Judge Jim Thomas finds an alternate universe where Snoopy would have been bored.
H.G. Wells, meet Steampunk. Steampunk, H.G. Wells.
1899. England. Martian war machines continue to ravage the planet. A family runs down the street in search of cover. Moments later, only the son remains, as the Martians finally succumb to earth-borne pathogens.
1914. New York City. Martian technology has transformed the city, with monorails running alongside trains and jet-propelled tri-planes. The ARES Group, a coalition of nations led by Teddy Roosevelt, has also used Martian technology for defensive purposes. They know that it's only a matter of time before the Martians return, and ARES has vowed to be ready, with airships, fighters, and war machines of their own, decked out with all manner of weaponry, including an updated version of the devastating heat ray. One of the most accomplished of their bunch is Eric Wells (voiced by Peter Wingfield, Highlander: The Series), the same worthy who saw his family incinerated fifteen years ago (And yes, when it hits the fan, he will have a "Talk to me, Goose" moment).
ARES takes a massive hit with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; many soldiers in the multinational alliance are returning to Europe to fight in the erupting conflict. Some—including Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron himself—remain, intent on protecting all of humanity, not just their own country. It's a good thing, too, because the Martians are back, bringing with them more firepower as well as a newfound immunity to Earth's microbes. The Martians have universal healthcare, see, and so they were able to (Editor's note: Get back on track, please…)…
War of the Worlds: Goliath has a great conceit—the blending of Martian technology and turn-of-the-century technology is a match made in steampunk heaven. Toss in a few historical figures, including Nicola Tesla as the guy who figured out how to use the advanced technology, along with World War I political intrigues, and you've got a mighty cool concoction in front of you. That's why it's so annoying when it all goes to hell once the Martians show up. All the interesting ideas fall by the wayside, and we're left with repetitive sequence after repetitive sequence of repetitive battle sequences. Martians fire on Our Heroes. Our Heroes fire back. Random tripods explode. Rinse and repeat. Soldiers continue firing small arms at Martian tripods long after it's been established that nothing short of heavy artillery is going to make a dent. For a military group that was put together specifically to ward off another Martian invasion, these guys don't seem to have done a whole lot of prep work. The final battle in New York, on the other hand, has much more flair. In addition, the sequences with the Red Baron—not just aerial combat but also his interactions with Eric, are solid. But the rank-and-file mech battles have little in the way of creativity, not just in animation, but in combat strategy.
Perhaps I'm bagging too hard on War of the Worlds: Goliath, but if you are going to spend 25 minutes establishing all these interesting ideas, you owe it to your audience to DO something with them. At the same time, though, I gotta give props for the overall look of the film. The animation combines several different styles combines multiple types of animation—CGI, hand drawing, etc.—as well as different styles of animation, with more traditional animation blended with anime styling on several occasions. The result is a somewhat inconsistent mishmash of styles, but for the most part, it works, giving the movie a strong visual identity. The quality of the animation varies from scene to scene, which is somewhat annoying, but the effectiveness of the combination of styles remains consistent.
The voice casting is pretty good, drawing heavily from the Highlander TV series—not just Peter Wingfield, but also Adrian Paul, Elizabeth Gracen, and others—writer/producer David Abramowitz also wrote and produced for the Highlander series, and director/producer Joe Pearson worked on the 2007 animated Highlander: The Search for Vengeance. Also along for the ride is Adam Baldwin (Chuck) as a warrior who's pretty much gone off the deep end.
Technically, Anderson Digital's War of the Worlds: Goliath is a bit muddled. Video is somewhat inconsistent; but given the manner in which it combines multiple types and styles of animation, that's probably not a big surprise.
There's a good set of extras, though the packaging is a little off. The case and the menu have a "The Movie in Storyboards" option; initially, that looks like the movie with an inset box contain storyboards of the current scene. What neither case nor menu mention is that it also has a commentary track with director Joe Pearson and writer David Abramowitz. Dear BMCG: people who collect DVDs tend to like commentary tracks: it's one of those things you want to put up front. A couple of interesting takeaways from said track: The show was initially planned to be a series. That actually makes a lot of sense; the issues that were raised and then dropped by the wayside, such as an Irish team member's ties to the IRA, could have been handled better in that format. Also, Johnson mentions that he really likes the opening credits, and thinks that it's one of the strongest parts of the movie. On the plus side, I agree that the opening credits are solid. On the downside, if the opening credits are your strongest sequence, you've got problems (See Watchmen).
Trivia: In a lovely touch, the opening and closing credits play over a techno version of "Forever Autumn," from Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds.
In their commentary track, Abramowith and Johnson mention that they kind of hope to be able to do a sequel down the road. While War of the Worlds: Goliath doesn't quite measure up, it has enough good ideas that I wouldn't mind seeing a follow-up—as long as these guys learn from their mistakes.
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