I just saw War of the Worlds, and am in shell shock.
That was actually a scary movie. The whole theater left in quiet shock. People didn’t start talking until they were almost to their cars.
I got into my car and locked the doors, as irrational as it was. And immediately wished I had a boyfriend so I would have someone to hug and comfort me. I was actually that afraid during the movie, and the fear chemicals have taken over my brain.
This movie was different from other disaster movies for a couple reasons. First of all, it follows one individual story only. We see other people come in and out of the protagonist’s perspective, but the movie is about the way he sees the end of the world, from start to finish. Seeing it from the inside out like that, through one person’s eyes, makes it hit harder. Imagining millions of people, all with the same story, or one like it, as aliens destroy the planet’s population, is horrifying, and the script constantly hints at and reminds us of that. (“How many did you lose?”)
Second, unlike most sci-fi movies, there was no attempt to explain anything. There were no cuts to the government intelligence. There were no cuts to scientists. There was nothing except a few disjointed images of army operations. No one knows exactly why the invasion failed, until Morgan Freeman’s narrative at the end. No one knows what’s happening, or what is going to happen. Each successive disaster is a shock; each wave breaks down hope more. There is no telling how complete the extermination will be, or why it’s happening, or how it happened, or what the aliens are. You just know it’s happening, and not having any explanation makes it more frightening. That’s reflected in the daughter’s constant cries of “what’s happening?” for the first part of the movie – until she doesn’t want to know anymore.
The movie is also beautifully shot. The camera angles, the cuts, everything. It isn’t the omnipresent perspective of Independence Day, where you view the wholescale destruction from a vantage point. There are some fairly large s/fx destructive sequences, but all involve single structures, and are more frightening because you have to imagine that level of destruction everywhere. It’s easier to see a whole city leveled at once than it is to see a piece of it destroyed, because on the smaller scale, you see the impact much more closely.
There’s a moment when Tom Cruise comes out of a basement into a living room, and you think the house he’s in is undamaged, until you notice the newspapers that have blown in. And the light quality. And then the camera pulls back to show the devastation. It’s brilliant.
Not only were the visuals effective, but the sound was as well. The lack of music during the destructive scenes, the reliance on sound of attacks and human screams to convey the feeling that a score would, had more effect than dramatic music. John Williams always does good scores, of course, but the cautious use of music was sheer genius. The sound in itself – the repeating sounds of attack especially – were enough to instill more dread and terror in the audience than an escalating soundtrack would have.
And the human speech and behavior was shockingly well done. The mob mentality, the human curiosity, the anger, all the emotional displays are amazing. At the beginning, when things go wrong, you still see the American over-exposed disconnection, where people are going out to watch the attacks, unable to comprehend that it isn’t a movie. I’ve seen that when people go out to watch a tornado in Amarillo. And the writers conveyed that in the complete lack of forboding that the mob expresses when they go to see what the lightning has brought.
The fear that was transmitted off that screen was palpable. I was almost ready to start screaming when I heard the low blast of the alien destroyers. I was horrified by the mob mentality – but I was scared enough by the images that it made sense. And the desperation among the masses was also dreadful, the hordes of people trying desperately to get away from the machines.
Truly a terrifying movie. And now, if you’ll all excuse me, I have to go pull the covers up over my head, because I’m still a little scared, and I will never, EVER see a movie like that alone again.