Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Martian, Martian, who's got the Martian?

Harry over at Ain't It Cool has posted his list of Top 20 Films to Watch For in 2005. It's an interesting list, but entry no. 8 caused me to double-clutch badly:
8. WAR OF THE WORLDS
That teaser trailer did it for me. That they're being so faithful as to use the red martian weeds, gives me hope that the black smokey gas stuff gets unleashed. I have the highest confidence in Spielberg to make this movie just kick ass. This, to me, is old school seventies and early eighties Spielberg quality material. George Pal's original is one of the top ten greatest science fiction films of all time in my mind - but I've always dreamt of another adaptation that brought more of the martian terrors that Wells told us about. And Tom Cruise could totally be a good surrogate Gene Barry. He has that range, I think. Heh. I'm just so giddy that this isn't desaturated. (June 29th)

After the travesty Spielberg turned Minority Report into, I can honestly say there's not a film I'm least looking forward to than this version of War of the Worlds. Oh joy, we get to see Tom Cruise play the same role he plays in every film he makes. And how can Knowles spout off about being "faithful" to the book when it's a contemporary setting rather than period? I mean, really folks, we've already had two "contemporary" film versions on War of the Worlds: the George Pal version, which I love dearly and is a cinematic icon; and Independence Day. The latter, I suppose, is more accurately a remake of the George Pal film, or a homage, or a rip-off. Whatever. I liked it. Yeah, it's goofy and dumb, but I got what they were doing with it. The Marines in both films come from El Toro base in California. The flying wing drops a hydrogen bomb on the green force field blisters in the former, while a B-2 (flying wing) lobs a nuke at the shielded ship hovering over Houston. bacteria and viruses destroy the Martians in the first film, while a computer virus from an Apple PowerBook kills the aliens in the second. So I enjoy that as a dumb, goofy remake with great special effects, although the ship and Martian designs in the Pal film are far superior to ID4. In any event, we don't need Spielberg to replow this particular field. What's next? A Christmas Carol? H.G. Wells wrote his book as a reaction against the imperialist attitudes and policies of the British Empire, placing London in the conquering path of colonists from another world. It's a cautionary tale of irony, hubris and arrogance... and ultimately humility. Is that applicable to the political realities of today? Of course it is. Will Spielberg sieze on those elements and use this film to make a social statement? I don't know about you, but I'm not holding my breath. Remember, this is the same guy that digitally replaced all the FBI's guns in E.T. with walkie-talkies.

What I am interested in seeing, however, is the Edwardian-era version of War of the Worlds produced by Pendragon Pictures. This one's been floating around the aether for half a dozen years now, and has suffered from false starts and other problems. But damn is the producers and director aren't dedicated to this film. Ain't It Cool actually reported on it occasionally, until the Spielberg/Cruise production ramped up. A case of stars in their eyes? Probably. The last significant news on this project came back in September, when Pendragon stole the Spielberg thunder by announcing principal filming had wrapped, in secret, on their film. Pretty cool. Score one for the little guys. Since then, Pendragon's been pretty silent other than the occasional teaser trailer on their website. Release of their War of the World is supposedly set for March 30, 2005, presuming, of course, Spielberg's studio allies don't pull some kind of legal chicanery in order to undermine said film.

Prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a version of this film was in pre-production with a budget of $40-plus million. Nothing to break the bank, but not too shabby, either (my favorite movie of all time, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, was filmed for just north of $40 million). The budget for the current incarnation hasn't been released, but reported to be a "respectable eight figures," which I interpret as somewhere between $20-40 million. Again, not a whole heck of a lot, but quite plausible for a period piece.

There's a pretty good interview with writer/director Timothy Hines over at SciFiDimensions that leads me to believe he's got his head in the right place for this. It seems he's taking a page from the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings film adaptation lesson plans, realizing that the book is popular for a reason. There's no need for the filmmaker to make radical changes to make it fit some pre-determined idea of what the audience really wants (I'm looking at you, Wizard of Earthsea!):
I started from an absolute standpoint of leaving nothing out, to tell the novel exactly as it was written. When I met at one point with the executives from DreamWorks - and this was some time back, before September 11th - one of the things they said that was alarming to me, was that WotW was flawed, because Wells had written it in serialized form, that there were mistakes in it, that it was structurally not well-adapted for a movie, and to do any version of the movie, whether it was a period piece or an updated piece, that the public would expect a certain amount of homage to others versions, like the 50s version. To me that was mortifying. I mean, this novel has held up for over 100 years and has captured the imagination of millions of people. It's a little arrogant to think that someone could come along and say "Well, this is flawed and I know how to do it better."

Of course, the film could be a page-by-page faithful adaptation and still be unwatchable. You run that risk, and I've seen movies that are like that. They're sad, because in some cases the filmmakers' slavish fidelity to the source material is the ultimate undoing. I believe Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to be the best of that series, and it takes the most liberties with the source material. On the other hand, The Two Towers is the most uneven and disappointing of the Lord of the Rings films, mainly because it adds pointless events and scenes, changing key plot elements for strange and nonsensical reasons.

In any event, I'm quite looking forward to seeing how Timothy Hines manages to pull this one off. The publicity photos fill me with hope and confidence, even if they don't show any Martians or tripod killing machines. March can't get here soon enough!

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