The War of the Worlds is an amazing piece of fiction which has inspired a prog rock musical and numerous other media.
The 1950s film, although quite dissimilar to the original novel, was a great influence in my formative years, together with its peer, The Time Machine, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Day of the Triffids and the Quatermass trilogy.
So when I spotted the animated sequel (and it really does wear it’s heart on its sleeve, even licensing the song “Forever Autumn” from Jeff Wayne’s musical), War of the Worlds: Goliath on Netflix, I was equally intrigued and equally dubious about a film whose description is “Forget World War I. The real fight is the Red Baron, Nikola Tesla and Teddy Roosevelt vs. The Martians, steampunk style.”
So of course I watched it. Set 15 years after the fall of the Martians, it describes a very changed Earth. Having reverse engineered Martian technology, Earth’s technology level is years ahead of the real world equivalent.
Fearing further invasions from the Martians, the countries of the world (who are still at each other’s throats), have dedicated resources and manpower to a military force dedicated to battling the Martians: A.R.E.S. (Allied Resistance Earth Squadron). They utilise two massive airships which ferry around squadrons of rocket powered triplanes and three-legged walking tanks (humanity’s version of the Martian tripod).
The first third of the film is basically a lot of infighting between the various A.R.E.S. soldiers. They are all of different nationalities and, with their home countries at one another’s throats, arguments are rife.
Then there is a war game which is interrupted by Martians and the rest of the film is humanity fighting Martians. Spoiler alert: humans win. Yay!
To be blunt, this film is a two out of five. At best.
The film appears to be someone’s role-playing game turned into a script and then into an animated movie. It’s all there: the steampunk tripods, the military unit with a terrible acronym, the name dropping of famous people in history (the “Red Baron” is the squadron leader of the rocket triplanes…) and the open setting of humans fighting the Wellsian martians. I really would not be surprised if there was a miniatures war game based on this movie.
Really, the whole plot of the film is like an adventure written for a role-playing game by Bioware, or even for the tabletop, and flows as such. That is, there isn’t much in the way of narrative, just a series of encounters between the soldiers of A.R.E.S. and the Martian war machines (culminating in Teddy Roosevelt standing on top of a building firing a machine gun at alien war machines, no really). It’s kind of like G.I. Joe if it were steampunk. Which probably sounds amazing to a certain strata of nerds but sometimes the “That would be a brilliant idea!” ideas don’t work in reality…
Without much story to support it, the film really is all about the action. Unfortunately, the animation really, really, really lets it down. The design of the various vehicles employed by humans and martians look great but everything else about the animation is done on the cheap. For instance, all the humans, save for the token female, have the same He-Man physique (and if you know the toy line, you will get my double meaning) and whenever a human tripod is damaged, it just explodes (because animating individual models with unique injuries costs more).
The voice animation is serviceable (everyone’s TV immortal, Adrian Paul, and everyone’s favourite right wing gun nut, Adam Baldwin, both make appearances).
And I think serviceable is what sums this movie up: there’s nothing particularly wrong with any aspect of it, it all gets the job done but without anything being particularly inspiring. It could have been a cult favourite but I’m not sure anyone is going to actually watch it. And if they do, I very much doubt they will have anything amazing to say about it. Worth watching if you have nothing better to do, I guess?
TL:DR “The sort of film people think is ‘a brilliant idea’ but is incredibly difficult to do well. It’s really quite bonkers in how over the top it is but isn’t actually all that interesting. “