Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Belated Review of "War of the Worlds"

Another post long overdue ... this one fulfilling a promise I made to Eric Siegmund at Fire Ant Gazette and Patti at Texas Trifles, and writing a review of Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds.

It's hard to raise an issue, or even just a point, that has not already been covered - and covered well, or at least thoroughly - elsewhere. So, I'll just touch on some of the concerns I raised
earlier this year, before the film was released.

"Will the Martians be absolutely unbeatable by anything 'Man' can bring to bear upon them," I asked in that earlier the post. The reason I asked was because the battle between the Martian invaders and the British armed forces provided much of the drama in
Wells' original novel. The tripods were vulnerable to the Royal Artillery Corps, and one of the most exciting scenes in the novel was the battle between the ironclad HMS Thunder Child and three tripods threatening boats full of refugees.

I had predicted, earlier, that Spielberg would produce something of a hybrid, borrowing some things from Wells' novel, and some things from Byron Haskins' classic
1953 film. And, that's exactly what Spielberg did. The tripods have the shields that Haskins introduced to the story, but Spielberg finds a way through those shields, giving his tripods a small degree of vulnerability, just as Wells originally gave them.

So, why is the degree of vulnerability important? Because it was a significant factor in the story's development ... and in the underlying messages Wells wished to convey. As I pointed out before, Wells lived and wrote at the height of the British empire ... but he was no fan of the means by which that empire was sometimes reached, writing ...

"And before we judge the aliens too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?"

So, in Wells' story, humans become the savages battling a technologically-superior invader. Sure, the savages have their moments of victory ... their Isandhlwanas and their Little Big Horns ... but their final defeat and extermination is inevitable.

Spielberg's battle between human and Martian forces captures the sense of that struggle, though he assigns the small victories to his star, Tom Cruise, who blows one tripod up himself, and later rallies American troops to attack another tripod ... stretching credibility well beyond the breaking point, but giving Cruise an opportunity to play action hero.

So, while Spielberg's film would not allow the battle that was a favorite chapter of mine in the book, he did recreate that scene to some degree ... as three tripods appear on a hilltop, then stride down into a village, and attack a ferry and other water craft that are trying to cross a large river ... but no HMS Thunder Child with its gallant crew, alas.

In many places, Spielberg nails the story. Advances in digital effects (not available to Haskins, who settled for his gliding war machines) allows Spielberg to produce totally-believable tripods that combined the traits of both the 'fighting machines' and the 'handling machines' that Wells' described. Spielberg also backs off some from the heavy-handed religious tone that filled much of Haskins' film, turning back to the tone of the novel. The Martians ultimately fall prey to terrestrial diseases, to bacteria, among the simplest of Earth's life forms, "which God, in his wisdom, created." Wells was a staunch advocate for evolution and presented the fight between human and Martian (and bacteria and Martian!) as another of the struggles in which species engage to survive.

Personally, I think Wells' story had more than enough plot and characters to carry a film. But Spielberg didn't, and this was where most of gripes over the film stem from. So, we add a couple of smart-aleck, screaming kids (really wouldn't be a Spielberg film without those) with which Cruise has to re-establish a relationship over the course of the film ... the result being that an interplanetary war for dominion over the Earth, and the extermination of the human race periodically has to take a back seat to a crazy road trip during which Tom Cruise must come to terms with himself, his fractured relationships with his children and his forgotten responsibilities as a parent ... I kept squirming in my seat, wondering what the Martians were up to while we were wasting out time on all that silliness.

Other ridiculous additions to the story ... the plane crash, the television news crew, and having the Martian machines placed under the Earth's crust thousands of years in the past so that we could devote so much time to storm scenes as the Martian's are squirted into the cockpits.

If my gripes seem small in comparison to the rest of this post ... they ARE. I enjoyed the film, and it was well worth the price of a ticket. But I won't go back a second time, and I probably won't rush to get the DVD when it's released in November ... it was okay, but it wasn't THAT good.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

And Belated Congratulations to Eric Siegmund ...

Another post long overdue ... congratulating Eric Siegmund at Fire Ant Gazette for successfully completing Blogathon 2005.

(I may be into a vicious cycle here ... by the time I catch up on all the posts I should have made while I was a away on vacation, then all the posts I normally would have made this week, will be overdue ... so, I'll finally post THEM next week, putting off next week's posts until the week after that ... I may be in a state of Perpetual Belation!)

But, getting back to Eric Siegmund, who posted steadily for a solid 24 hours, doing his part to raise funds for charity. During the Blogathon, people update their websites every 30 minutes for 24 hours straight. For this, they collect sponsorships. Pledges can be a flat donation, or a certain amount for every hour the blogger manages to stay awake. In Eric's case, he was raising funds for
Midland Fair Havens.

Fair Havens' mission is to "equip single mothers and their children for self-sufficient living by addressing their educational, vocational, spiritual, and emotional needs in residential and non-residential settings." It sounded to me like a good cause, so I sponsored Eric ... so did a number of you, and I would like to extend my appreciation to you, as well.

I also sponsored Erin at
Mighty Wench, who was part of quartet of bloggers on Three Moms and a Single Lady, a weblog created especially for Blogathon. They were raising funds for the M.I.S.S. Foundation, which is dedicated to "providing crisis support and long term aid to families after the death of a child from any cause."

A look at just a few from the long list of the other charities benefiting from Blogathon this year ... ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctor Without Borders, Save the Children, the Chinatown Community Development Center, St. Jude's Children's Hospital, American Diabetes Association, Greenpeace, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation ... another indicator of the incredible diversity of bloggers and their interests which, as I've said time and time again, is one of the strengths of the blogosphere.

The numbers? This year, there were 216 participants, 1,883 sponsors, and $58,146.97 pledged. And think about what the participants accomplished ... posting at least every 30 minutes? That's at least 48 posts in 24 hours ... I'll be lucky to post 48 times in the next two months! Then there's the impact of the money - and the awareness! - they raised for their charities.

So, congratulations to Eric, Erin and all those - short on sleep but long on heart - who put their keyboards to work for Blogathon 2005. And, thanks to all of you who are putting your checkbooks to work, now, supporting the Blogathoners' efforts ... if I understand correctly, it's NOT too late to pledge/donate.

And a reminder to EVERYONE ... the next Blogathon begins August 6, 2006, at nine o'clock in the morning (EDT).

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Belated Tribute to Peter Jennings ...

I realize I am late getting to this, but I've been away for a couple of weeks, traveling across the country to a family reunion. One of the perq's to being on the road like that was rarely being in close proximity to a computer ... hence the dearth of recent postings to ArchaeoTexture.

But, getting back to Peter Jennings, who
died Sunday from lung cancer ... the web has been filled with postings, and the blogosphere has been no exception. Those postings have run pretty much the full range of opinion ... and really, is that any surprise?

For example, Keith Oberman at
Bloggerman, says, "the calm, seasoned, assuring voice has been stilled," describing Jennings' career as, "a half century of perseverance, growth; even redemption ... he was a man of whom a colleague would say in the early 1980s - with pride and affection - 'He is now as good as he used to think he was.'"

Closer to home, Julie Craig at
Yellow Bug News, begs to differ, saying, "He was a pompous, arrogant SOB. I didn't care for him in the least."

As for me, I really can't comment about Jennings (as a person) with much authority, never having met the man. And the work I did with him was best described as 'indirect' ... though it did give me some insight into how he worked. And it's that work, and his record, on which I can speak with some confidence.

And my opinion is only a little different from Julie's ... that difference being that - his personality aside - I DID care for the man, and for his work, very much. And the arrogance? Yes, he was proud of his achievements, and how hard he worked to attain those achievements, having overcome a variety of challenges and early setbacks.

He wasn't really larger-than-life ... rather, he was an example of how large all our lives could be with hard work and determination. And he wasn't really a know-it-all ... he just came closer to it than most of us could ever hope.

Jennings was anchoring "ABC World News Tonight" in New York when I was a writer here, in West Texas, for KMID-TV. We sent some promotional scripts to New York, asking Jennings to record them for us ... something like, "You're a part of it with Big 2 News, the Permian Basin's News Leader" ... which is a pretty common practice for networks and their affiliates.

But Jennings wouldn't do it, at first. How did he know, he asked, that we were "the News Leader?" It was only later, after re-submitting our request along with the ratings numbers (showing us to be a dominant #1) that he relented, and cut the promos for us.

Arrogant? Yes. But it also was an example of his making sure he didn't go on the air with anything less than the facts, and that those facts were checked and verified. A small point, maybe, but significant in forming my impression of the man and his work ...

... I will miss both in the years ahead.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Blogger/Journalist Killed in the Iraq War

BAGHDAD, IRAQ - An American freelance journalist was found dead in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the U.S. Embassy said Wednesday. Police said Steven Vincent had been shot multiple times after he and his Iraqi translator were abducted at gunpoint hours earlier. Police said Vincent, a Web blogger who had been living in New York, had been staying in Basra for several months working on a book. Vincent had been critical of Islamic radicalism’s rise in southern Iraq. In an opinion column printed in The New York Times on July 31, Vincent wrote that Basra’s police force had been heavily infiltrated by members of Shiite political groups, including those loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

CLICK HERE for the complete story from msnbc.com