Saturday, July 30, 2005

Wax-On, Wax-Off...

For the longest time, I had wondered if there was ever truly a more memorable phrase in cinematic history.

While it didn't make AFI's All-Time List, there is a valid argument for Wax-On, Wax-Off.

It also is included in my newest DVD acquisition, the Special Edition of "Karate Kid" starring Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.

Look for a review of it in the future. This film evokes many memories from my childhood that would be fun to share.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Days of (Other-worldly) Thunder...

One of the hallmarks of great storytelling, is being able to instill not only a sense of anticipation, but also to provide some real surprise when executing a story.

Recently, my wife and I went to see "War of the Worlds" and what we witnessed was something that held not only the sense of anticipation and surprise, but left us ready for more when it was all said and done.

War of the Worlds is the classic tale of invasion that has seen it's share of movies already, and has been copycatted almost to death in so many movies that it's hard to begin to explain.

So how do you bring something new and fresh to something so famliar? Something so "already known" that even the youngest science-fiction fan can draw a "tripod" machine?

The answer? You bring in Steven Speilberg.

The most signficant reason I held great expectations for this movie had everything to do with the advertising campaign surrounding it. There is only one other film in modern times that held and even greater genius in the realm of advertising and promotion: Terminator 2 provided what is easily the best advertising campaign in recent memory by providing only vauge ideas of what surrounded the movie that really were "already knowns." The things shown included: Arnold - Sarah Connor - a new young star John Conner - an apparently caring police office - total armegeddon. All of themse items and only a few snippets from the actual movie were provided before the movies release, so you always had a level of anticipation and a "I have no idea what's going to happen" take on things that is completey missing from the vast majority of today's moviedom. Also roll into the mix that after the movie opened, they started to add on small bits of action sequences from the film that still never left the cat out of the bag - that began to get more and more detailed as the days and weeks went by, until finally there was what we NOW see as the FIRST trailer of every other blockbuster movie was released.

Definitive genius by the marketing department hired to launch Terminator 2.

War of the Worlds has followd in the same vein since day one.

Beginning with a simple, 15-second short in which Tom Cruise looks out a minivan dooe and says with just a bit of feeling "Jerry, get in the car or you're going to die..." and a montage of facial expressions, but never any spoilers. As the launch date came closer, we saw a little more, and a little more and still: nothing is spoiled: It's all fresh, it's all ready to be absorbed, but never are you aware of anything that's going to happen in the film (other than the hallmarks from the original story that is) until it hits you like a blunt object over the forehead.

That's the power of this rendition of War of the Worlds.

The 175-Word Synopsis:

Tom Cruise is Ray Ferrier, a longshoreman/crane operator in Jersey who has two children, but has forgotten what it is to be a father. As a new day arrives, a strange-looking thundercloud arrives. News reports from Europe talk about strange electromagnetic events going on and discussion of mass-power outages proliferate the American media. Finally, the storms arrive sending not only a remarkable number of lightning bolts to Earth, but the same strange phenomenon that was occuring in Europe is happening here. Cars halt in the middle of highways, watches stop, digital clocks go blank and no communication devices seem to work. As a sense of reasonable manic falls over the crowd, the Earth begins to move beneath everyone's feet. What rises from the Earth confirms everyone's worst-ever fear: They're here. They're not listening, and they want to milk you like grapes. The story follows Ray and his family for a solid 116 minutes through a variety of twists and turns that keep you guessing, but also deliver solid, what-the-hell-was-that action that makes you thirst for more.

The Actors: Tom Cruise has been on a course of apparent self-destruction in his public personal life, but as I try to tell others: I have no interest in him as a person, but I love to watch this man act. While you might think that imagining that you're seeing a 30-story alien troop transport would be "easy" there's much more to being scared, shocked and showing disbelief than just telling someone to do so. What is also evident here is that Cruise plays a man who probably never really wanted to be a father, but suddently realizes, at the brink of destruction, that he is one and that if he doesn't do something, he will lose everthing that really should have been important all these years. Dakota Fanning offers up some very solid skills here and literally says 1000 words by saying nothing at all and looking absolutely horrified. The other plays in the film are little more than support characters (Tim Robbins shows up and guess what: he's PARANOID! No way!) but in a film like this, there's not much more to what's going on, than what's being seen on screen.

The Effects: The effects in this film, like so many other Speilberg offerings, are other-worldly and almost beyond description. While still in the realm of entertainment, please realize that much of the imagery in the film is completely destructive, bordering on horritying takeover of our planet. That would be a bad thing were we expecting something else, but in this case, it is received like a sponge on the audience that we saw it with.

The Received Message: While everyone will think that this is little more than a disaster movie on Speilberg steroids, I believe that this tale is truly about the realization of fatherhood, and the eternal desire to hold on to what you have. While movies like "Independence Day" offer up a pair of cinematic boxing gloves with which to take on our adversary, we have nothing in the way of offensive potential in this film, barring a last-ditch effort from Cruise's charcter at the end. All of the characters, whether they be an extra in the background, or one of the people appearing in the foreground with lines, want to somehow make sure that what they still have stays. That that is humanity, isn't it?