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War of the Worlds: Goliath
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by Jay Seaver

"The Bull Moose versus Invaders from Mars - and an hour of filler."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FEST: There's a lot of reasons to recommend staying away from "War of the Worlds: Goliath": Inconsistent animation, a weak script, bland voice acting, etc. On the other hand, it's got Teddy Roosevelt killing Martians, and while that doesn't exactly make up for the other 60-75 minutes, I cannot in good conscience tell someone to avoid that. I just wish that was the sort of thing the rest of the movie emphasized.

Fifteen years ago, during the Martian Invasion of 1899, Eric Wells saw his parents cut down by a tripod's heat ray just before its extraterrestrial operator succumbed to the flu. In 1914, Eric (voice of Peter Wingfield) serves in planetary defense organization ARES, commanding a tripod built from Nikola Tesla's reverse-engineering Martian technology. But with no sign of the Martians' return for fifteen years, the global alliance is weakening - war could soon break out in Europe and the IRA would like to obtain ARES weapons to use against the British. Of course, as U.S. Secretary of War Roosevelt (voice of Jim Byrnes) knows, they shouldn't lose sight of the main threat.

The idea behind Goliath is certainly a lot of fun - steampunk armies against alien invaders in an alternate but still familiar history. And when director Joe Pearson and screenwriter David Abramowitz focus on that stuff, it's a bit of a blast. The Red Baron is on team ARES along with Tesla and Roosevelt, and when the Martians corner T.R. in New York, leading him to hop in a mech and deal with aliens personally, the movie manages a loopy level of high-concept fun that makes a body wonder why the whole thing hasn't been Roosevelt with a heck of a lot more Nikola Tesla and maybe Manfred von Richtofen actually doing stuff.

Because, let's face it, Eric Wells and company are boring. They're an assembly of stock characters with the vaguest sort of relationships between them defined, anonymous and generic voice acting, and bulked-up character designs that aren't very expressive. They're there because the movie needs characters, and maybe the starting points tacked onto them would be something that could be developed were this to become a series of some sort, but as it is, there's nothing there, and the reaction of one to another's perishing toward the end elicits more laughs at the writers' desperation than actual emotion.

Which might be forgivable if the action were particularly impressive, but it's actually a very mixed bag. While all the mechanical devices are nicely rendered - and based on the way a 2D presentation of the movie looked, they'll probably look even more impressive in 3D - Pearson has a very difficult time building a great action scene out of all that. For all that he and his staff can build an image, his battle scenes seldom do very well in depicting the battlefield so that which side has an advantage in numbers or position becomes clear, and the separate shots often seem completely disconnected: There will be plenty of medium shots of an ARES or Martian tripod exploding when hit by a heat ray (or an anonymous human's skin melting off his skeleton), but since they all look identical and are taken from the same angle, what this means for the battle is seldom clear. Heck, the audience kind of has to take it on faith that Wells and his crew are all in the same mech, because no care is taken to give a feel for their layout and the characters tend to be isolated to a single background with no feeling of connection. It's superficially exciting - stuff does blow up and skin does melt - and the grand finale is enjoyably grand-scaled, suffering from few of the problems of earlier action scenes. Most of the time, though, Pearson doesn't communicate enough with his action to create any sort of tension.

There are other issues, too - the rendering of the 2D characters seems to be done with a completely different design sense than the 3D vehicles, for a start. Storylines with recognizable voices like Mark Sheppard and Adam Baldwin appear and disappear to little effect. It seems distressingly easy for the Martians to catch Earth unaware a second time. And once I started seeing the Martians as owls, it was a bit hard to take them seriously.

For most of the movie, "War of the Worlds: Goliath"'s problems run well ahead of its potential, and what it manages in its last half-hour really isn't enough. I enjoy Teddy Roosevelt yelling "Bully!" while blasting Martians with a big-ass gun as much as anybody, but the movie could really use much more of that.

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originally posted: 02/26/13 16:51:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2013 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 01-Apr-2014



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