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Home > Culture and Society

Moviejism: How the hell did they arse that up?

30 July 2005

One film critic called the remake of War of the Worlds ‘the greatest action adventure of all time’. This is about as accurate as calling I Spit On Your Grave ‘fun for all the family!’ or Schindler’s List ‘a classic weepie’.

Having invested in a pirate DVD from a nice man in a pub, we have to point out that despite its pedigree (Spielberg directing, vast budget, decent script, etc.) War of the Worlds is yet another Hollywood arse-up: it’s spectacular, but the basic idea is woefully ill-explained. Without passing irreversibly into The Land of the Pedanto-Geeks, this contributor feels the need to take issue with a number of plot points:

1) Why are the aliens harvesting humans by running around after them in tripods, as if farming free-range humans? If aliens wanted to slaughter humans, surely they’d do so in a far more mechanised, Auschwitz-type way? And why not just take a few hundred breeding pairs back to their home planet?

2) The film claims that the aliens have been planning their invasion for millions of years. Since the aliens and their machines initially appear to be invincible, why not just invade whenever they feel like it? And why wait for us to invent nuclear weapons, just to be on the safe side? And what have they been doing for the past several million years? Smoking dope and watching daytime TV?

3) If aliens have the vast energy reserves needed to deliver themselves to earth to actually start up the machines, then surely they have little need for conquest as such, seeing as how they’re already phenomenally energy- and technology-rich. (This is an issue that afflicts many other alien invasion films. If the aliens can suddenly turn up at short notice, how did they traverse vast distances so easily? Presumably they’d have to travel faster than the speed of light, which would mean they could break the laws of physics, in which case conquering earth is even more pointless and trivial.)

OK, OK, suspension of disbelief is a key part of going to the cinema. But unfortunately a sense of ‘how the hell did they mess that up?’ is all too familiar to the modern filmgoer.

You don’t have to look far for spectacularly bad renditions of promising material. Judge Dredd springs to mind. More recently someone fucked up Electra Assassin, and by all accounts The Fantastic Four is fairly rubbish. It also seems to be the law that films based on good books like Alfie and Day of the Jackal, once turned into good films, then have to be remade as junk. This week we learned that the rights to The Very Hungry Caterpillar have been sold, but the precedents don’t auger well. Five words: The Cat in the Hat.

You have to wonder about what goes on in Hollywood. Making a bad film from a bad original idea is surely very easy. You just have a meeting like this:

‘I’ve got this idea about a talking boat.’
‘Go on.’
‘Er, that’s it.’
‘Does it fight crime?’
‘Why not?’
‘We could call it Talking Homicide Boat.’
‘Like it. Want some coke?’
‘Yeah, why not? My brain fell out through my nose yesterday anyway.’

What’s rather more impressive is to take a story with tonnes of good, existing material and THEN balls it up. Anyone who can turn The Rachel Papers into a sub-brat-pack curiosity that resembles a soft-porn version of Press Gang has a rare (if reprehensible) talent. Depressingly, someone has bought the rights to the flawed-but-brilliant 2000AD strip Nemesis. (Other excellent comic books that are due into the Hollywood mangling machine are Watchmen and V for Vendetta.)

But the mystery remains: how do you take something good and make it extremely bad? Maybe with meetings like this:

‘I’ve bought the rights to a book called Day of the Triffids.’
‘What’s it about?’
‘Superficially, it’s a tense, compelling story about carnivorous, walking plants. But really it’s an unflinching study of human nature in extremis, not least how quickly a seemingly civilised society can creep towards fascism.’
‘Uh, OK. I didn’t understand the second bit so let’s stick with the talking plants.’
‘WALKING plants.’
‘Whatever. Could they all have their own personalities - like in Antz?’
‘I guess.’
‘Goddam! That’s it: PLANTZ! Get me the guys at Pixar… and some more coke…’

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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