I’m known by many people as the friend to the independent film. There are a lot of film critics out there who turn their noses up at the smaller, low budget movies out there, but I try my best to see the potential they offer. You never know when you might find a budding auteur behind that low budget camera - the next Spielberg or Scorsese... or on the flip side, the next Uwe Boll.
With that other version of War of the Worlds hitting theaters, most people are at this point familiar with the story, originally penned by H.G. Wells. Aliens mysteriously come to earth bent on conquering our planet, something they had been planning for a while. With superior technology (tripods!) they destroy human life and civilization until we’re reduced to a point that we’re practically turning on ourselves. Finally, in the eleventh hour, the aliens are defeated by an unlikely weapon. Given that it’s a well known story written by a true master of words, it seems a perfect source for an independent movie, avoiding the typical zombie genre so many beginning filmmakers seem to take on, right?
The first rule of filmmaking, no matter how big or small your operation is, is to live within your means. If all you have at your disposal is an actor, a dog, and a car, than make a movie about an actor, a dog, and a car, not a movie about a man, a woman, and a house. It’s a pretty simple concept really, although way too many independent filmmakers seem to ignore it. Timothy Hines is one of those filmmakers.
Hines sets his version of War of the Worlds in H.G. Wells’ Victorian age in an effort to remain as true to the novel as possible. That in itself isn’t so bad. The costumes appear realistic, and the actors even pull off that Victorian patter rather well. If this had been a Merchant Ivory style period piece, I dare say Hines could have pulled off a decent film.
Instead Hines not only set his film in another time periods, but also made a movie about alien invasions. Other eras and aliens require visuals to make the audience believe, and that is where H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds has the attractiveness of a Playstation game, and not a newer Playstation II either.
Hines’s movie is heavily dependent on CGI. Taking a Lucas-esque approach to filmmaking, Hines uses CGI establishing shots to determine location, CGI backdrops as parts of virtual sets, and CGI characters to create the invading aliens, the human army, and even horses pulling carts. There is even heavy use of CGI flame, I guess used in favor of the real thing to keep sets safe for the cast and crew, and CGI rain, presumably to keep from wetting down expensive costumes. What’s unfortunate is that not a bit of the CGI looks good, and most of it is used poorly. Locations look poorly rendered, far from something photorealistic. Backgrounds are easily noticeable as the movie shifts from filming on location to filming on a stage. Invading alien tripods look (and sound) like something that would battle the Power Rangers on Saturday mornings. Humans and horses move with irregularity making them stand out like a sore thumb, to the point of distracting the eye away from the acting, and the flame doesn’t even cast a shadow or affect the light around it. Even when the CGI looks relatively average (usually shots that couldn’t possibly be messed up), the plate that was shot to create the composite was shaky, resulting in a shot where the world moves as the CGI stands still. The effects, in a word, are complete and total excrement. They are poorly rendered effects that should have been placeholders rather than actual footage shown in the movie and totally unfit for a movie that claims to be worthy of theatrical releases.
Not all of the movie’s faults are on the effects, although that certainly is a great deal of the movie. The movie has a three hour running time, a lot of which features its characters running around in a panic. Honestly, I think more of the running could have been implied rather than watching so much of it on screen. Then there’s the odd coloring of the movie. Hines decided to perpetually color scenes with some colored filter or another. Scenes don’t even seem that consistent with their coloring either. One minute they’re covered in a yellowish hue, and the next it’s a blue hue. Honestly, I could go on and on about the film’s shortcomings down to the silly looking fake mustache on the main character, but the bottom line is the movie is a disaster in the worst way. If you want total proof, read on.
I have a confession I have to make now. Approximately halfway through the film, I felt a zap of unspeakable pain as I watched a person trampled to death by one of the zoid-like tripods, which consisted of the tripod “stepping” down and the person being replaced by a crappy looking pool of CGI blood. At that point the blood really began to flow, right out my nose and mouth as my brain revolted and began to hemorrhage. Thinking of the years ahead that I’d like to still live in my life, I turned the DVD player off and escaped my home theater, went upstairs to hug my wife, and retired for the night. I know that probably diminishes the validity of my review to some people, but let me put it this way. I’ve sat through some pretty horrible movies this year, from Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark to Son of the Mask. We’re talking movies that scored in the low single digits at Rotten Tomatoes. I made it through those movies relatively unscarred, but I couldn’t manage to make it through this one. That should say something about just how horrific this movie is..
Some people may think I’m being too hard on this release. After all, it is an independent film, created with a low budget. I agree. Typically a movie like this one wouldn’t get a full review from me. However Timothy Hines wanted to play with the big boys. He wanted to put his movie up against films released by the larger studios and pretend it could hold its own. Well, it can’t - plain and simple. Next time don’t try to make your movie something it isn’t. Suck it up, admit you made a mistake, and don’t try to compensate the picture’s shortcomings by overhyping it.
This is the part where I usually sum up my thoughts on the movie, point out the good and the bad, but since I have no good to offer, and the bad takes up more than a paragraph, I’ll just say this: It’s obvious Timothy Hines broke the cardinal rule of independent filmmaking and let his film get away from him. The embarrassing results are there for everyone to see. If he didn’t take his own movie seriously, then why should you? Don’t waste any more time on this movie. Go have a root canal, spend the evening with your mother in law, and then settle down for the night in a bed of rusty nails. It’ll be less painful than ten minutes of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.
This may very well be the first DVD I’m glad doesn’t have much in the way of extras. That doesn’t stop the producers from trying a little bit of menu padding. According to the box, the Bonus Features include:
Scene Access - Um, pretty standard fare. Not really a bonus.
Trailer - All right, I’ll concede this one. If you want to watch the trailer, it’s here for your enjoyment. Watch it and think about what could have been.
Biography of H.G. Wells - A text biography of the man who is probably pretty glad he’s dead right now so he doesn’t have to see this travesty.
Still Gallery - Pictures of Mighty Morphin Tripods and era-authentic costumes.
Interactive Menu - First of all, not an extra. Secondly, the menus aren’t any more interactive than any other menu. It’s an image with the options there for you to curser between. There’s nothing really interactive about it except for the cursor moving when you hit the button to make it do that.
The Works of H.G. Wells - Actually, it’s just a list of the books he wrote, and it’s part of the Biography. One item on the disc, two on the disc’s Bonus listing.
What this movie really needs is the fabled, “The Simpsons” Kevin Costner commentary, where the director apologizes profusely as he’s forced to watch this travesty he’s unleashed upon mankind. I can only imagine his horrific screams for mercy as he watches the same special effect of the tripod squishing a person that made me shut the DVD down.
Alas, there is no justice in the world, which means the only thing I can wish on this disc is for it to be relegated to the depths of the Wal-Mart bargain bin, where some redneck can stumble upon it, think he’s getting a deal on the Tom Cruise film, and after watching the movie torment and kill his offspring decide to take his double barreled shotgun and hunt down the man who made this movie. Timothy Hines can only hope he’s working on his next picture by then somewhere far, far away, in a place where no rednecks or Wal-Marts dwell.