War of the Worlds
(War of the Worlds)
October 24, 2010
Critique : This is it, the one that started it all, the film that shifted The Asylum's focus from DVD horror toward the tie-in, or "mockbuster," market. For better or worse (better), this is where The Asylum began to become what we know (and love) today.
The plot here should be rhetorical, being that it's the most famous radio broadcast ever, the direct basis for two other big screen adaptations and, as the best-known and arguably first alien invasion story in the English language, the indirect basis for at least 65% of all sci-fi films ever made. So story then isn't the issue here; the issue becomes how The Asylum handles the story. And as was (or would be) the case in regards to Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls and 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the fine folks at The Asylum aren't necessarily making a tie-in as much as they are their own adaptation of the same source material. And in this adaptation, H. G. Wells' narrative becomes a picaresque apocalypse story, kind of like The Road if we the audience had encountered these characters as the apocalypse was happening, not after it: one man(C. Thomas Howell, naturally)'s journey to find his family among unimaginable chaos, and the array of bizarre events and characters he encounters along the way. By setting the weight of the entire story of the sole shoulders of one character, the film becomes less an action-spectacular - though the action is indeed kinda spectacular - and more a philosophical characterization of the variations within the spectrum of human responses to global catastrophe.
And speaking of the catastrophe, by proxy the special effects, they weren't Tiny Juggernaut good, but for whoever did them, they were effective, especially if the aim was to try and attempt a sort of old-school sci-fi feel: the bug creature things looked like they were made for Starship Troopers by Ray Harryhausen at the dawn of CGI. Does that sound harsh? Rude? I don't mean it to, honestly, I liked this. The death rays and toxic gas, too, I thought, were nods to classic sci-fi, specifically George Pal's incarnation of this story with its iconic green glow. I really hope these nods, this effect I felt, was in fact a nod to classic sci-fi, because it's in regards to this vein that I most often view the work of The Asylum. Like George Pal or Samuel Z. Arkoff, I see David Michael Latt (who directed this film) and his crew as innovative imagineers (a term I think I'm stealing from Disney), testing the bounds of what we can believe, not afraid to tell a story you might have heard before because of confidence in their ability to tell it differently than all others; not better, not best, but not the worst, either, just different, theirs, which is the aim of every artist - to make that which is universal, unique.
"Slow down, asshole," some of you might be saying, "We're not exactly talking about art here."
To which I say: that's pretty narrow-minded of you. If all you can find art in is pretentious heavy-handedness, if you can't see it in the creation of fictional bug creatures, or in the neon glow of vaporizing death rays, or in the lines of C. Thomas Howell's face when he laments the fate of his wife and son - then you're not seeing half the art that's out there (and you're probably reading the wrong blog).
Back to it though: the main distinction I found in this telling of the story was that The Asylum has made a more intimate film than other versions; instead of focusing of the global scale of things their version is largely centered around one man alone in pursuit of his family, and, like they did with I Am Omega, The Asylum puts a heavy emphasis on the emotional toll of such a fate, allowing stress to dominate reason and cast the scientist as all but useless, just another rote survivor. Latt and crew also played up the faith angle a little more than others, okay, a lot more, specifically in reference to the alien attacks as a version of the Christian Rapture. Though here it isn't driven home as fervently as it would be in the pictures distributed through their Faith Films off-shoot, the character of Pastor Victor (the always splendid Rhett Giles) is absolutely inserted to give a theological perspective on the end of days.
All in all, this story isn't new; The Asylum's perspective on it, however, feels fresh, and is made so through the direction of David Michael Latt and the performances of his capable cast, a virtual who's who of Asylum films: C. Thomas Howell (Da Vinci Treasure, The Land That Time Forgot), Andy Lauer (Legion of the Dead, King of the Lost World), Rhett Giles (Frankenstein Reborn, The Apocalypse), Kim Little (Jane White is Sick and Twisted, Supercroc) - whose three minutes on screen are by far the most memorable - Sarah Lieving (in her first film role) and notable non-inmates like Jake Busey and the guy who played "Zed" in Pulp Fiction as C. Tom's brother.
Truth be told, I liked this better than Spielberg's version, I honestly did. Are the effects better? Of course not, the other version was directed by Steven fucking Spielberg. But H.G. Wells' original story isn't about effects, it's about fear, it's about chaos, and it's about the integral character of man being tested in the face of such adversities. And in that sense, in my opinion, Steven Spielberg is no David Michael fucking Latt.
Let the hate mail commence.