Sci-Fi Channel Premiere Review: H.G. Wells War of the Worlds

It's not a new concept to rip-off the latest Hollywood blockbuster with a direct-to-video movie of a similar name. Released alongside 2005's theatrical summer hit War of the Worlds, distributor Asylum's video release H.G. Wells War of the Worlds fails to offer any of the gripping action of Spielberg's epic. With a meager $1 million to work with, creating a special effects masterpiece is not a feasible expectation for director David Michael Latte. However, there's still the expectation of being entertained, and that's what's missing.

The film begins with scenes that parallel those in Spielberg's version. There's some fun foreshadowing in the start for fans of the story, and not long after that, things go horribly wrong. Leading the film is C. Thomas Howell, caught in the alien invasion that begins with zero force. There is no build up to the inevitable, the mystery is absent, and the original designs for the alien death ships are revealed with no care.

Resembling an insect with a tank turret for a head, these ships produce little in the way of horror or fear. The special effects will likely incite laughter instead if the viewer is unaware of the budget, and even then, they stop the movie the cold. Even as they're blasting a few extras down to bones, their rays fail to produce the intended effect.

We see and hear hundreds of invaders falling to Earth to begin the assault, yet you can count on one hand how many actually appear in the film to cause damage. There's no sense of scale to the damage or the dire situation. People begin a mass evacuation in a matter of minutes in film time after the first ship appears in a forest, and there's little cohesion from scene to scene. Ineffective dialogue is the only way you're told how large the invasion is.

Editing is rough, and there are times when a single cut will throw the viewer right out of the movie. Multiple points make it difficult to tell where the characters are or how they got there. Howell's character is trying to run from the invaders to find his family, yet actually appears to be following the attack. You'll see the result of the visit from the alien force, not the actual act itself. Scenes of any destruction are meager and brief.

Short scenes show the actual aliens (usually bathed in darkness making them hard to see), closely resembling their ships. In this version, they have the ability to spit acid, for no reason other than to, well, spit acid. It only comes into play significantly once, and then you're more concerned with what happened (including some gory make-up) than the intended emotional impact.

Acting is on par with a direct-to-video/cable feature, but it's the dialogue that grates on the nerves. Alongside Howell for most of the film is Rhett Giles, playing a dense priest who refuses to accept the obvious. His incoherent ramblings and quotes from the bible are supposed to show a man being tested in his faith. Instead, he sounds insane from the start, failing to grasp even the bare concepts of survival. He spouts off a majority portion of the dialogue, none of which is actually used to advance the story or clear up questions for the audience.

The H.G. Wells moniker in the title is a waste as well. The ending change is unnecessary, and defeats the point of the great author's original book. If it had stayed as it had been in every other film version, it might have given the priest character a purpose. With the switch, it negates any deeper meaning, logic, or reason to watch.

Asylum and David Latt recently attempted to take on another summer blockbuster in King of the Lost World, complete with giant ape on the cover and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's name. That reveals their true colors as shrewd filmmakers who have little interest in making decent films, just abominations ripped from other people's work. This is not a version of War of the Worlds to sit down with.

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