Friday, July 08, 2005

The Other War of the Worlds

Last night as I was finishing work, I opted to pop up across the road to take in a new "pic-cha". I often go alone. Seems to me pointless to take somebody else along, because it's not polite to talk to the other person when you're seated, and you don't have to put up with somebody beside you and have a spare seat on one side to stash your popcorn, and a spare seat on the other to put your lolly wrappers. I use both facilities liberally. Figure that if the frigging cinema complex is going to charge me fifteen bucks for a ticket, I should make all available use of the cleaning services.

While taking somebody on a hot date to a movie does have the distinct advantage of not having to listen to them talk for two hours, I firmly believe that if some chick is hot enough for me to take her out, it's a much better use of my time and money to be pouring alcohol into her, rather than popcorn.

Popcorn isn't what it used to be. Some vegetarian fucker has come along and removed all the butter. And although it's fresh and crunchy in a tooth-shattering kinda way, it has the flavour of staleness. As for the drink prices, which are positively usurious, the movie theatre should just be frigging honest and employ a Shakespearean Jewish character to serve people at the counter. Not even Shylock would have tried to charge nine dollars for a tiny ice cream that drips chocolate onto my shirt, stale-tasting popcorn, and a miniscule cup of coke that rapidly turns to watery cordial.

Last night was the War of the Worlds. As usual, I turned up knowing nothing about the film, apart from the fact it was expensive to make, and had some big-time Hollywood folksy types behind it. That's as much as I care about movies. Not the worst way to pass a couple of hours scoffing junk food, but a passive, mindless activity at best.

And so, passive and mindless was what I was hoping for. Call me old fashioned, but the best kinda flick you can just nod off to quietly and ignore. But not this movie. No. Not a chance.

In the push to make movies bigger and better and faster and stupider, Steven Spielberg has made a film that simply assaults the senses. Not wanting to spend money on a decent scriptwriter, he just turns up the volume. Not able to lend his hand at characterisation, he has a bunch of not-very-kosher aliens strobe-zapping as many people as they can strobe-zap, and then a few minutes later harvesting humans for food. Supposedly brilliant but evil creatures, they wait a million years underground to come up, and incinerate half their food supplies before they liquify what's left for their nutritional value. Doesn't quite compute, Steve. Methinks the laser guns were really just another means of keeping the audience awake.

Sure, the technology behind the film is outstanding, and the tripods are evil, and man has no show of beating the ugly alien fuckers. But unlike Independence Day, which had actors and characters strong enough to carry off the absurdity of the plot, and pulled off the suspension of disbelief, Spielberg has us seeing Tom Cruise find a way of bringing the evil aliens down. Excellent, I think. Man's going to win this through his own ingenuity.

But no. Then, just as man's figured out a way of bringing down those mighty machines, they all die out on their own. And it's all too sudden. There's no clue or lead-up to it. It's as if the director ran out of time, and pulled out the "And Then He Woke Up" strategy. Man had nothing to do with it. These super-smart ET-types, for some reason, buried themselves into the ground a million years ago, and decided they'd start feasting on us now. Great technology, and all. But couldn't work out that whole immunity to natural organisms thing.

I don't fucking care that that was how the book was written. To expose the same ending a hundred and seven years later in the film makes the audience feel cheated. In the same way that the pathetic allegories to 9/11--the dust-covered swarms of people running, terrified from falling buildings, the crashed plane, and the walls of photos of the missing, doesn't do it for me. Frankly, if these really clever aliens couldn't just nuke everybody at the start, then I don't frigging care what happens next.

So as I walked out of the theatre, I wasn't in a happy mood. I needed to piss on something. As is my habit when I'm sober, I have a preference for urinating in a specially-designated abode, built for such a purpose. Yet at 10:30pm on a Thursday night, as I wandered through the maze of upstairs-downstairs that is Sky City's cinema complex, I could not find such a place. Alas, my intention to miss the urinal and get some more value out of my ticket price passed me by.

It was deliberate, no doubt. Instead of classifying movies by how terrifying or graphic the violence or sex or drug use, or how loose the language, they should really start grading them on how cheated the viewer feels afterwards, and how much we want to take a slash on the cinema attendant.

So as I wandered home, as news was breaking on the radio about the multiple bombings in London, I reflected on the original Orson Welles radio play: the panic that he caused in pre-war US, and the pandemonium portrayed in its latest post-Al Queda cinematic interpretation from Spielberg. The English, on the whole, are decidedly more stoic and peaceful about terror. Just a day after, the Brits are getting on with their lives, brave in the face of evil in a way that limp-wristed Spielberg couldn't contemplate.

Bravo, chaps. Bravo.

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