This whirlwind horror thriller comes from
Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting.
But what matters to me is the issue of screenwriting an
“end-of-the-world” movie. Particularly because I am working with a
literary agent on a manuscript called “Tribunal and Rapture,” where
the story line is basically the same. There is a novel virus that
threatens civilization with “purification” and a road trip by
survivors building new personal lives (or, in my case, repairing old
ones). My road trip happens before “Armageddon” as a kind of
Here, however, Jim (Cillian
Murphy) wakes up wired to IV’s and electrocardiographs, to find his
hospital and then all of London
deserted. So it has already happened, a done deal. And that may be a
problem, because I want more than newspaper stories and second-hand
accounts of how the “anger virus” (apparently a government
experiment gone wrong) got out and spread. I’d want to see the media
accounts and how the government responds, in analogy to real life
histories of AIDS, SARS, or anthrax, or putative bioterrorism
incidents. Boyle skips this and concentrates on a somewhat closed
story of a few survivors, who make a road trip to
on receiving a signal. Oh, the virus victims don’t die instantly;
rather they develop chorea, a raging lunacy until they starve to
death. When they reach Manchester
and find an armed camp of more survivors, Boyle does have the chance
to explore more politics. One of the infected victims is kept as a
guinea pig, and the military leader, who gives hints of homosexual
interest in the rather charismatic Jim, comes up with the idea of
offering his men a “future” with two female survivors. At the end,
we learn that mankind may have survived elsewhere after all.
This is effective, linear storytelling and
pretty riveting, but it lays aside the more political questions of
how to deal with bioterrorism or environmental accidents. Stephen
King, remember, took this up with his
gigantic novel The Stand, (1978, 1990) that became a TV
miniseries in 1995.
The movie now offers an alternate ending. It's
easy to imagine several catastrophic alternates.
This film should not be confused with the 2000 film "28 Days"
directed by Betty Thomas, with Sandra Bullock, to be reviewed later.
from Lions Gate Films (2003), directed by Eli Roth (with Rider
Strong, Jordan Ladd, Joey Kern, Cerina
Vincent, James DeBello and Giuseppe
Andrews as Deputy Sheriff Winston, filmed mostly in North Carolina,
is a curious combination of comedy, Blair Witch, and 28 Days. A
bunch of young adults go on a warm fall weekend in the Carolina
Piedmont and run into the Ebola virus, I guess. (Oh, maybe
its just Marburg
virus instead. I need to see the Shepherd’s crook under a
microscope.) The picture does present a chilling preview of how a
biological Armageddon (whether or not planted by terrorists) really
could start. Widescreen but apparently in DVCam.
Andrews is really comical as the partying deputy sheriff, a
throwback to J W Pepper from the James Bond movies. Interesting use
of flashbacks, even from an attack dog’s point of view.
War of the Worlds
dir. Steven Spielberg, 116 min, PG-13) is a re-adaptation of the
famous H.G. Wells novella, which had been filmed before as the 1953
classic directed by Byron Haskin (also Paramount). Of course, in the
1930s Orson Welles created havoc with
his famous fictitious radio broadcast about the descent of aliens at
Grovers Mill, N.J.
I saw this in a National Amusements theater in
northern Va., and
noticed immediately that the film was shot in a standard 1.85 to 1
rather than the full widescreen, which I had expected for a high
profile summer film. Theater management confirmed to me that the
film was “flat” and not “scope.” The film, as a
whole, had the effect of a continuous take 50s style horror flick,
and smaller than what I had expected from Spielberg (who often
shoots his films flat). The story, though, gradually involves its
blue collar “average Joe” protagonist Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise
Malpother) into ever closer encounters
with the mean aliens. A deadbeat dad, he has returned to his
northern NJ abode to make amends with his teenage son Robbie (Justin
Chatwin) and little daughter Rachel
(Dakota Fanning), by taking them to his ex-wife (Miranda Otto).
Cruise, in his early forties, looks a biological 28, and he is
perfect here. Since his work in the past ten years or so has been
increasingly challenging intellectually (Eyes Wide Shut,
Minority Report) it’s interesting to speculate on the layers of
meaning underneath this simple tale.
I guess most people know the basic story.
Morgan Freeman provides the opening and closing narration, and we
all know that the alien creatures die because of lack of immunity to
earth-bound microbes—we have earned the right to survive and they
haven’t. The beginning of the film is fascinating. Robbie is
catching news reports of lightning storms in the
Ukraine. Suddenly, there is a dry
lightning storm over north Jersey. It’s odd
weather for late November. The setting of the film here is almost
dogma-like, with middle class rowhouses,
an elevated freeway, a huge bridge, a church, and so on. The wind is
blowing into the storm, and there is no rain. There is an
(Electromagnetic Pulse) EMP
effect, as all cars fail (except Ray’s stolen car, which must have
had some kind of Faraday cage shielding). Oddly, at least one
camcorder works, too. Soon, pavement buckles, there are earthquakes,
and buildings (like the church) break apart and elevated freeways
fall down. The lightning bolts (cloud to ground) awaken the tripods,
which are huge stompers housing the
aliens who traveled down the bolts. Ray takes his family on the
odyssey, up north towards Boston.
He is carjacked as he approaches a ferry. Soon, we are in a
fend-for-yourself world where the only virtue is a man’s protecting
his family from a hostile world. That seems to be one of Spielberg’s
points. Robbie runs off, to join the National Guard, it seems, so
the second half of the movie the drama gets simpler, as Ray comes
into contact first with the probes from the tripods and then the
arthropod monsters themselves. (The codger
Olgivy, played by Tim Robbins, tries to shield them for a
while.) The world becomes a garish wasteland, T.S. Elliot style
(this is no love song for Prufrock), and
covered with blood, as the monsters apparently abduct people, strip
them and leech out their blood before dropping their corpses behind.
Finally, Rachel is taken, and Ray follows her into the tripod, where
abductees are thrown together in hanging cages that remind one of
barracks at Auschwitz. Of course, Spielberg
wants to teach us again about the Holocaust; but here it is not
military gamesmanship that defeats the enemy; it is pure biology. It
is as if nature dictates morality.
See more comments by Richard W. Haines on film
technology in this movie at
rel. 2005, Magnolia/Toho, dir. Kiyoshi
Kurosawa, PG-13, 118 min) turns out to be a truly apocalyptic horror
film, even nihilistic. Indeed, it’s the end of life as we know it.
Some college students in Tokyo
first become concerned when one of their computer buddies (with whom
they have been developing controversial webcam application, about to
be published commercially) hangs himself. Soon ghosts start showing
up in computer screens, and people vaporize, turning into dust.
About half way into the film a woman jumps from a building and plops
dead on the street. Soon the teens notice that there is little
traffic anymore, and Tokyo
is rapidly depopulating. The figure out a theory, that ghosts have
become too numerous and are re-entering our dominion through the web
and body snatching people. The movie turns into a moral fable about
the dangers of replacing people with aesthetic representations of
people. The teens also learn not to enter a room
marked with red masking tape. At the end, the last boy does, and he
“gets it” from a ghost and is doomed. The final specters of Tokyo,
with black soot drifting up from empty skyscrapers, is shocking; the
scene calls to mind the sempre
pianissimo finales of Ralph Vaughn Williams’s Symphony #6 (e minor)
and Bela Bartok’s
last string quartet (movements marked as “mesto”).
The girl may be able to be saved and rescued at sea, but is this a
world wide mass extinction? Koyuki, Kumiko Aso, and other young
Japanese cast are very appealing, the kind that take A.P. courses in
That makes this a tragedy. Miramax and the Weinstein Co.
considered releasing this film before, but was
probably dissuaded by 9/11. The film’s initial premise reminds one
films like The Ring and Wes Craven’s They.
The credits (though subtitled) are entirely in Japanese picture
The Weinstein Company/Dimension Films releases
an English language version of this film in August 2006. This
appears to be a close remake with Jim
as the director and some rewriting by Wes
Craven, a new cast (Kristen Bell, Ian
Somerhalder). The idea that someone can be “infected” by a
computer seems quite tantalizing.