Movie Review: HG Wells’ War of the Worlds: We’re Safe!

Things change, even interest rates fluctuate, to quote Top Secret’s Lucy Gutteridge. Too bad it’s not always all fun and games like in a Zucker/Abrams production.

The arch-enemies of humanity, once known as fearless Martians, have over the years become simply aliens, no longer originating in that foreboding red planet, a tradition lost to mixed results.

But wherever they come from, nearby inside our solar system or across the gulfs of space, intelligences vastly superior to us probably harbor no schemes against Earth after having seen this blasphemous travesty. Any casual observer out there will immediately have to conclude we are all brain-dead idiots if the following represents the state of our culture and creative prowess.

For many, including this reviewer, War of the Worlds is scripture, a piece to live and think by. It defines generations to this day, having influenced forever people’s deepest perceptions.

To have such an enduring icon dragged through the mud by the most deplorably ridiculous production in SF history amounts to a heartbreak of stellar proportions. At the same time, though, Timothy Hines’ debacle has the fleeting potential to make devout followers of H.G Wells roll on the floor laughing hysterically, it’s that preposterous.

What makes it so profoundly hilarious is the simple notion that something as awful could actually have been made over a century after motion pictures became normative. The very feat boggles the mind infinitely more than cylinders spewing brainy off-worlders bent on raping humankind.

For starters, the Hines project has positioned itself since day one as a counter to the blockbusting Spielberg effort, claiming authenticity. That it does, we must admit, remaining faithful to Wells’ original text quite nicely. Dialogue and scenes trace the novel step by step, but not in design lies the abysmal failure, rather in execution.

Maybe the Spielberg hit veered a bit too much from what WOTW lovers wanted to see, and perhaps engaged in creative liberation. However, with so much money and experience thrown at it, that version comes across at least consistently polished and memorable.

The Hines posse, on the other hand, either has less of a track record in moviemaking than your beagle Fred, or simply couldn’t give a damn. It’s quite possible this has been like an ongoing joke to them, for what has made its slithery way onto DVD copy frankly stinks to heavens higher than those observed by any 19th century astronomer.

Given three hours to play with, the devastation leaves an average reviewer lost for words. The entire production looks horrible as the main character, Wells’ venerable Narrator (done by Hines regular Anthony Piana), struts around sporting a glued-on mustache ever perched on the brink. Acting? Forget it, these people can’t even do it right when torched by Martian heatrays, jerking around like junior high schoolers trying to boogie at a particularly awkward dance. Everything’s ham-fisted to the point of inducing among audiences uncontrollable laughter mixed with sheer horror.

Two people manage somewhat acceptable performances. Jack Clay as the Narrator’s friend and expert astronomer Ogilvy. Another relative shiner’s James Lathrop, playing the traumatized Artilleryman who witnesses the wholesale slaughter of his military unit at the tentacles of Martian marauders, then later conceives of a hallucinatory triumph over them and a brave new world for man.

Both were never seen elsewhere to our knowledge, and are drowned out by everyone else’s inept appearances. You can’t even get proper diction here, the resultant concoction a quagmire to challenge the lowliest of B movie fiascoes. And having actors of Asian ethnicity do several of the characters wins Hines no extra credit. Wells wasn’t concerned with what his protagonists looked like, why should we be? Strangely enough, in most cases non-Caucasians either suffer a monstrous fate or are greedy ferry operators taking advantage of the catastrophe, so it’s unclear what Hines wants to say.

Naturally, there have been movies with terrible acting before, yet given appropriate cosmetic uplifting even those weren’t beyond salvage. Guess again. The nincompoops responsible for working this gemstone have produced visuals roughly the norm in low-cost video games circa 1992. That’s right, budget-restrained efforts from a decade ago make a contemporary iteration of one of our most important literary works look shamefully bad.

Every scene involves some kind of blue screen effect, even mundane stuff like walking down a field. There’s no depth, sense of movement or accurate proportions. It all appears to have been put together by a retarded AI operating on reserve battery power, with everything colored wrong.

The heart-wrenching Thunderchild sequence has me screaming at the screen, asking how could they? I used to have paper boats floating around the tub at two years old that looked more impressive than the British Empire’s last hope against the Martians as “envisioned” by Hines.

This is merely one example: the entire calamity’s packed with cheap, laughable and insulting effects, costumes, set-designs, whatever. They must really think us all morons.

You probably want to know about the tripods. Sure, they have a unique design sticking close to H.G’s original description, plus for a change somebody bothered depicting that elusive Martian flying machine. But why so pathetically rendered? Do not drink any fluids while beholding these animated caricatures, nasal expunging sucks. Glimpse the debilitated, hand puppet-flavored movements of the fighting machines and you too may soon be hurling chunks.

Even as a party gag this WOTW grates almost instantly, lasting maybe thirty minutes before irritation sets in. It’s by a long stretch the single most unbelievably bad release yours can think of, and Hines would be wise to change career tracks soon for allowing a freak of video like this out of the bag.

Proof that, indeed, they’ll print anything. And to think I waited years for this!

Rating: 1/2 a * for the flying machine and some instances of acting

Directed by Timothy Hines
Starring Anthony Piana, Jack Clay, James Lathrop, Susan Goforth
2005, English, 180 minutes

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