100% agreed on Postlethwaite - and R.I.P. (somehow I didn't find out he'd died until about a year later; it seems to have slipped under the media radar, or else I just wasn't paying attention at the time - maybe both).

Vaughn I generally enjoy, although his persona is that of an jerk...but this time he was a self-righteous jerk, which is worse.

The dumbest part of the whole thing was that there are no real dinosaurs, and the situation they created in the film really isn't analogous to anything you'll find in real life. Kinda vaguely sorta anti-zoo but even that connection's more of a miss than anything else.

And they had T-Rexes cavorting with stegosaurus at film's end! It was definitely a low ebb for Spielberg - amazing to think it was his follow-up to Schindler's List. Well, there had been a break of 4 years (and it shows).

Joel Bocko said...

Re: modern movies, I think Hollywood always had a tendency to reuse and recycle but (to paraphrase) Manny Farber the good screenwriters, directors and actors used to be able to make satisfying, "termite"-like use of a generic movie's details, sometimes even creating great works in the process.

Today so much rides on certain formulaic elements, and so many factors (from CGI to the close-up-and-cut shooting/editing style to the zealous fan base of the material being adapted) hinder the abilities of the filmmakers to get loose and inventive with familiar material. That's my take on it.

ScottDS said...

Joel -

I refer to The Lost World as "Spielberg on autopilot." I think he even directed one scene via remote since has was busy helping his kid on the first day of school... in another state.

Granted, Spielberg on autopilot is better than most directors on their best days... but yeah, it shows.

What bothers me about Spielberg (and this may be opening a can of worms) is that he started out, very much like Lucas, battling The Man... and now, like Lucas, he is The Man. I have no doubt he tries to support young filmmakers and I'm sure he's a nice guy... but his image is so controlled, we'll most likely never get any dirt on him (and there is dirt)... he just comes across as corporate. Filmmakers like Peter Jackson and Edgar Wright come across as more "fan-friendly" and accessible.

And why does he continue to cast well-known actors in small parts? He doesn't do it often but why did Ted Danson have to appear in Private Ryan? How many actors would kill their own mothers for a chance to be in a Spielberg film for 5 minutes? yet he casts a well-known sitcom actor.

Individualist said...

Andrew

To find out lets warp over to the Questionable Trek Series...

Du Dah du dah da duh swoosh

US: Well....
Bones: He's Dead Jim

Swoosh and we are back

I guess we have our answer

Joel Bocko said...

Scott, yes, it's a can of worms but I think it's already been opened as far as I'm concerned - in the past few months I've been involved in numerous discussions on Spielberg, some more civil than others. I generally defend him - it's amazing how some people refuse to even see only the commercial aspect, ignoring the fact that his films express a personal vision - but lately I've been musing a lot on WHY he draws the particular criticism he does, and I think it has some grounds.

I think Spielberg, Lucas, and Disney were all unique in that they were artists and moguls at the same time. The public image of them gets blurred, and people aren't sure whether the resultant films reflect commercial or artistic instincts. The key question, the most important, is: how does thinking about movies as products in the marketplace (which they are, of course, but usually a great director will ignore this aspect to focus on making the movie as good as it can be) affect what's onscreen?

To a certain extent, they are extreme examples of all Hollywood artists (directors and especially actors) in the post-contract era: they have to market themselves as well as create art. To what extent does awareness of their promotional/image-creating responsibilities (what you refer to as "corporate") impinge upon or influence their craftsmanship? Look at Scorsese, who post-90s has seemed as concerned with establishing and maintaining a brand (America's National Director and Film Preservationist) as in following a personal vision. Back in the 30s and 40s Hollywood, a director's and actor's business considerations extended generally to collecting their paycheck and re-negotiating contracts when the time came. Yes, they established and maintained an image but for the most part this was left to the studio publicity department - and the artists themselves were left to focus on the task at hand.

In other words, they were employees rather than entrepreneurs - since then they've gained their freedom and empowerment, but with it come certain risks.

As for casting famous actors in bit parts, I've always wondered that about Malick, myself. And apparently some of those famous actors do as well, haha...

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I agree. The dinosaurs aren't real, and they aren't even a good metaphor for something else. So you ended up with a message that was basically "man is evil and should stay away from nature." But the message is lost in the fantasy of it all. The message also got lost because the good guys did their own tampering and that was seen as ok.

And to me, the film ultimately comes across as having a militant but nonseniscal message. That's a bad sign.


I think you're absolutely right about the problem with modern movies. And I would add the corporate factor. Hollywood is highly corporate these days and that means focus groups, marketing-driven products, maximize profit for minimum risk. The one thing missing in that entire equation is "creativity."

Until that changes, for reasons you and I discussed the other day, I think movies will continue to feel very, very bland.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Interesting point. There is a universal truism that the greatest creativity comes when facing the harshest test. And that mean that the more restrictions you need to fight against, i.e. the harder it is to get your way, the more creative and motivated you will be by necessity.

Once you've "made it," then all of that vanishes and you lose that spark. I think Spielberg like Lucas lost his creative edge when he "made it" because there were suddenly no restrictions and no one he needed to answer to. Lucas in particular surrounded himself with yes-men. And when everyone around you is constantly telling you how great you are, it's hard to remain fresh and take the kinds of risks you need to take to succeed.

I also think Spielberg ran into the social-circle issue. As he became powerful, his circle of friends changed. He started hanging out with the rich and famous rather than the "up-coming." So when it came time to cast an actor, he looked down his friend list and saw famous people who always said they wanted to work with him whenever they met at lunch or for dinners. And rather than go through the hastle of finding somebody new, he just called them.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, LOL! Excellent answer! :)

Individualist said...

Ok

With regard to the Corporate factor I saw the movie Chronicle the other day. Mind you I liked the film and the take on how super powers would really play out was good.

What I want to complain about is not just the shaky cam but overuse of the Balir Witch project motiff. The idea that we have to see the entire film as if it were viewed from footage we can find becuase then we don't have to worry about camera angles or any that expensive stuff is getting really old. I thought it detracted from this film.

ScottDS said...

I also think Spielberg ran into the social-circle issue. As he became powerful, his circle of friends changed.

My sentiments exactly, though human nature undoubtedly plays a part here, too. I can't say for certain that I wouldn't "fall under the spell" if I were in his position.

I actually wish Spielberg would offer to help some of his "protege" directors from the 80s, like Joe Dante, who could use another big hit (though they may not be interested).

AndrewPrice said...

Joel and Scott, While I agree with you, allow me to toss in a couple slightly different angles.

1. There is a human tendency to judge things based on a scale. So a director that scores two "10"s in a row will be harshly criticized if their next film is a "9". At the same time, a director who consistently gets a "5" will be massively praised when they score a "6". And here's the kicker, people will actually see the "6" as a better film than the "9" because of the relative scores.

I know that sounds wrong, but it's true. And one place where you see it is in sports. People actually view the Super Bowl loser as a worse team than teams who did not make it to the Super Bowl because they see it as a "greater failure" to lose the Super Bowl than not get there.

So Lucas and Spielberg face that problem. Every time they don't score a new Jaws or Star Wars people savage them for "having lost it."

2. There is a lot wrong with Hollywood, and it's getting worse all the time for two decades now. But Hollywood doesn't have a leader because it's not a single organization.

But Lucas and Spielberg are sufficiently important that they have come to be seen as a proxy for Hollywood. Spielberg in particular because he owns a studio, produced a billion movies and television shows, discovers famous people like Shia LeBouf, and directs his own films. He even speaks for Hollywood politically. That makes him Mr. Hollywood.

So in that light, he (and to a lesser degree Lucas) become a proxy for a place people are coming to hate.

That's why he's such a focal point.

3. Lucas in particular, but then Spielberg with E.T. and Indiana Jones, have directly attacked things that people consider part of their childhood. That generates a lot of anger and resentment. And Lucas has actually gone further and made it clear he's doing this for spite.

I think those are other reasons to consider.

Joel Bocko said...

One thing I forgot to mention about Spielberg though - he was never quite up against "the Man" (in a way that even Lucas, comparatively, was at least when he was part of Zoetrope with Coppola). He's actually that extremely rare case (so rare it's hard for me to think of any others) who neither lucked his way into the system through connections nor had to create something outside of it in order to get noticed.

OK, he did make Amblin' on his own, but that was a silent short, a calling-card movie rather than a breakthrough - his advancement was based more on his unique gambit of sneaking onto the Universal lot (something nobody could accomplish nowadays). In some ways, perhaps, Spielberg is the unique entity he is because of his unique path to success.

He's unafflicted by the sense of guilty vulnerability that may hinder those who know how damn lucky they were to get an inside connection, and suspect their success might not have come otherwise. (These people are probably more inclined to toe the line/play it safe.)

But he also doesn't have the outsider/resentment attitude which can lead to some original, rebellious work but also a descent into confusion and selling-out when the system accepts the outsider (think of how many great first independent films have led to mediocre worker once the filmmaker "went Hollywood").

Instead, he's the ultimate independent insider, a very rare position. It's an interesting thought, one I've never really humored to this extent before. In a way, it corresponds a bit more closely to the older school of filmmakers who HAD to create within the system (there were virtually no outside routes) but did not have the same barriers later generations would, because the industry was still formed and not ossified.

Come to think of it, every generation seems to offer a new route into making movies. Originally the industry was wide-open and talented people could, to a certain extent, set up shop and/or work their way up. Later TV offered a new "open" industry when the film industry had aged. Then film schools provided a new perspective on movies and, as the youth movement developed in society, studios went to film students to "save them" with young audiences they didn't understand. When the blockbuster mentality took over, an independent film sector rose up. When that was gobbled up (as it seems to have been by now), the internet emerged as a new venue, though it's been underused so far. It will be interesting to see how this all develops.

Goes without saying these arguments are only meant to apply to the American film industry, though they may have parallels elsewhere.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Speaking from experience, I can tell you that people change for a lot of reasons. I haven't because I'm the same old grump who enjoys his freedom and alone time... a noble hermit. :D

... but I've seen lots of people change once they get into a job that offers money, access to politicians, access to large corporations, tickets to events, paid boondoggles, etc.

Also, even medium amounts of money change people, and people with money find it increasingly hard to relate to people without money. So slowly over time, your friendships will change. Add in a political flavor, with joining various boards and charities and moving up the corporate ranks... and it can very easily change someone.

ScottDS said...

Joel -

I agree, re: Spielberg and "the Man." I realized after I posted my comment that I might've been in error on that point.


Andrew -

On your third point, Spielberg has since admitted the whole "walkie-talkie/gun" thing in E.T. was a mistake and the upcoming Blu-Ray will include the THEATRICAL version. Imagine that!

On your first point, I can't disagree. I can't imagine how Spielberg felt after 1941 was released, though he quickly redeemed himself in short order. Part of the disappointment with Crystal Skull was simply expectations.

I said this once before, and it only proves your point: I'll be pleasantly surprised at Movie X since I wasn't expecting anything, but I'll be disappointed at Movie Y because I was expecting greatness and didn't get it.

We're only human. :-)

Joel Bocko said...

Oh, and with Star Wars to my surprise the originals actually are on DVD - and even without the re-release "Episode IV" tag! I own the first one (the real "first" one.

ScottDS said...

Joel -

Too bad Lucas recycled decade-old non-anamorphic transfers and included them as "bonus features." Fans have created superior facsimiles of the original versions in better equality.

Andrew and I have discussed my plan to court and marry one of Lucas' daughters so that way, after Lucas shuffles off this mortal coil, I would own the franchise (along with his kids, of course). :-P

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I own the originals too. I refuse to acknowledge the video-game versions that came later. Grrr.

You make an interesting point with Spielberg and how the people's backgrounds fuel them. I suspect there's a lot of truth to that.

Joel Bocko said...

Yes, the quality is not great but since at one time I thought any semblance of the originals was out of circulation I'm just relieved I can see Han shoot first...

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Grading against expectations is absolutely something humans do. It's wrong, but we do it.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, Don't get me started on Star Wars v. Lucas.

T-Rav said...

Don't get me started on Star Wars v. Lucas.

I don't want to do this, I really don't--but I can't help it.

Lucas: Han Never Shot First

AndrewPrice said...

//head.... explodes

T-Rav said...

LOL!

Screw the deficit, and the economy, and the foreign policy (or lack thereof): I would vote for Obama if he had Lucas arrested on trumped-up charges and threw his butt in Guantanamo. I think he would have a 90% approval rating if he did that.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, You have just come up with the perfect campaign plan. I could absolutely get behind anyone who promised this! LOL!

rlaWTX said...

even Santorum, Andrew? :)

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Yes... yes, I could. Anyone. This issue is so important I could overlook anything else. ;)

Outlaw13 said...

I think he died in Top Gun. After the ejection sequence he's standing in his underware reliving his youth thinking about Bob Segar songs and driving his Dad's Porsche. Later he's reunited in a triumphant scene with people he couldn't stand earlier in the film... yes he was quite clearly really dead after the ejection from the F-14. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, LOL! Bravo! Well done.

And he hasn't aged since! ;)

El Gordo said...

It is a bad ending. Don´t forget the mmost implausible part: that an advanced interstellar civilization forgets to protect itself against microbes. That ending worked in H.G. Well´s time but today? Only in a dream.

But of course the filmmakers are not clever or subtle enough to suggest Cruise is dead and only hallucinating about an impossible deus ex machina. Instead they clumsily try to establish a theme of "the alien occupier will always be rejected". This is what liberals believe when it suits them, but not what history teaches.

And so we get this incredibly significant exchange about a splinter in little Rachel´s finger:

Ray: It's gonna get infected.
Rachel: No, it won't. When it's ready, my body will just push it out.

Aha! Get it? Get it??

They also mention Robbie is doing a paper "on the French occupation of Algeria". No doubt the writer has seen The Battle opf Algiers. Well, Algeria was not occupied, it was SETTLED, at a time when few people lived there, for about 130 years. By that measure dozens of countries are "occupiers" including the US. Well, who says Hollywood doesn´t see it that way.

Joel Bocko said...

Hey El Gordo, I'd like to discuss some of your points from BH via email. I don't like their comment moderation system which deleted something I left there. Let me know if you're interested: movieman0283 at gmail (corrected from deleted comment, which just said "movieman"). Hope you're feeling better later.

-Joel a/k/a MovieMan0283

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, That's an interesting point. I suppose this could be meant as a political statement in which event the ending is necessary to show that even though you can beat the military of a country, you will still lose -- to the people or even the very microbes?

That would make the ending even worse in my view because it suddenly refocuses the movie entirely. But it could well explain it.

Good point on Algeria by the way. Also, if you go back far enough, everyone's occupying somebody's land.

Anonymous said...

The war happens in a span of (literally) days. It isn't like in the book, where it last like, what, three weeks or something?

Anothertree said...

That is an interesting concept of his having a dream or after death experience of seeing everyone just as they were and the son still wearing the same clothes was just a careless or lazy error unless he did die because its symbolic of near death experiences to see family as they used to be. Your post actually would have been a great idea to use . What happened unfortunately was Spielberg tried to fit too many scenes that were chopped too short making the scenes look unfinished and badly edited and a rushed ending that didn't make sense. He could have made two great movies from all the material that was thrown together badly and ended up looking like a unfinished production. It was a badly edited production .

Anonymous said...

Ray falls asleep and awakes three times, or does he? Perhaps he never awakens after going to bed after his Red Hook shift ends. Maybe he works out his problems in a mythological "Hero's Journey" within the dream. As "Perseus" he uses a mirror as a shield (Perseus uses a shield as a mirror)against the "Medusa" the alien(s)and perhaps his subconscious demons. The two times he apparently awakens, he emerges from a basement(subconscious). SS repeatedly uses a hole in the glass imagery as a framing device (maybe the mind's eye??). Ray and Rachel traverse at least 120 miles from the Athens ferry (Hudson River--Styx) to Boston in apparently a night and a day. The film concludes and he is a hero to his children, his wife, and the in-laws.

Unknown said...

Reading your assessment of War of the worlds ending is interesting. I've seen it before, but watched it again last night and noticed all the same ending oddities that you did... The fuzzy lighting, the lack of danger after the destruction of the tripod, and the ridiculously unharmed condition of the rest of the family! Even the way cruise looks at his son before hugging him seemed off. It's a summer blockbuster movie, so obviously Spielberg couldn't make the deaths of the entire family blatant, but maybe, just maybe he left that possibility to the keen eyed viewers in there...

Casey Moore said...

I agree completely. I found this thread because I looked past the sappy,crowd pleasing ending as some of you have. All your points are spot on accurate, I'll even add the look on cruises face before he hugs the son as showing something deeper going on.

AndrewPrice said...

Casey and Unknown, Interesting, isn't it? The whole ending just feels wrong or out of place and it's so packed with things that are normally done in dreams on film that it feels like it needs to be a dream or something similar. It's both too perfect and too surreal.

I'd love to ask Spielberg if that was his intent?

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