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When portals appear and aliens invade


In need of a quick and inexpensive activity, my fiancee and I left home for the Country Club Reel Theater. Given the status of today's economy, an older $3 film typically has more appeal than risking disappointment for $9.50. We'd both wanted to see Coraline since we first saw previews, with the stop-action animation leading us to believe the film was Tim Burton's latest project. (P.S.: It's not. Henry Selick, Burton's director for A Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, wrote the screenplay, produced and directed.) Also, we were most excited when the film was released in 3-D, but at the cheap theaters, the view is only two-dimensional.

Quasi-neglected youngster Coraline Jones' (Dakota Fanning, Charlotte's Web) family relocates, leaving her underwhelmed. When she discovers a portal to another reality in which her parents are actually fun and caring, it seems her life has turned around. But the button-eyed people calling themselves her "other mother and father" may want more in return than they are offering.

The animation in Coraline is as good as anything Selick and Burton collaborated on previously, and the story is just as dark. Thank Neil Gaiman for that, whose book the movie is based on. The screenplay, however, simply seems to lack punch, especially in the film's first half, though the kids in the audience didn't seem to mind. Overall, the film was cute, but not quite as punchy as a normal Burton-Selick project.

Over the weekend, we made time to watch Keanu Reeves' newest picture The Day the Earth Stood Still, and as the film put us in quite the sci-fi mood, we popped in Tom Cruise's The War of the Worlds immediately afterward. Given the similarity of the two titles, I simply must pit them against one another.

Originals: They're both 50-year-old remakes. I never saw the 1951 version of TDTESS (henceforth referred to as Earth) so I can't say how it measures up. But many years ago, I did catch 1953's TWOTW (now called War), and I thought the 2003 rehash was a decent update. Advantage: By default, War.

Leading Man: Since Cruise was human and Keanu wasn't, I'll side with the home team and say Cruise was the more interesting—and believable—of the two. Advantage: War.

Plot: Both of the storylines make the human race look like big jerks, but while War makes us look more like victims, Earth suggests we fully deserve our fates. Advantage: Earth.

Endings: Both of the conclusions came too soon and left me wanting. In my opinion, alien attacks should be resolved neither quickly nor comfortably. Advantage: Push.

With a score of 2 to 1, War comes out on top, but not by much. Honestly, save for the rushed endings, if you're in the mood for good old-fashioned alien invasion, you can't go wrong with either title. War is simply a little smoother, and Earth is a little more conscientious.