War of the Worlds? How About War of the Nerds?

War of the Worlds: Now here’s a plot so full of holes it makes the earth’s moon look like a croquet ball.

Speaking of outer space, WOTWs is an alien summer fright feast courtesy of Steven Spielberg, who has pointed his camera at the heavens a few times before. Instead of the wild West, where he set Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the auteur has also returned to the East Coast, sight of yet another of his summer hits, Jaws.

As you only wouldn’t know if you’d been sleeping under a rock star’s stash of Valium, Tom Cruise stars in WOTWs as a 3D dad: divorced, detached, despicable.

As most other reviewers have failed to note, WOTWs owes a tremendous debt of tribute to “Signs.” The parallels are obvious and, considering that M. Night Shyamalan’s summer alien flick rocked theaters just three summers ago, staggering.
Consider these things:

In Signs, Mel Gibson is a widower, father of two kids. True, he has a younger brother in Joaquin Phoenix, but mini-actor Tom Cruise has a chip on his shoulder at least as big as Phoenix (the city).

M. Night also chose to focus his film on a Northeastern family.

Mel Gibson, a holy roller’s holy roller in “real life,” played a man of the cloth having doubts.

Tom Cruise is a proud – fightin’ proud – Scientologist!

Basements figure heavily into both movie sets. Apparently, aliens are smart at getting to earth, and invading, but all systems are no-go when it comes to the mental acuity required to negotiate cellars, the underground equivalent of a garage, the flip-side of the attic.

And in both movies (incoming spoiler) the aliens are not quite cogent enough to figure out that such basic matters to life as water and germs are here in abundance. How they evolved on disease-free planets with nothing to drink, presumably, is a matter for the philosophers.

Or maybe it’s a matter for a sci-fi sequel in the spirit of “Alien vs. Predator”: “Shyamalan vs. Spielberg: War of the Nerds.”
“Steve, Steve, Steve. You don’t even – you’re glib, Steve.”

“Oh yeah? What’s your next movie to be filmed exclusively in Pennsylvania? ‘Return of the Amish’? ‘The English Always Ring Twice’?”

Sigh. One can dream: Steven Spielberg has given us license to do that, if nothing else. In fact, as I dozed through the loooooooooooooooong basement sequence of WOTWs, I did just that, dreaming peacefully of less boring alien invasions, until I was awakened by Cruise killing Tim Robbins. It was a mercy killing, considering the recent state of Robbins’ film career.

Until Spielberg and Shyamalan settle the feud I’m trying to spark, this reviewer urges you to hold on to your $8 and rent, for just a couple of bucks, the only WOTWs that matters, the 1952 version, which won an Oscar for its once-state-of-the-art special effects, a surprise since the rays the Martian machines squirt look a lot like what would happen if an arc-welder tried to light his own flatulence using the tools of his trade.

Interestingly, as a friend of mine notes, the novel and subsequent movies are framed in socially telling ways, giving us a clue to their various eras. In the H.G. Wells original, the narrator is a know-it-all philosopher type to rival any Jules Verne egghead.

In the ’50s flick, the protagonist is a manly scientist with a female sidekick – educated, slightly liberated, but easily a decade and a half away from burning her frilly underthings.

And in WOTWs 2005, there’s every-moron Tom Cruise, who treads the image waters as a dysfunctional family man with Peter Pan Syndrome and a winning smile – when he’s not calling his only teen son a “dick” during a game of catch, or telling mechanics how to do their job, or singing decades-old songs to his daughter orplanting grenades down (or is it up) a marauding alien invader’s esophagus.

Stop. You had me at “dick,” Tom. You had me at dick.

Speaking of Dick, if you want to see what Cruise and Spielberg can do with less-dated, less-challenging, more-cerebral material, rent Minority Report, a vastly superior sci-fi flick based on the work of Philip K. Dick.

Actually, I’d rather watch just about anything, even a Jerry Maguire marathon, than sit through “War of the Worlds” again, although I did rather like seeing Tom Cruise flee for his life.

As long as I was in the theater, I could totally relate to the feeling.

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