Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging…
In 1986, Christopher “Kid” Reid and Christopher “Play” Martin formed a hip-hop duo known as “The Fresh Force Crew”. By 1987, they’d changed their name to “Kid ‘N Play”, and would go on to release three albums, two of which would go gold. Their extravagant hair, big personalities, and positive, poppish-style put them in the sweet spot of R&B/hip-hop music that wasn’t too scary for white parents in middle America to let their children listen to. They would go on to land two number one singles on the Billboard Rap chart. After DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince passed on House Party, Kid ‘n Play would go on to star in the first three films of the franchise, and Class Act, a film loosely based on The Prince and the Pauper. The duo also featured in a single-season NBC Saturday Morning Cartoon, a short-lived Marvel comic book, and made guest appearances on Sesame Street and Square One TV.
Chris Martin went on to found a multimedia company, and later became a professor of Hip-Hop and Music Studies, first at North Carolina Central University, then later at Florida A&M; Chris Reid would make guest appearances in numerous ’90s sitcoms, and go on to do voice work.
And also this.
This is Pete Silverman. I think he’s ex-military — there’s a reference to him having lost his unit, but it’s hard to follow in context, and unclear whether he’s talking about the first or second invasion. This invasion wave seems a little mismanaged. The aliens opened their “time hole” four days ago, and as of right now, they seem to be coming down as single isolated Squid Walkers who just kind of roam around sucking people up. In a few minutes, they’ll actually invade in force with hundreds of walkers, but these first few aren’t acting like a reconnaissance party, and there are indications that the aliens have been abducting people continuously for some time.
It’s another symptom of War of the Worlds 2 being a disjointed clusterfuck: if you follow George through the story, there’s a moderately heavy low-action adventure story about a desperate man trying to rescue his son during an insidious, long-term alien invasion that is conducted as a series of small, continuous raids over a long period of time — at least a few days, possibly much longer — and focused on abducting individual humans one at a time. But then there’s all those other characters we met in the boring exposition section: Victoria, Dave and Major Sleeveless. They are fighting an alien invasion that is sudden, rapid, and widescale, takes place from beginning to end over the course of no more than a day, and is based entirely around the aliens blowing up piss-poor CGI recreations of easily-recognized world landmarks. The two halves of the story don’t flat-out explicitly contradict each other, but the structure of the plots aren’t properly compatible, meaning that it comes completely out of nowhere when they crash into each other.
Pete enters our story by waking George as he dozes in his truck after a long night of searching a city for a convenient Squid Walker. Maybe it’s the same city where the base is. Maybe not. I mean, the skyline is the same, but it’s also obviously the same neighborhood in the same city where the opening scene with Shackleford and Sissy was filmed, but that’s absolutely not the same place. Pete frantically warns George to leg it, as there’s a Squid Walker just around the corner. Instead, George hops out of the truck, grabs a shotgun that he just happens to have (I have no per se objection to George having a shotgun. Given that he seems to live in an isolated cabin in the woods in a society that lacks basic infrastructure, it makes a lot of sense for him to have taken up hunting. But I do take some issue with the gun simply appearing in this scene without explanation or introduction, especially given that it’s unlikely he had it at the base), and starts shooting at the walker, daring it to zap him.
The walker’s teleport beam is clever enough to leave the shotgun behind when it beams him up, but thankfully does not go full Time Hole*[I always refer to the time travel mechanism from the Terminator series as “The time hole”. By a remarkable coincidence, this movie actually does feature a thing called a “Time Hole”, though it’s got balls all to do with time] From Terminator and force us to spend the rest of the movie with C. Thomas Howell in the buff.
He wakes up inside a walker, accompanied with a slight motion blur visual effect to suggest his disorientation. His display of badassery has earned Pete’s respect, even if it didn’t buy him enough time to escape. George is the last to recover of the prisoners, who also include a woman I initially mistook for Sissy and a man in clerical collar whose tone and body language suggest that he’s in the middle of a psychotic break, but that may just be bad acting. George explains that this isn’t his first time inside an alien ship, but before they can plan an escape, something weird and psychedelic happens and the screen goes gray and swirly. Possibly this is related to the inexplicable bit rot that happened to my hard drive last week.
The aliens arrive at the base. Kinda. We see one guy on lookout from a stack of gutted cars get teleport-zapped, but they never actually attack the base in force or anything. There’s never even any sense of urgency from the scientists that their location might be in danger, and the aliens certainly aren’t shooting the place up. Major Sleeves is loading up the jets with plague missiles and demanding that Dave and Victoria get the shields working so they can go to space and shoot at the Mothership. One thing that’s curious about both movies is that we never actually see whether or not normal human weapons can take out the alien craft. In the first movie, the aliens basically rout the military before it can organize a full-scale response. We rarely see anyone engage an alien ship in a fire-fight, and when we do, it’s limited to infantry with small arms. In the second movie, the human resistance has armed itself strictly with biological weapons and they don’t engage the walkers themselves, saving their weapons for the mothership. There’s some implication of invincibility to the walkers, but we never get to see it. The utter inability of human weapons to defeat the alien craft is a common theme in adaptations of War of the Worlds, but isn’t actually in the original. There, probably in deliberate parallel to the experiences of European Imperialists invading less technologically advanced lands in basically the whole rest of the world, the weapons of the locals could defeat individual tripods, given the opportunity. It was just that the Martians’ destructive power was so much greater that it hardly made any difference if you could take out the occasional tripod: they’d blow up your cannon and six others before you got your second shot off. They launch without the shields, hoping Victoria can email the upgrade en route. The pilots are surprised when their ships lift off on their own — the major didn’t feel the need to tell them about the autopilot until this moment. Not teaching your pilots how to operate their craft ahead of time seems like an unsound tactical move.
Victoria announces the approach of two dozen alien ships, though I suspect a lack of communication between the scriptwriter and the visual effects department, because the alien attack force looks much, much larger. Why they’re all congregating over a city that’s already half-demolished and largely abandoned, I’ve no idea. They don’t seem to be especially interested in attacking the Free Forces Base or the fighter squadron itself. I mean, yes, they take some shots at each other (Major Sleeveless has to shout at his men to hold their fire and save their munitions for the mothership), but it’s less like they’re going after each other and more like taking potshots as the two sides pass each other. More Frogger than Missile Command.
It’s also more or less at this point that a montage shows us the aliens attacking the rest of the world, played here by terrible CGI models of Paris and London, neither of which look like they’ve seen even close to the devastation that Washington showed in the opening recap. Given how quickly the lines of communication collapsed in the first movie, they maybe could have gone with the idea that the first invasion was limited to the US. The rest of the world would be plunged into an economic crisis that might have precluded anyone making preparations for a second wave, but wouldn’t have faced the infrastructure collapse that turned the US into a third-world country. But there’s nothing in dialogue to suggest that, and George’s opening monologue certainly doesn’t support it. There’s one building in one shot that has a scaffold around it. So maybe they were trying to say that the rest of the world got similarly demolished, but they went hard to work spending the past two years rebuilding, while the US was tearing the sleeves off its collective shirts and setting trash cans on fire because “building new infrastructure” is not really a thing the United States does these days.
Back inside the Squid Walker, or in the alien mothership, or, I don’t know, somewhere, George and the others have been strapped in for alien nomming. In time, it will be explained that the aliens aren’t actually consuming the human blood they take at the moment: those pesky microorganisms still render it lethal. But the aliens are dicks, so they’re still extracting blood from their victims, and just placing it in storage while they work out how to build a lifestraw.
The blood extraction process involves “filtering” — this doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense the way it’s explained, but it sounds like maybe they pump you full of something to decontaminate you while extracting your blood, but the process doesn’t work well enough yet for the blood to be entirely safe for human consumption? This process involves the aliens sticking an IV in your arm, putting a sheet of fake vomit over your face, and shoving a rape tentacle down your throat. Because I really, really needed to see C. Thomas Howell and Chris Reid deep throat some alien wing-wang.
They are saved from a fate worse than appearing in a Chuck Tingle story (Hugo-nominated Molested by the Man-Meat From Mars no doubt) by Sissy. Who is here for some reason! She rescues Pete, George and the girl from the previous scene who I’d mistaken for Sissy, and it’s still hard to keep them straight. Aside from Kim Little, every female actor in this movie looks, sounds and acts basically the same.
Sissy peels them out of their confinement and promises to help them escape, cautioning them not to touch the walls. Not-Sissy pretty much immediately disregards this warning, touches a wall, and gets eaten by it. Sissy leads our heroes to a different wall… And tells them to throw themselves at it. Pete finds these instructions contradictory. But after Sissy vanishes into the wall, George decides that it’s better than nothing and follows.
After an interminable amount of teasing us that they won’t manage it in time, Adam authorizes Samus to use the Varia Suit Upgrade Victoria uploads the shield code to the fighter squadron basically the second they cross into the mesosphere, allowing them to make it the rest of the way into space. No sooner do they get to the mothership, though, when a time hole opens up. Why does the mothership leave now, right in the middle of the invasion? What are the squid walkers on Earth planning to do without it? What’s it going to do back on Mars?
War of the Worlds 2 laughs at such pedestrian questions. The fighter group gives chase, flying into the Time Hole before it closes. Finding themselves under siege (nominally, at least) with the Earth’s entire defense force having just disappeared into the time hole, Dave suggests that he and Victoria get drunk. I’m going to assume, “and fuck” was omitted because they weren’t sure if Victoria was meant to be George’s love interest or not.
Pete and George inexplicably find themselves in the abandoned city from the first scene. Pete’s relieved; George just wants to get back to the alien ship to find his son. George is pretty consistent through the middle part of this movie about not giving a fuck about the larger issue of the alien invasion and just wanting to find his son. It’s one of the few nice character touches in the movie in how it avoids the more traditional B-Movie Sci-Fi trope of the scientist obsessing over ScienceTM-Exclamation-Point to the detriment of those around him until he has his big character awakening moment at the climax and finally decides to put his loved ones ahead of his work. George is perfectly prepared to let the world burn if it gets him his kid back. Pete makes several references to PTSD, suggesting George is suffering from it, but also claiming it himself when apologizing after an angry outburst.
They find a truck that won’t start. Suggesting that his military skills and/or street smarts can find a way to start it in spite of an apparent dead battery, Pete pops the hood, to discover that the battery isn’t so much “dead” as “absent”, as is the engine. Being very thick, they do not work out the significance of this. They eventually catch up with Sissy, who takes them back to Shackleford, who is gravely ill by now. He offers them moonshine and exposition.
In addition to what I’ve already said about the aliens filtering and bottling blood, he tosses in the extra explanation that rather than juicing them along with everyone else, the aliens are pulling captured children aside for experimentation to improve the filtering process. Why children in particular? Because we need an excuse to get George back to Alex. He also drops the incredibly obvious revelation that they’re not on Earth, but in a simulated environment on Mars. This being why there’s no resources and the truck had no engine. Shackleford and Sissy were among those taken in the first invasion, two years earlier. Why exactly they’d recreate a truck with no engine is a mystery. Why the refugees who lived in the city weren’t using the many fine empty buildings for shelter instead of living on the street is a mystery (It would have been cool if the buildings turned out to be hollow shells because the Martians only copied what they could see from the cameras on their ships. But the buildings do turn out to be whole inside). How people have been surviving without supplies for two years is a mystery. Why, when we see a street torn up later, there are clearly water and sewer lines running under the fake pavement, is a mystery. This movie is very mysterious. To prove his claims, Shackleford has Sissy take them into one of the buildings, where, behind an emergency exit door, they find an alien corridor (This is conveyed via reaction shot. Actually having a door open into the alien set was outside the budget). Sissy panics and runs off, never to be seen again. Bye Sissy!
Having been knocked out by the Time Hole journey, the fighter group recovers and finds themselves in Martian orbit. They regroup, locate the landed mothership on the Martian surface, and close in for an attack. It seems like the implication here is that the Earth habitat is itself inside the mothership, though I guess it could be a separate building that the mothership is docked to. That would possibly make more sense than the aliens hauling their little Terrarium to Earth and back. Might even justify the trip, if the mothership had returned to Mars because its tanks were full and it wanted to drop off its haul of blood-bags. But again, there’s only weak evidence of this, and George and Pete arrive in the habitat before the mothership goes through the wormhole. Additionally, the surface of Mars looks like the surface of Mars. By which I mean that there’s no signs of civilization on the planet’s surface. The only structure of any sort that we see is the mothership. And again, if the Martians live underground or something, why would the mothership land on the surface? None of the actions of the invaders make a lot of sense in this movie; it’s all just them doing whatever will coincidentally happen to advantage the humans.
Shackleford explains that Sissy was one of the aliens’ experimental subjects, and due to her unusually strong immune system, she survived being exposed to all sorts of diseases, which, because this movie thinks viruses work that way, all combined together in her blood to form a “superflu”, which is slowly killing her. Shackleford infected himself on the assumption that the virulence of the disease he was carrying would overwhelm the alien filtering and contaminate the entire blood supply, eventually starving the aliens out — killing them more quickly would require that they introduce the virus directly to one of the alien “brain” units, and Shackleford doesn’t know how to find one.
And this is where things just get bizarre, because so many of the clusterfuck of things that have happened in this movie all sort of come together. It makes the movie even more confounding. Because having this many things all come together in the climax for a payoff is not something you do in a movie this profoundly incompetent. The only thing I can reckon is that at some point, there was, if not a good movie outline here, at least a vaguely coherent one, and then something went horrifically wrong in production.
Pete thinks that Shackleford’s plan is insane and can’t possibly work, on account of Shackleford’s plan is insane and can’t possibly work. But George knows that the plan is actually reasonable because way back in act one, he found out that Dave is trying basically the same thing. Shackleford knows where Alex is because the aliens are experimenting on children and he’s the one who rescued Sissy. So Shackleford offers to take George to Alex, on condition that George shoots himself up with a syringe full of his blood. George agrees, but Shackleford drops dead while George is injecting himself.
In space, the fighter pilots recover from the stresses of Time Hole travel and descend toward the Martian surface to take on the mothership. They engage hundreds of flying squid walkers in a battle that would be epic and thrilling, except that it’s way too long, the CGI is crap, it’s incredibly repetitive and the camera angles seem designed to obfuscate rather than demonstrate. Major Sleeveless eventually crashes into the mothership, landing, by remarkable coincidence, and with only minimal damage, in the Earth habitat.
George is already coughing from his magic infection (After two movies, I’m wondering if C. Thomas Howell specializes in playing characters with the flu), and Pete suggests they locate the crashed fighter and use it to escape, but George is, of course, still fixated on his son, looking for the door Sissy had shown them earlier. Why don’t either of them have any idea where it was? Because shut up. They come across a tripod, and George throws himself at it, getting beamed up for more tentacle fellatio. Pete finds the door on his own and is somehow lucky enough to find George. I don’t know what George’s plan was here; if Pete hadn’t come along, he’d have just spent the rest of the movie wired up to the alien dialysis machine. Even as it is, they’re left with the daunting task of finding one child in a huge alien ship without touching the walls.
They hear a piano playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and George realizes that it must mean Alex is nearby, and what the everloving fuck? So at this point, I had to rewind the movie to try to work out what was going on here. And no, this didn’t just come out of nowhere: they really did set this up way back in Act I. Here’s the critical line from last week’s essay:
He locks Alex in the basement with a can of soda, half a bag of chips, the last double-A batteries for his Game Boy, and his watch, then sets off for… Somewhere.
The alarm on George’s watch plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Which is weird, but kinda appropriate for an astronomer. We heard it play when he gave his watch to Alex, and then again right before Alex left the basement to get captured. I didn’t mention it at the time because it doesn’t sound like a watch alarm: it sounds like a piano. And there’s no spatial aspect to it: it doesn’t get louder or softer based on where the camera POV is. It’s inserted like it’s part of the soundtrack. When it played before, I just assumed that was the incidental music. It sounded like incidental music. It didn’t sound diagetic.
The watch alarm keeps going for a full minute, allowing our heroes to find Alex, who is rigged up basically the same as everyone else, making me wonder if C. Thomas Howell had any reservations about them filming his son like that. Their reunion, like all the scenes between the two, feels tender and natural, even if Alex is only semi-conscious at the time.
As they make their escape, George shouts for them to follow him, despite being at the rear of the group. One quick camera cut and he’s in the lead, taking them to a control chamber like the one he’d seen in the captured squid walker at the base. See what I mean? Shackleford didn’t know how to find the central brain, but George happens to have seen one before. I mean, other than the fact that this one is in the huge mothership while the other was in a smaller craft so presumably the deck layout wouldn’t be the same, and that this is the same guy who couldn’t find his way back to a door after ten minutes, but never mind.
George produces an empty syringe, which I think is more evidence that there was some serious rewriting late in the day: he’d held it up before when Pete first rescued him, but it was full of blood then. Maybe there was a draft of the script where George had kept the syringe of Shackleford’s blood rather than injecting himself? There’s still the question of where he got it in the first place, since the syringe he holds up is unused (For that matter, where’d Shackleford get them in the first place, after two years on Mars?). He some help from a reluctant Pete, he draws some of his own infected blood and injects it into the ship’s brain.
The effect is immediate, though it consists mostly of a shift in the incidental music (Not that I can be sure what counts as “incidental music” any more) and shaky-cam. We see some of the other captives start to wake up and struggle to free themselves, but who cares about them? Our actual named characters escape back to the Earth habitat, and cross paths with a tripod that collapses in a seizure before making it to Major Sleeveless and his nearly-repaired fighter.
We don’t see it, but I guess the other fighters landed nearby, because the Major has another pilot helping him with repairs. Pete tells him about the other survivors, which is a nice touch — I had assumed the movie would just forget about the fact that they were implicitly leaving an unspecified number of human prisoners to die. Sleeveless orders his men to round up as many of the survivors as they can. Let’s try very hard not to think about the fact that the prisoners presumably include everyone who was in the shanty-town with Shackleford at the beginning of the movie, plus however many people they’d abducted in the second invasion, and probably that is way more people than could possibly fit in this little squadron of fighter jets which could maybe seat four adults if they’re friendly.
Major Sleeveless, Pete, George, and Alex (Wearing the Major’s goggles, which he interrupts the tense “escape” scene to mention belonged to his father, a great fighter pilot) take off from the mothership just ahead of a huge fireball while squid walkers crash into the Martian surface as the infection spreads. They radio Earth, waking Victoria and Dave from the world’s least convincing performance of a hangover, and get the coordinates of the Time Hole. Pete entreats the seriously ailing George to hold on as the fighter flies into this movie’s least ill-conceived special effect.
- War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave is available from Amazon.
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