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War of the Worlds (2005)
Powerful film from Spielberg
War of the Worlds is far from perfect on aesthetic grounds, but scrapping the whole thing because of a few minor plot problems is laughable in itself. Of course the audience is asked to accept a few improbable happenings, but let me remind you, this is a film about aliens invading our planet. This is hardly a realist drama. Quite frankly, rather than being critical of clichés in the character development, I feel more inclined to be annoyed that so much emotional weight was given to developing the characters period. But without some sort of development we would feel disconnected from the individuals involved, and the conventional angst and resolution of the family drama act effectively as a counterpoint to the less everyday component, understated perhaps but unquestionably central, that is, again, based on the premise that aliens are invading the earth. In other words, it's a trick, enhancing the emotional intensity of the film at the expense of aesthetic merit. The ending so many people were critical of was meant to be perfect on critical grounds, but to give the audience a certain feeling upon its departure from the theater. One may criticize Spielberg for undervaluing the audience's desire for aesthetics, but such criticism would be irrelevant - the overwhelming numerical success of his films stands for itself in proof. Spielberg offers his audience not film as an art product, but as a sensationalist/emotionalist escape - he creates film as a craftsman does, not an artist. I am certain that Spielberg knows his stuff, and his decision to overlook certain aesthetic aspects his films is a conscious one.
If you go to see War of the Worlds and view the film with any sort of critical eye whatsoever, you will undoubtedly realize that it is a deeply flawed film in several respects. That should not, however, interfere with the film's power to move, its sheer emotional intensity, an intensity which, I believe, would be less effective if it were not free from the constraints of art. The images produced here are among the most powerful and disturbing yet to emerge from the CG age - in fact, until a certain point near the end involving Tom Cruise and a strange blood-draining mouth in a metal cage (hopefully I do not give anything away here), I wondered if perhaps this does not qualify more as a horror film than a sci-fi. I cannot honestly remember the time myself and the audience around me was more engaged by the movie screen - not uncritically mind you, or unconsciously, but engaged nonetheless. Neither can I remember the last time I observed the effects of such a catharsis, as the audience emerged from the theater giggling at its own spent emotional investment.
For what it claims to be, War of the Worlds is a highly effective film. That's not to say it is a great work of art, or that its effectiveness will not soon expire. Nonetheless, tonight Steven Spielberg took me for one heck of a ride.
The Trouble with Harry (1955)
Oh the irony!
I've been a big fan of Hitchcock as long as I can remember, but I only had the opportunity to see The Trouble with Harry recently. I never knew the film was a comedy before I began watching, so you can imagine my surprise when one innocent character after the next stumbled upon a brutally murdered corpse and react in the very least expected ways possible. It was almost as surpring, however, when I read the comments on IMDb and realized that a large portion of Hitchcock's audience simply didn't "get it". Of course the character's are not reacting the way real people would in these circumstances! How many of Hitch's characters actually would? The Trouble with Harry is Hitchcock's own jab at himself, at the entire suspense film genre, and a wonderfully inspired satire on the implications of desensitization. The film is not that simple though, for even in addressing these objectives Hitch tantalizingly avoids any answers or definitive statements. Its a difficult film to describe, but definitely worth seeing as it confirms Hitchcock's dual mastery of comedy and suspense. Watch it for the social commentary, the sleepy New England setting, but above all else, for the blissful irony that fills its every crevace. It is the kind of irony that makes shows like Family Guy so popular today. A wonderfully surpring film in every way!