War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds (2005) movie poster

director Steven Spielberg
viewed: 12/15/2012

Back in 2005, I was duly impressed by Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds when I saw it in the theater.  At that time, my kids were very young, 4 and 1, respectively, so it was definitely not something I enjoyed with them.  Also, I was unfamiliar with the seminal Byron Haskin/George Pal 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, which in retrospect, was a severe oversight.  Since that time, over seven years, Spielberg’s film continued to loom in my consciousness and beyond that, I’d gone on to enjoy the 1953 version of the film with the kids, as well as Tim Burton’s quite funny lampoon of the films and the genre in Mars Attacks! (1996).  Now, with some perspective, and kids that are now 11 and 8, I thought it would be a good time to watch the Spielberg version anew.

The film holds up very well so far.  In the seven years that have passed, Dakota Fanning is no longer a child, but otherwise, the film, visual effects and general impact, are as fresh and contemporary as if the film was released today.  Felix was impressed with the special effects.

What resonates about a film, especially when you’ve seen as many as I have in the ensuing seven years, is a random crapshoot of impressions, entirely unique to any individual.  It’s continued to strike and amaze me how many images and sequences of this film have stayed so fresh in my mind.  The images of  the family home below the bridge in New Jersey, where the initial drama starts, strangely had stuck with me, as had the initial emergence of the tripods from the city streets in their neighborhood.  The tripods themselves, massively looming across the countryside are remarkably eerie and stunning.  And my favorite sequence from the first viewing, the cramped cowering from the probing “eye” of the creatures while the heroes hide in the basement is another amazing set piece.

The film was certainly a post-9/11 film.  Set in New York, with the images of ash-covered people, vaporized humans, empty clothing floating from the sky, bodies teeming in a river, and the mass postings of flyers for missing loved ones, played off very fresh wounds and images from the definitive event of 2001.  The annihilation of humans by the aliens, though, is steeped in Holocaust-like terms, and the tone and shock value of the imagery is as much haunted by WWII and the brutal Final Solution as anything purely of the present.  The images are transcendent, frightening and visceral, truly nightmarish.

Clara found much of the film scary.  And it is.  It’s an excellent film of its genre, carrying potent impacts visually, viscerally, emotionally.

I’ll never be a Tom Cruise fan, but he’s used fairly well here.  Fanning, I think is very good, but Clara didn’t like her.  She thought she whined too much and was annoying.  Felix liked the film quite well.  I’ll admit that it was probably a bit intense for Clara.  It is PG-13, and rather than for any specifics of blood-letting or cursing or sex of violence, the film is just very intense and powerful.  And it’s about the annihilation of the human race.

The ending, more or less intact from H.G. Wells, is still the odd anticlimax.  It’s still oddly poignant, if increasingly challenging from a scientific perspective.  Shouldn’t the aliens have known the risk of tiny organisms with all of their superior science and technology and planning?

Still, one of the best sci-fi films, one of the best alien invasion films out there.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) movie poster

(1956) director Fred H. Sears
viewed: 12/09/2011

When the flying saucers attack in Mars Attacks! (1996), they are essentially the same flying saucers that attacked the Earth in 1956’s Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.  In Tim Burton’s send-up/homage these were not stop-motion animated UFO’s, though.  Here, they are brought to life by stop-motion animation/special effects legend Ray Harryhausen and they give this film its iconic imagery.

Probably for most of my life, I could recognize a shot of these flying saucers and told you that they came from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.  But in actuality, I’d never seen the film.

But after watching Mars Attacks!, the kids and I revisited the film’s other major influence, The War of the Worlds (1953) which featured more stop-motion effects by another master, George Pal.  It’s completing a circle of sorts, and it also adds to my growing experience of 1950’s science fiction, for which I’ve always had a soft spot, but have been lately coming to more fully appreciate.  I often note that I like dated science fiction.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is not quite the film that The War of the Worlds is.  In fact, minus the spacecraft effects, the film is pretty hilarious and corny.   It all starts with an American program to put satellites in orbit around the Earth (this was science fiction at the time, though only by a year or so).  This seems to trouble some aliens, who shoot them down and then try to send a message to the scientist behind the experiments (Hugh Marlowe).  This missed connection leads to a confrontation that kills one alien and essentially starts a war between the creatures and all of Earth.

The aliens are mostly shown in stiff-moving space suits, though one is shown unmasked at one point, which was quite interesting.  But the saucers are what this movie is all about, flying over iconic monuments and eventually crashing into ones like the Washington monument and the Capitol Building.  All told it’s good fun.

Attack the Block

Attack the Block (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Joe Cornish
viewed: 11/06/2011

The alien invasion movie meets inner-city London youth in Attack the Block.  Of all of the alien invasion movies of recent times, it does have a little more contemporary zeitgeist going for it.  The summer of 2011 featured aliens in the Old West (Cowboys & Aliens (2011)) and an alien in the late 1970’s (Super 8 (2011)), and quite often we have ones set in the relatively near future.  Attack the Block is meant to represent the now.

England has a long history of depicting working class lives in film and television, more so than is portrayed in the states.  Whether glimpsing the north or the west or the center of London, it’s usually the housing estates that are the site of these stories, and Attack the Block is no different.  I’m not familiar enough with London to talk specifically about the region depicted here, so I’m limited in what I can say there.

The film starts with a young woman returning home to “the block” from work, only to get mugged by five boys who mask themselves with their shirts and hoodies, though they certainly don’t mask those thick London accents.  The mugging gets broken up by a comet-like crash into a nearby car, which turns out to be a small, vicious dog-like creature that the boys run after and beat to death.  They take the dead beast to a local drug dealer in the tower to house it for them.  Only this is not the only thing falling from the sky this Bonfire night.  And not the largest thing either.

The next things that come down are these larger, black wolf/gorilla things, with glow-in-the-dark teeth and no eyes.  These things hit all over the neighborhood and the boys, who probably live a fairly hardscrabble existence are suddenly in life or death struggles with an alien invasion of vicious, vicious beasties.  Actually, I thought the alien designs were rather cool, very different from the more generic designs of creatures that make little impact these days.  Their simplicity is certainly part of their charm.

You get the feeling that there was meant to be a little more subtext to the film.  The boys are mostly Afro-Caribbean and this is likely a tough part of London.  Maybe a verite-style film in this location would portray a very different version of these boys.  This is a pretty mainstream film, after all, and more a popcorn movie than a social critique.  Still, it’s hard to pretend that the opportunity for critique was not perhaps more glaringly available.  At one point, the leader of the gang, Moses, suggests that maybe the beasts were sent by the government to “take care” of the blacks (like crack cocaine).  But this idea is glossed over so quickly that no one really even responds to it.

And really that’s about all its got going in that way.  So it’s kind of a zeitgeist taste of “the flavor” of the inner-city without having to take a whole mouthful.  After all, this is more about action and scares (and humor) than about social realism.  And it is pretty damn fun.

The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds (1953) movie poster

(1953) director Byron Haskin
viewed: 09/02/2011

Like Ray Harryhausen, George Pal was a film-maker, animator, special effects specialist who put a huge stamp on his films and transcends the auteur-theory.  Above his effects and animations, Pal was also a producer, so looking at his work fits closer perhaps than Harryhausen to the sense of “authorship” usually applied to directors, though often attached to writers and producers as well.  But like Harryhausen, a lot of his work was stop-motion animation, and he was a friend of Harryhausen’s.

After watching 1960 version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, it struck me that it would be fun to watch his seminal version of Wells’ The War of the Worlds, a film, iconic as it is, I had never actually seen.  But then we watched Tim Burton’s send-up/homage of the alien invasion film, Mars Attacks! (1996), which in retrospect is really templated on Wells’ classic novel.   I was struck by the fact that Burton’s film referenced a number of films that the kids had never seen;  not that they would need to to appreciate it, but I thought it would be cool to go to one of the original science fiction films of the 1950’s, a theme that I’ve been digging on for several years.  But further still, I’ve gotten a real interest in the “alien invasion” film.

Modernized from the Victorian era to the 1950’s, George Pal and Byron Haskin’s The War of the Worlds was a breakthrough in pop cinema for Hollywood, and as dated as it would appear culturally and effects-wise, it’s almost quite literally the template of the modern summer block-buster.  Actually, I was surprised, perhaps unnecessarily so, by how much Steven Spielberg revisited the film in his version of War of the Worlds (2005), how one of the best scenes in the 1952 film was also one of the best scenes in the 2005 version.  I was actually eager to revisit it as well.

The film opens with newsreel-styled reports about Mars and how life there did exist, but that their natural resources were spent, that in all of the galaxy, only Earth offered the fecundity that they sought.  And when the credits burst onto the screen, the film itself bursts into rich Technicolor.

Simple, small-town America, in the outlying regions of Southern California, sees a strange meteorite crash outside of town.  They all rush out to it, including visiting scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (played by Gene Barry) and fawning post-grad Sylvia van Buren (Ann Robinson).  Barry is actually almost comic in his delivery, hokey, campy acting, but still, the film works because of the action, the spaceships, and the aliens.  It turns out that the meteorite is really a Martian ship, quite clearly set on the destruction of humanity, blasting down those who “come in peace”.  Soon, there are thousands of these ships all over the planet, wreaking havoc, and quite likely to take over the world.

When even the nuclear option fails America, things are looking dire.  But of course, assuming you know the story, the aliens are brought down by Earth’s smallest living things, diseases, microorganisms.

For this The War of the Worlds, this whole experience takes a Christian slant.  These microorganisms are God’s creatures, sanctuary is found in churches, and a big part of American idealism is tied to religion.  Whether this seam came from writer Barré Lyndon, director Bryon Haskin, or George Pal, I don’t know, but it’s actually surprisingly pervasive.

The alien ships, made to look like manta rays with cobra head periscopes, are the most iconic of the film’s images.  But the film pulls off some other iconic images that have also been copied ever and since, namely the shots of deserted downtown Los Angeles, with Barry running through the empty streets, with newspapers and other detritus blowing by like so much tumbleweeds.  Also, the slow “march” of the ships, laying waste to all the best that American heroism, nobility, and technology can offer, is still effectively eerie.  In some ways, even more so than in many more modern films, even knowing what the outcome will be.

The great scene, in the abandoned farmhouse, where Barry and Robinson cower and hide from the probing eye of the alien ship, is also very effective.  And when the Martian sneaks up on Ann and lays his three suction-cup fingers on her shoulder, her turn and scream is just pure classic Americana.  Another iconic moment repeated and copied ad nauseum and beyond.

The effects are really striking, even when you can see the wires holding up with spacecraft.  Even the sort of dated image of the alien physique, the low-tech nature of the effects, it still made the kids comment that it was “creepy”.

Really, when you get down to it, this is just plain great stuff.  Another film enjoyed by all, inspiring much else in our future viewing queue.  It’s brilliant.

Mars Attacks!

Mars Attacks! (1996) movie poster

(1996) director Tim Burton

viewed: 08/27/2011

When Tim Burton released Mars Attacks! back in 1996, he still showed a great deal of promise as one of the most interesting directors in mainstream Hollywood.  Coming off his second Batman film, Batman Returns (1995), still visually inventive, his previous film had been Ed Wood (1994), arguably his best work.

And when I saw it in the theaters during its initial run, I considered myself a Tim Burton fan. And I liked it at the time.  It wasn’t brilliant.  It wasn’t classic.  It had some great gags, some great art design, lots of celebrity cameos, a ton of retro ironic humor/homage, but at best, it was good.  Not great.  It seemed to feed upon some of his prior films, notably Beetlejuice (1988), re-purposing not only characters and gags, but many actors as well.

Looking back now, it seems that his slide into perpetually derivative content blossomed after this film.  While he’d “re-booted” Batman and adapted an obscure collection of bubblegum cards into an alien invasion film, he would go on to re-invent Washington Irving (Sleepy Hollow (1999)), unsuccessfully re-boot a retro-1970’s franchise (Planet of the Apes (2001), redo Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), and adapt stage-musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).  His affinity for re-inventing pre-existing narratives, characters, and franchises is only second to his affinity for using Johnny Depp.

But while I’ve soured on Tim Burton, I still see most of his films.  And when the kids and I ended up watching Beetlejuice, I started considering his other films that they might enjoy.  We saw Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), which they liked, though not as well.  I thought since it reminded me in several ways of Beetlejuice, Mars Attacks! might be fun.

It was.

It’s a confection of humor, but it has some pretty awesome gags.  The Martians, who speak in voices that sound like “Aack Aack, Ack Ack Ack Aaack!”, then chasing humans down with ray guns using a translator to say “Stop! We come in peace!  We are your friends!”, having such contempt for human life that they kill indiscriminately and sew heads onto dogs and a dog’s head onto a human body.

Really, it’s a lampoon take on H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  With a tip of the homage/ironic hat to the George Pal-produced version of that film from 1952 as well as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and much more.  I’ve read that originally Burton wanted to use stop-motion animation for the aliens as a further acknowledgement of Ray Harryhausen, whose flying saucers from the 1956 film are specifically recognized.  Budget drove them to computer animation, and it’s still a great style.

The aliens, with their green skin, bulbously brained crania, bulging eyes, and skull-like jaws, are a perfect cartoon of old-fashioned extra-terrestrial life.  They are both comic and creepy.

The finale, in which the aliens are defeated by the yodeling voice of Slim Whitman (instead of common microorganisms as in The War of the Worlds), is some great sublime joke, as sublime as the simplistic solution that Wells had dreamed up, but sort of a classic end-gag.  With the parallel music of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual”,  to which the planet is rescued and the forest animals all convene, it’s really has some funny stuff in it, limited as it is.

The film actually depicts perhaps Burton’s most fervent misanthropy of any of his films.  Champion of the outsider, the dopey doughnut shop employee (Lukas Haas), the dark solitude of the president’s daughter (Natalie Portman), or occasional others, the film is gleeful in its punishment of the greedy, rich, selfish, self-absorbed, and “small-minded”.  Really of all of his films, this one might be the most far-reaching in its critique of the elements of culture and society that perturb Burton, rather than his consistent appreciation of the people who are cool but out of step with the rest of the world.

The kids quite enjoyed it.  Clara actually wanted to watch it again, liked it enough to watch it again.  It opened for me a further interest in the “alien invasion” film, something percolating within me for a short while of late.  It also made me think that I would like the kids to see some of the films that inspired or influenced this parody/satire/salute.

Burton is an enigma of sorts, but more than anything a bit of a disappointment.   Not long after Mars Attacks! I had written him off of ever making a truly great film.  Still, his work can be fun, is often beautifully designed, occasionally can be quite funny and piquant.  But more often than not, not as good as it could/should be.

Skyline

Skyline (2010) movie poster

(2010) directors Colin Strause, Greg Strause
viewed: 04/23/11

In an increasingly crowded market of alien invasion genre films, Skyline is not likely to stand out.  It’s primary visionary image is of humans being sucked up into a giant spaceship, reckoning of a biblical call to the end of days.  Also, there are giant, hard-to-describe aliens who seem to have come to Earth for brains.

Made by Colin and Greg Strause (“the Brothers Strause”) who begot AVPR: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem (2007), Skyline is an invasion film with a mixture of small scale and large scale.  On the small scale, the story follows a small group of friends, meeting up in a penthouse in Los Angeles in an oddly unpopulated building.  This isn’t one of those stories that tries to show the breadth of  humanity battling this massive invasion, but the specific isolated experience of a small group.  On the large scale, it’s Los Angeles, giant aliens, and biblical-scale doom.

Really the film is pretty awful, but not awful in a particularly enjoyable way.  I LIKE bad science fiction.  But this film is a failure without much in the way of ironic joy.

The most problematic thing for me was the base concept.  It’s Los Angeles, California, the second most populated city in the United States, but for this small group of friends, it’s a ghost town.  There is no logic to why they would be the only ones left when the aliens come and summon people into being pulled toward their human vacuum.  And then what do these people do when the shit starts hitting the fan?  Do they turn on the TV?  Do they search the internet?  What’s the first thing you would do if you looked outside and saw spaceships and feared for your life?

Do you know what these guys do?  Plan to get to the marina to get on a boat and off-shore. ??????

One thing I usually like in science fiction films or maybe any genre film or story is that I like not being given some entire back-story explanation about what is going on.  I like the mystery, the lack of knowing.  And to this film’s credit, it’s not exactly spelled out what is going on.  But by the end of the film, when it’s become clear that these creatures use human brains and nervous systems somehow for more than food, and then when the “hero” turns into a big “good” monster…to protect his pregnant girlfriend, the lack of knowledge moved into a lack of even having a clue as to what was supposed to be happening.

While it’s not fair to compare it with District 9 (2009), the ending with the hero morphed into a quasi-alien reckons of it.  There is probably a myriad of alien-invasion films that one could contrast it with.  Maybe there is an interesting theme to be gleaned from these recent series of alien invasion films, but I haven’t grasped it yet.  Skyline, despite one or two impressive visuals, is a weak, faulty effort, a minor blip on the sci-fi screen.

Monsters vs. Aliens

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) movie poster

(2009) dir. Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon
viewed: 03/27/09 at Century San Francisco Centre, SF, CA

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I thought: “Hey, that looks kind of fun.”

Well, that’s about right.  Later trailers revealed the likelihood that the film was far less creative and interesting than the concept at first blush.  The idea, that a sort of 1950’s B-movie invasion of Earth by aliens is thwarted by a bunch of B-movie type monsters that the government has kept under wraps all these years.  I like the concept pretty well.  And for the most part, I liked the design of the characters: a fishman Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), a blue blob (The Blob (1958)), a mad scientist cockroach (see: The Fly (1958)), a Mothra-like thing (most-useless addition), and a woman who has suddenly grown huge (see: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)).  This kind of thing is sort of up my alley.

But the film squanders the idea really by being just another animated feature film with stock “name” stars as the voices, including Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogan, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, and Stephen Colbert.  I mean, do you really need this many “names” to make an animated movie?  Aren’t there people who could build character just as well who we might never have heard of?

And the film follows the plight of the 50-foot woman character, from her wedding to her getting hit by an asteroid, through her experience imprisioned with the monsters, to her fighting aliens and finding empowerment…  Boring and poorly played emotional dreck.

And in the end, the characters are all pretty lame.  And the humor is flat.  The “adult” asides with references here and there to other films is tedious.  Just make a fucking movie.  We would think you were far more clever making a good movie than showing how many cultural “asides” you can make.  For chrissakes!

The one thing that did amuse me was that the adventure takes place in Modesto, CA with references to Fresno, CA, and ultimately in San Francisco, CA.  I was with the kids and we’d been trekking the city all day, looking at the Wharf and the TransAmerica building and Coit Tower and the Ferry Building.  And we were downtown watching it.  And them destroying the Golden Gate Bridge.

The kids liked the blob character the most, the dumb, funny one who gets the best lines.  He wasn’t bad, but the whole thing could have been a whole lot more entertaining.  We didn’t see the 3-D, but no one really cared.  The glasses give Felix a headache and I don’t know if it would have made any difference, really.  If you know my feeling about this current 3-D trend, you’ll know I don’t think a lot of it.

War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Steven Spielberg
viewed: 06/30/05 at Loews Metreon Theatres, SF, CA

War of the Worlds, director Steven Spielberg’s latest foray into science fiction (his specialty, many would argue), is a heck of an entertaining flick. The design and execution of the adventure sequences, the overall trashing of the world by the giant tripod robots marching around a destroying everything, is incredibly well-done and really is quite engaging. I was a little surprised how much I liked it myself.

The devastation wrought by the invaders really calls to mind Mars Attacks (1996) in a sense, this bloody, heartless annihilation of all things human. The river full of corpses and the sucking out of human blood really characterize the campy and shocking violence of the bubble-gum cards that inspired Tim Burton’s comedic satire. It’s definitely effective here, played for shock and seriousness, rather than for laughs.

As is often commented about Spielberg films, I think a strong argument can be made that the villans in this film, the aliens, can be interpreted as representations of the Nazis. There is this idea that in all Spielberg films, the villans are the Nazis, even the shark in Jaws (1975).

In the case of War of the Worlds, there are things that reckon of the holocaust: people being vaporized and turned into light ash, while their clothing flutters emptily down to earth (the ash like the resultant burning of bodies in concentration camps and the clothing as the remnants of a race exterminated), the bodies in the river (the bulk of death), and the chilling coldness of the aliens extermination of the human race.

War of the Worlds also reckons heavily of post 9/11 world as well. The attack on New York city, the hand-made posters for missing persons plastered all over the city, the crashed airplane, and again the ash leftovers of the vaporization covering Tom Cruise as he returns from the heart of “ground zero” (here the ash is like the soot of the pulverized World Trade Centers rather than human remains). Spielberg touches nerves with these allusions, quickly and effectively reckoning great tragedies in brief images, giving some emotional scale to the destruction being shown.

Spielberg exemplifies his own directing style with the “family” moments, creating a “heart” of the film. The performance that he gets out of Dakota Fanning is remarkably typical of the way that he directs children, cute and telescoping emotions, incredibly shallow and pap-like. Cruise is part of this too, though interestingly, his natural cockiness that is usually portrayed as a deserved attitude in films in which he is an ace something (race car driver, jet pilot, pool shark) is played against itself here, as he is a man with a broken family and kids that don’t relate to him, too self-assured to doubt his place, until his humbling and heroic experience. This whole side of the film is really its greatest drag.

The ending, which more or less comes from the original source written at the turn of the century by H.G. Wells, is a whole lot of anti-climax after the adventure of the humans fighting back. But in other ways it’s quite an intentionally humbling climax, in that the humans were pretty much doomed and all their pluck and humanity wouldn’t have saved them. In essence they are saved by a plague that has exterminated many races with the globalization of European expansion across the globe.

I don’t know, I liked seeing this film on the big screen, and I would pretty much recommend it straight up.

Signs

Signs (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. M. Night Shyamalan
viewed: 02/21/03

When this film was released theatrically, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story touting M. Night Shyamalan as the “new Spielberg” or something. From what I read, this would clearly be his ambition, to make box office-friendly genre films very slickly and imbue them with auteur-like meanings and character. His first feature film that I saw, 1999’s The Sixth Sense, clearly made it seem as though he had the right stuff for making a run at his goal. But both Unbreakable (2000) and now Signs show his formulae and bag of tricks as increasingly worn and transparent.

Signs wasn’t marketed well, in my mind. The crop circles thing is not inherently spooky to me, but rather something that has been pretty much clearly evidenced as hoaxes and are almost downright silly. Really, Signs is an alien invasion film, focused on the effect such a thing has on a single, isolated family in a small town. From that angle, it’s a pretty good pitch, though in execution it lands wide of the mark.

In Signs, Shyamalan becomes more heavyhanded with his subtext, positing the protagonist as an ex-minister who has forsaken his faith after his wife’s death. Faith and redemption are his themes, which, I would guess any child could see. In this sense, maybe he is truly evolving to a more Spielbergian style, employing blatant dewy-eyed emotion, though I would be willing to guess that he hasn’t such a cynical attitude about his idol.

There are some seriously stupid plot holes that really yank all credibility away from this film. This will sound insipid, but here goes (don’t read for spoiler stuff). For the aliens, who invade the skies over the entire Earth and have seemingly come to take over, water is like acid. Simple plain ordinary water. For a planet that is like two-thirds underwater and one in which rain frequently falls on those parts not already underwater, this seems like a pretty dangerous endeavor. But more strikingly, these aliens, who have managed to fly in from who-know-where and trample corn stalks, cannot open a locked door even though they can break in a window.

I kept thinking of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996), in which the aliens were defeated by the yodeling of Slim Whitman. This is just the sort of 1950’s camp scenarios that Burton’s film was lampooning. The solution to the alien problem is much more simple than anyone would have thought!

At times, Shyamalan frames shots well and occasionally pulls off certain scenes quite cleverly and aesthetically. But in this film, I could almost imagine his storyboards as I was watching the film, see him thinking this out rather than experiencing this. This could be called “When Formulae Go Bad”.

My step-mother thought that this was one of the worst films that she had ever seen and frequently laughed out loud at dramatic moments. I wouldn’t go as far as placing it in any pantheon of badness, but I could easily see the humor in the emoted performances of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. I could almost see this film become a camp-classic.

Another reading that this film should inherently receive, being released almost a year after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, is one that asks the question of what the aliens represent. This film has a truly all-American setting, with even a baseball player and baseball bat as key hero and weapon, respectively. Aliens have often been an almost literal representation, in a sense, that they represent “others” who are “alien” to the primary way of life represented.

The state of alert and boarding of windows in the film clearly echoed with the contemporary “real” fear and preparations recommended by the Homeland Security Chief, Tom Ridge, last week. In the case of Signs, one might posit that the duct tape does work, since the aliens (with their poison gas, no less) couldn’t break into the family’s stronghold. How political of a commentary is this film? I would hazard a guess, with its anticipated happy ending and rather simple resolution, that if it is making a political statement, it is one that suggests that everything will be okay. But, to quote the bard, George Michael, “We gotta have faith.” Preferably non-denominational?