War of the Worlds (pendragon)Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 07/01/05 20:49:31
As a film critic, I do not like to throw about the name of Edward D. Wood, Jr. To compare any old cinematic bungle to the works of Ed Wood is to show a lack of understanding of Bad Movies; Wood may be the most recognizable name, but he is by no means the worst of the worst. (Those who doubt these need examine the careers of directors Francis Coleman, Ted V. Mikels, and, more recently, Chris Seaver.) Not every movie can earn a comparison to Wood just for being awful. What a Bad Movie needs is a pinch of that Woodian charm: that insane mix of cheerful naiveté and reckless incompetence.Which brings me to Timothy Hines’ “H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds.” Like the cardboard tombstones, paper plate flying saucers, and complete disregard for continuity that comprise of Wood’s “Plan Nine From Outer Space,” there are moments here - remarkably inept acting, laughable CGI, and, at least in one scene, a complete disregard for continuity - that make the badness of “War” downright hypnotic. Add in the fact that this entire production was done with admirable gumption and can-do moxy, and Hines’ film is completely, utterly addictive in its ineptitude. Once you start watching, you’ll be completely hooked. Never mind the pain.
To understand the film fully, one must know its history. “War” began as a low budget attempt at big budget popcorn sensationalism, with Hines and his Pendragon Pictures setting out to turn the Wells novel into an “Independence Day”-type disaster flick. When the World Trade Center fell, Hines put his skyscraper-destroying film on hiatus. That hiatus became a permanent shut-down when Hines decided to start over from scratch, this time making his adaptation the very first to remain completely true to the book, right down to the Victorian era setting. To make up for a lack of funds, Hines would use CGI to create not just Martians, but locales, too.
Then came more bad news: DreamWorks announced that it was planning a “War” remake of its own, with none other than Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair and Tom Cruise in the starring role. And if that weren’t enough (which it would be, of course), the direct-to-video company Asylum Entertainment also announced its own low budget version of the story, due to arrive on DVD a day before the DreamWorks film hit theaters. Talk about competition. Undaunted, Hines pushed forth, certain that even if his version wasn’t the most popular, it would at least be first.
The result? Something that looks like the biggest internet fan film of all time. Hines’ “War” is an amateur epic, with unimpressive community players bringing their best English accents, and with the local costume shop providing the finest top hats and fake mustaches they have to offer. The whole thing, shot on video, looks embarrassing; the failed attempts at a “Sky Captain”-esque method of pasting actors on top of digital backgrounds are alternately hilarious and depressing.
For the first few minutes, you’re in a bit of denial: surely things will get better. After all, you want to root for the filmmakers, having put so much effort into their little project, having had to face such enormous competition. Being a big fan of Wells and his novel, I for one was excited to finally get to see a by-the-book movie version. After all, the novel’s so good, and as long as they stick to the material, what could go wrong?
The next thing you feel - about five minutes in - is the unsettling sensation that no, this is not going to get better, and, in fact, it’s most likely going to get worse. The CGI, looking like it’s been done on an outdated do-it-at-home animation program (Hines admits to doing most of the work on his personal laptop), gives everything a distracting artificial quality - not the wonderful otherworldly imagery of “Sky Captain” or “Sin City,” but more like a movie that’s been colorized badly.
OK, you think to yourself, I can handle bad visual effects. The filmmakers are showing so much love for the source material that we’re sure to get a good story here soon, right?
Which brings you to the next thing to cross your brain: the realization that we’re watching a cinematic train wreck. To hell with the effects, it’s everything else that kills the damn thing. The acting is unbearable. The direction is clumsy. The script - oh, the script!! - is faithful to a fault, with Hines and co-writer/producer Susan Goforth deciding to reenact every single sentence of the novel. Which means that a two-sentence throwaway bit from Wells, in which he describes one character’s run-in with a man who thinks he’s crazy, becomes a five-minute ordeal. (Oddly, Hines and Goforth finally drop their overly anxious detailed reconstruction in the final half hour, which reworks one key scene and rushes through the rest of the story. Interesting that they would figure out how best to adapt a book in the final scenes, without bothering to go back and rework everything else.)
The final thought of the viewer, the last one before your brain simply goes numb from the experience, is this: WHAT? It’s three hours long? Aaajhbaduihgjb… (That last part is undecipherable; your brain just went numb, after all.)
Yes, kids, this mess runs three full hours, no intermission, no room to escape. And if you think it’s this long because of all the story that needs to be told, you obviously haven’t seen the movie; a good fifty, sixty minutes of this film consists merely of overlong shots of people walking, running, or riding somewhere. Not for dramatic effect, not to add tension or build a rhythm to the story. Just to fill time. I can hear Hines shouting now: “Dammit, we paid good money to shoot in this field, we’re going to use every inch of footage we get!”
Oh, the fields. To save money (as in, to avoid having to add in more shots of a CGI London), a hefty majority of this movie takes place in fields. It’s understandable at first, but then there are just more and more fields. Fields, fields everywhere!! By hour number three, the mere sight of yet another field is enough to send the untrained Bad Movie watcher into convulsions.
Sigh. There is so much more to discuss. The scene in which skeletons, the remains of those zapped by the heat ray, continue to flail around, writhing in pain, despite the fact that they’re, you know, skeletons, and last I checked, skeletons have a tendency to kinda sit there and be all dead and stuff. The moment where our hero is running down the river in broad daylight, followed by a shot of the night sky, followed by a shot of our hero running down the river in broad daylight, which is either an editing goof or one long-ass river. The delightful way in which the crew gets every aspect of the period wrong, most notably the costuming, which has Victorian-era British soldiers wearing (wait for it…) both American Civil War and World War I outfits. The shots in which, thanks to faulty computer effects work, actors’ heads accidentally change shape and/or become temporarily transparent. The nonstop parade of ridiculous overacting. And above all, the daring work of Anthony Piana, tackling the double role of The Writer (he’s the one with the moustache) and his brother (he’s the one with no moustache).
Piana’s work here transforms “War” from major misstep to spellbinding catastrophe; the moustache alone is worth at least twenty separate guffaws. Other cast members are bad - oh, so very, very bad - but Piana tops them all, his dreadful performance transforming the main character from a man slowly falling into madness by events beyond his grasp (as seen in the novel) into a sniveling jerk whose incessant whining and uproarious bouts of lunacy make the viewer cheer for the moment in which he’s killed, slowly and painfully, by the Martians.
(And that moustache! Piana’s moustache, so wonderfully fake, has some sort of magical powers. I found myself enthralled by it, wondering how anybody could have thought it looked good enough to capture forever on digital video. And yes, watch closely, it even starts to come off in one scene. Wow.)
Piana magically goes beyond any level of bad as we know it. He’s working in another dimension of awfulness. As is Hines, whose work here (which also includes cinematography and editing) is unlike any form of terrible we’ve seen since… well, since none other than Mr. Edward D. Wood, Jr. Like Wood, Hines’ work is an absolute mess. But also like Wood, there’s a spirit that can’t be denied. It’s the spirit of a filmmaker who thinks he’s making the Best Movie Ever Made, when in fact he’s creating one of the worst. That adds a whole other level to Hines’ project, a spunk that captivates, that blows our collective minds, that keeps us watching as everything just gets worse, and worse, and worse. (Did I mention that Hines tried to hire Michael Caine and Charlize Theron for the film? That’s a Woodian move if ever there was one!)
A final note. The ineptitude of Hines’ work does not end when the closing credits begin. Oh, not at all. In fact, if you can make it through the five minutes of the snail’s pace credit crawl, you’ll discover that the filmmakers, in their effort to be all fancy, got their Roman numerals all wrong, and they’ve declared that their “War of the Worlds” is copyrighted in the year 2758. You heard me. Not 2005. 2758. Oops.
That’s the capper, the final kick that informs us that this film is far more than just a Bad Movie. It is one that instantly and unquestionably ranks among the most enjoyably stupid movies ever produced.Updated: I am informed by a friend who’s good for knowing these sorts of things that 2005 A.D. is also the year 2758 ab urbe condita, using one of the various (and contradictory) sources in using the birth of the Roman empire as the starting point for the A.U.C. calendar. Which means, believe it or not, Hines wasn’t screwing up. Instead, he manages to be either really, really clever or obnoxiously pretentious. You make the call.
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|