(Note: This version of War of the Worlds is a direct-to-video release from Pendragon Pictures. It is not to be confused with the Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks) version or the David Latt (Asylum) version, despite the fact that all three movies were released in the same month of the same year.)
There once was an indie filmmaker who longed to adapt War of the Worlds into a faithful movie version, one that took place in the same 1898 London that the book did. The filmmaker slaved away for endless hours, and then near the end of his project, up popped Steven Spielberg with his own mega-expensive version. And the indie filmmaker was unhappy. But he finished his movie anyway, and was smart enough to get it released on to DVD just as Spielberg's version was sweeping the multiplexes.
And here it now is. Wow.
Well, two things are plainly clear as you witness the massive hilarity that is Timothy Hines' slavishly faithful War of the Worlds adaptation:
1. Mr. Hines clearly loves, admires, and adores the H.G. Wells source material. (And "to a fault" would be understating the matter.)
2. Despite the fact that he's a screenwriter, a director, an editor, and a cinematographer, there's simply just no getting around the fact that Hines, for all his cornball hubris, is not a very good filmmaker.
See, already I feel guilty. As I sat and had the three-hour (!) eternity of this flick burn into my brain, I could plainly tell that Mr. Hines wanted to deliver a War of the Worlds adaptation that would do Mr. Wells proud. But hey, you know what they say about the road to hell...
First off, this movie has the worst acting I've ever seen. And that's not hyperbole. I'll testify to that statement on a stack of bibles. The worst. Sure, the cast consists almost entirely of amateur performers, but it's a stunningly consistent group of amateurs, I can tell you that much. The line readings are persistently flat and farcical, the accents come and go with no respect for the human eardrum -- basically everyone sounds like they're reading from a book and into an ADR microphone. It's painful stuff less than twenty minutes in, and I've already mentioned that the film runs a full three hours.
Anthony Piana plays "The Writer," who is a character that we follow from place to place as aliens destroy the London landscape. Relentlessly re-creating absolutely every scene from Wells' seminal story, Hines creates a film that leap-frogs from cave to village to ruin, and each time our lead character gets to hear a new flashback tale from other survivors. The story itself is not the problem; it's that Hines hasn't "adapted" Wells' novel as much as he's "literalized" it. And, again, it's a pretty painful chore.
The biggest deficiency of the movie, among dozens, is its rampant over-reliance on special effects that are, bluntly, not really all that special. Looking for all the world like a 400-dollar version of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Hines' movie is swollen with false backgrounds, shoddy CGI glitches, omnipresent "haloes" that surround the characters, and alien attackers that look like they fell out of a video game. An old video game, like Colecovision.
Again I'll detour and apologize for being so harsh towards a movie that was clearly a long and difficult labor of love. As War of the Worlds churned endlessly onward, all I could think, in between gasps and incredulous chuckles, was "Damn, this guy must really love H.G. Wells!" -- and it's really tough to enjoy savaging something that was obviously made with some actual heart, sweat, and passion.
But, and here's where I circle back again, this is a turkey on par with Ed Wood, Battlefield Earth, and the worst of MST3K. I simply refuse to believe that nobody took Mr. Hines aside and said "Hey, look, we can distribute this thing, but here's the deal: First, we cut it down to 105 minutes, maximum. This way we keep the pace nice and brisk and people won't be so annoyed by the construction-paper special effects on display. Also, there's simply no good reason to include so many transitional scenes of people walking, wandering, loitering, narrating, contemplating, and sitting. And no, "because it's in the book" is NOT a good enough reason." Frankly, the fact that this flick demands 180 minutes of your life is kind of a joke.
Probably envisioned as a low-budget epic and well-intentioned love letter to H.G. Wells and his seminal tale of otherworldly terror, Tim Hines' War of the Worlds is, honestly, pretty amazingly bad. It fails in even the most rudimentary filmmaking techniques, from the sonorous score to the atrocious effects, from the interminable pacing and marble-mouthed acting performances. Plus ... good lord, it's three freaking hours long! I've seen 180-minute movies that fly by like a breeze. This movie makes three hours feel like fifteen.
Video: The widescreen transfer looks pretty darn clear; it's what the transfer is showcasing that needs a few extra passes through the washing machine.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, with the typical trait of volume levels that are mellow on the dialogue and annoyingly outspoken when the explosions kick in.
Extras: You'll get the original trailer, a brief photo gallery and some text-based biography notes about Mr. H.G. Wells.
All the well-intentioned passion in the world cannot save a movie laden with this many glaring mistakes. I'm sorry to say that Hines' version of War of the Worlds is 57 styles of amazingly bad, not only because it's way too long, way too boring, and presented with all the professionalism of a high school play, but also because Hines simply never bothered to look up the word "adaptation" in a dictionary. Hiring a bunch of actors to recite an entire novel and then splicing that footage into a series of plates, mattes, and chintzy-looking filters is not exactly what a filmmaker does when adapting a book. You actually have to sit down and re-work the source material and turn it into a movie. Given the level of acting and the deluge of laughable special effects, I can recommend War of the Worlds only as the world's first "book on DVD" release. Which means it might be good for a listen, but I wouldn't focus too closely on the visual side.
But if you're a fan of hilariously woeful filmmaking, you should immediately seek out a copy of this flick. A rental copy.