When all is said and done, it is not the fact that Steven Spielberg lacks Martians to tear up the scenery in his version of War of the Worlds -- One alien looks just like another when he's on the trigger end of a deathly heat ray.
Rather, the concern I have is how much the new movie resembles the remake of Jurassic Park, the film sometimes referred to as Lost World.
I fully understand how one is the sequel and the other an original movie based on the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells, but the similarities remain, and this disturbs me.
Let me confess right up front: I hate most sequels. Rarely do they equal the original, especially when the original movie was great.
Gremlins II was so far interior to Gremlins, for instance, I have the video hit in the back of my cabinet for shame of owning a copy.
There are notable exceptions. The second Batman may well have edged the original out in my mind, just as Sister Act II had more depth than the movie it is named after. I still can't decide which of the Short Circuit movies I like best, both are so well done.
While the second two movies of the original Star Wars trilogy were always better science fiction flicks, neither ever lived up to the original in my mind. As for the prequels, I saw the first of this sequence twice, the second once, and neither will I likely ever see again.
Back to the Future suffers from the same tragic dilemma. While the follow-up films were clever, they also lacked the charm of the original, and became so convoluted at times, I have to be in a rare mood to appreciated them -- where as I can watch the first of the series again and again without ever getting bored.
Lost World suffers from the same sequel disease. Stripped of the wonderful balance of philosophy vs. action that the first film presented, Lost Worlds becomes little more than a modern rendition of Perils of Pauline -- a cliff hanger in which we actually find the heroes hanging off a cliff.
While Spielberg retains the brilliant camera angles and powerful special effects from the first film, the story devolves into a sequence of strung along action scenes throwing the characters into danger with our expectations laying solely on curiously as to how they will get out of each.
Lost Park becomes relevant now because it presents many of the same challenges Spielberg faces in the making of War of the Worlds -- and raises in me many fears that he will trade away significant philosophy of H.G. Wells in order to focus solely on action -- as was apparent in Lost World.
This is the reason why the loss of Mars as the origin of the attackers concerns me, suggesting that if this small detail is sacrificed, what greater details we might also lose.
As I said earlier, War of the worlds is not a sequel. So we may not lose the key establishing shots so many sequels abandon -- such as in Lost World, Harry Potter, even silly movies like Police Academy. These sequels assume the audience has seen the prior picture and rushes through the set up as fast as possible in order to get into the new action, stripping the new film of character the set up scenes endowed in the original.
In Lost World, we rush through scenes that Spielberg so carefully crafted in the original. This is not to say Lost World is without valiant efforts to create texture - such as the sequence of scenes depicting packs of tiny dinosaurs that maul a rich girl in the opening minutes of the film, suffer abuse by one of the film's evil character in the middle, and get their revenge towards the end of the island portion of the film.
The problem is, Lost World simply tried to cover too much geographical ground, a fatal flaw in AI, and a potential flaw in the upcoming War of the Worlds.
Spielberg appears to be a master of a limited geography -- more Graham Greene than Thomas Wolf. At his best, he limits his fictional landscape to one or two symbolic sets, using other locations as bridges between the two such as in ET which has its house and woods, jaws its beach and its sea, and poltergeist its house and yard. While Spielberg appears to master the larger scope of action in Close Encounters, even here he actually limits himself to a few key sets upon which his characters play out their roles. Part of the metaphor of his movies is to compare one environment with the other, creating a kind of tension that gives each deeper reality.
Both Lost World and AI lack that internal bonding with scenes more or less strung along with characters wandering from scene to scene nearly totally dependent on action for interest.
Lost World might then be a dangerous foreshadowing of what we might expect from War of the Worlds since both movies seem to employ the wide range of landscape, and pose the risk of losing intensity of texture by spreading the tale too thinly over a wide geographic map.
As a sequel, Lost World wasted a lot of time and energy covering the same geography as the first movie, when the most interesting elements came near the end when the characters and monsters finally reached the United States.
From the sets filmed so far for War of the Worlds, Spielberg appears to be wandering the same action -oriented path as Lost World, giving him the more narrow perspective that made his earlier films great. And I fear that Spielberg may give up more than Mars in his adaptation.
Wells, like Spielberg, is at his best when he limits the view of the action -- and despite the world-destroying subject matter in this novel, Wells kept to a narrow focus, telling his tale totally through one character's eyes (with a retelling of his brother's story) instead of attempting to present us with Tolstoy. Like Spielberg's better works, Wells focused his attention on a few key settings, using action and other scenes to connect them. Like Spielberg in films like ET or Jaws, Wells filled his key scenes with rich details that made his book so rewarding to read. This limited view -- as with Jaws -- gave an opportunity for readers to speculate while the characters struggle to make sense of what is happening to them.
For us, the question is: Which kind of movie will War of the Worlds be -- Jurassic Park or its much inferior sequel?