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Rating: 2.6/5 (5 votes cast)


“War Of The Worlds: Goliath” is a great yardstick of just how far Malaysian Cinema has come. It also shows that we still have a long way to go.

Far from being your average cynical critic, I have always maintained a cautious optimism about our local film industry. An optimism that unfortunately has very seldom been rewarded. Aside from the occasional indie gem, we have very little to be proud of. The Malaysian studio system (or what passes off as one) is content to churn out formulaic garbage expressly created to make a quick buck. In that sense, it’s really not all that different from Hollywood. Except Hollywood has better production values, better stories, and better acting. To be honest, I don’t even mind the whole cheap & cheerful attitude. There is a place for the ‘lowest common denominator’ type of entertainment. My biggest gripe about mainstream Malaysian filmmaking is that there is almost no evidence of genuine passion and thoroughness of thought put into the films. It’s all rather half-hearted.

Which is why “WOTW: Goliath” stands out.

There is nothing half-hearted about it. Well, at least not in its conception. This film is very much a labour of love, a result of deep and lifelong geek passions being let out to play. For that alone, I must applaud its creators. “Goliath” is the brainchild of Tripod Entertainment, headed by a bunch of hardcore film geeks. I know this because I know some of these guys personally. Over the course of several years, I’ve had the honour of getting the inside track on this production from one of its producers, Leon Tan. And like all animated films, it proved to be a long, laborious process, fraught with uphill battles. Not just to get it made, but to see it receive any kind of distribution and theatrical release. After nearly half a decade, and with the blessings of the almighty Malaysian Film Board (FINAS), it’s finally in cinemas.



If you’re wondering how they managed to secure the rights to H.G. Wells’ seminal opus “War Of The Worlds”, the short answer is they didn’t. When an un-copyrighted fictional work passes a hundred years it automatically becomes public property, meaning anyone can use it. So the filmmakers have used that as a jumping off point to set their story in an alternate 1914, where mankind has reverse-engineered Martian technology in preparation for a global-scale war against the returning alien invaders. Although the concept of steampunk is nothing new, it’s always cool to see high-tech incorporated into a period setting. And here’s where the guys really got creative.

The design is easily the best thing about this movie — the vehicles, the weapons, the costumes, the characters. Kudos to production designers Spencer Ooi, Chia Wei Seong and Tiok Ngee Seong. You can kind of tell the designs are slightly derivative of, or should I say inspired by, existing stuff in pop culture. For example, the ground assault machines known as Tripods are reminiscent of the AT-ST Walkers from “Star Wars”. The good thing is they are given a fresh spin of their own. More importantly, the design language has an overall feeling of consistency. They all look like they belong in the same world, and made by the same people. I particularly like the biplanes/triplanes with their amped-up weaponry, while the Zeppelins remind me (in a good way) of the Helicarrier from “The Avengers”. If SHIELD were around during World War I, that is.

Speaking of that period, I like how they integrate real historical events into the story, only to spin history off into a completely different tangent. WWI was sparked off with the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand, and the film touches on that incident. But here, the war between nations never happens because mankind suddenly has much larger concerns to deal with. It’s also amusing to see how real historical figures like President Theodore Roosevelt and inventor Nikola Tesla play a role in this particular universe. There are also nice little details that hint at how uber-militaristic society has become, like the Statue of Liberty wielding a sword instead of a torch.



Local audiences should get a kick out of the Malaysian character Lt. Raja Iskandar Shah, voiced by Tony Eusoff. The film paints him as a pious badass, and he evens gets to spout a line in BM. I can’t shake the impression that his presence here is a little forced, because if you remove him the entire thing feels like any other ‘Mat Salleh’ production — which it partly is, with Joe Pearson serving as director and David Abramowitz (TV’s “MacGyver” and “V”) on writing duties. Still, Shah does make an impression, especially in a battle scene where he uses a keris (a traditional Malay dagger) to take down a Martian tripod.

Other characters aren’t quite so memorable. In fact, they are the textbook definition of stock characters. There’s the noble hero, the feisty heroine who provides the requisite love interest (awkwardly shoehorned into the story), the comic relief sidekick complete with funny accent (Irish), the battle-hardened commander-in-chief, and the err… black guy. I’m citing his race since he has no other defining attributes. There’s an attempt to give the main characters some colour, like the hero’s bitter personal history with the Martians, and the Irish dude’s involvement with the IRA. But it’s a bit clumsy how those are integrated into the main storyline. Plus the voice acting is dodgy in places. As a result, it’s hard to care for what’s going on in this war when you don’t really get a feel for the characters. The climax ends with a nagging sensation of “That’s it?”

Also, the animation occasionally leaves something to be desired. In theory, the mix of CGI and traditional hand-drawn animation can work but here the difference is jarring. And certain action sequences are let down by a lack of true fluidity in the movements, making what should’ve been visually dynamic appear slightly lethargic instead. If I’m being kind of harsh here, it’s only because I am holding this up to global standards. Now, you might say this is unrealistic due to the fact that the major players like Pixar and Dreamworks have hundreds of millions to spend, to polish up the execution of their films to perfection. Here’s the thing: Animation is actually one of the great equalisers, where what you show on screen is limited only by imagination and the willingness to draw a vision out, frame by frame. That’s the reason why “Goliath” is an animated feature film and not live-action. So barring an expensive, full-on CGI affair, there’s no real reason why the animation can’t be close to — if not on par with — what Hollywood has to offer. Don’t get me wrong. The execution here is by no means poor. It’s excellent by local standards.



The reality is that it’s not enough for “WOTW: Goliath” to be the best thing on our own shores. To be considered a proper success it must face the Goliath that is the world market. Audiences are far more sophisticated in their tastes, not to mention pretty demanding on an executional level. Joe Public has been spoiled on giant, flashy spectacle, flawlessly delivered. So it takes considerably more to impress nowadays.

Now, having said all that, I think this film is a fantastic step in the right direction. If other local productions, be they animated or live-action, can display even half the commitment and passion the makers of “War Of The Worlds: Goliath” have, then it could very well be the start of a bright new era for populist filmmaking in Malaysia. We may have a long way to go, but with more films like these, we’ll get there.

 

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Rating: 2.6/5 (5 votes cast)

13 comments

  1. Derek Hayes

    November 17, 2012 @ 5:38 am

    I first heard about this movie when a friend attended Comic Con, saw footage and loved it. He was surprised to hear it wasn’t a Japanese anime, thought it was just badly dubbed – no offense to the voice cast haha. Been trying to find more on this movie coz I’m a big anime fan. Congrats to you Malaysians, looks like you guys are finally hitting the big time. And thanks for the review, its very honest and unbiased. You write well, Wai. (is that a common Malay name?

  2. Wai

    November 18, 2012 @ 11:12 pm

    Derek: Hi there and welcome to the site! Thanks for the support, and I’m always proud to do my bit for local Cinema. Even if it sometimes means giving some necessary constructive criticism. And no, my name is actually ethnic Chinese. Malaysia is comprised of three main races, the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians. And, despite the government’s best efforts, we all get along just fine.

  3. Joe Pearson

    November 18, 2012 @ 8:20 am

    Thanks for the very fair review.

    I’m delighted that you enjoyed the overall movie and support our efforts, despite some of the issues you raise.

    Your comments are accurate in some ways about animation being an “equalizer”, but also a bit incorrect. It is an “equalizer” only if you have budgets that are comparable or, at the least, near the ballpark.

    WOTW:G’s budget was not inconsiderable by Malaysian standards. It gave us enough to achieve a feature that holds up on the big screen, but is admittedly a bit rough around the edges.

    But WOTW:G’s budget was 1/40th to 1/80th of the Pixar/Disney budgets for animated features. Its budget was generally much smaller then comparable Japanese or Korean animations as well. That’s the reality. Passion, sacrifice and giving it 120 percent can take you far, but there’s a limit.

    On our budget it was a choice between big scale and limited character animation or small scale and better character animation. I opted for the former. We had big scale and, great design, multitudes of vehicles and armies of characters. But I had to forgo pushing the character animation to be as full as it should be/could be. That’s the reality of a low budget feature animation.

    In the end, I’m proud (and a bit stunned) that we achieved what we did. And that’s due fully to the passion of the 300 plus artists, technicians and creatives that gave it their all for the four years on production.

    Best,

    Joe

  4. Wai

    November 19, 2012 @ 6:03 am

    Joe: Wow, what an honour! Ladies & gents, we have the director of “War Of The Worlds: Goliath” himself, Mr. Joe Pearson! Thanks for dropping by Electroshadow and personally leaving a comment. I can understand how much this film means to you, having spent years of your life dedicated to it. And I’m more than pleased that this site has offered you a forum to respond to (constructive) criticism of your work.

    Allow me to elaborate on what I said about animation being an equaliser. In my review, I did acknowledge that without the benefit of the huge budgets that Hollywood has, the degree of finesse in animation wouldn’t be as high. I totally agree with your point that passion and giving it 120% will only get you so far. But what I am referring to is two things. The first is what I see as a slight discrepancy between the CGI-animated aspects and the hand-drawn stuff. The CGI tends to call a bit too much attention to itself, and as a result takes me out of the film. Now I do realise that certain elements would’ve either been more time or cost efficient to render in CGI. It’s just that their highly fluid motion becomes “unnatural” when viewed against the rest of the non-CG backgrounds and objects. Ultimately, I feel the film doesn’t need it.

    Which leads me to the 2nd thing. Because the CGI is so smooth, by comparison it tends to make the traditional animation look more herky-jerky or even static in motion. So these issues I believe are independent of a film’s budget.

    I hope you don’t take offense at all this. I’m flattered that you made the time to write in here to explain the truth of the situation regarding “Goliath’s” budgetary constraints. For the record, as a Malaysian I’m proud to have a film like this to call our own. Thank you Joe, for making that happen.

  5. Joe Pearson

    November 20, 2012 @ 6:22 am

    Hi Wai,

    No offense taken. You make some good points. Some I agree with and others I don’t, but I’ll settle for your fair review and reserved enthusiasm (it beats the “haters” by a mile (or I guess I should say, by a kilometer and a half since your site’s in Malaysia).

    And I’m delighted that you feel it’s a movie that you and other Malaysians can take pride in. They should as there’s a lot of Malaysian blood and sweat in the film. On and off screen. πŸ™‚ It would have been pretty tragic if the consensus went the other way. I would have felt like the evil American Pied Piper leading everyone off the cliff to extinction.

    Thanks again. And hopefully, if we get to do a sequel we’ll be able to add fuller animation and even CG based BGS. That would really get us some more, across the board, movement.

  6. Joe Pearson

    November 20, 2012 @ 6:28 am

    Wai,

    I just skimmed through your film reviews and feel even better as I generally think your take on films and ratings is pretty spot on. Glad to have receive a solid “3” on WOTW:G. Not bad for our first outing. Although you did leave “Rango” off your ten best of list for 2011. An enormous oversight. πŸ™‚

  7. Wai

    November 20, 2012 @ 1:39 pm

    Joe: You’re quite welcome. You can be sure that if there is a sequel, Electroshadow will be there to cover it. I’ve read some of the so-called “reviews” and comments by haters. They strike me as bitter, pretentious trolls, nothing more. And thank you for the kind words about our reviews. Do spread the word! πŸ˜›

    Oh, I don’t know if leaving “Rango” off my Top10 of 2011 list is an oversight, since I never got to watch it in the first place! Unfortunately, the film received a very short run in cinemas here, and somehow I missed it. Then, it completely dropped off my radar. Thanks for reminding me, I’ll go catch it shortly…

  8. Kenny Fong

    November 22, 2012 @ 10:34 am

    I am drumming up attention and support for this film. Haven’t seen it yet (will do, tonight) but initial impression of the animation is a bit akin to Titan A.E.’s. And I love that movie!

    Posted a link to this review on my Facebook feed. Wish you guys all the best and please…MORE of this!

  9. Wai

    November 22, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

    Kenny Fong: Welcome to the site! It’s great that you’re supporting this film, heaven knows it sure could do with more positivity. Tell us here what you think of the movie, ya.

  10. Joe Pearson

    January 7, 2013 @ 8:03 am

    Hi Wai,

    I trust that the New Year is off to a great start for you and your family and friends. I was wondering if I could have your permission to post your kind review of “War of the Worlds: Goliath” to the critics review section of IMBD. It would be a tremendous aid in promoting the film. If that’s okay by you, just let me know and I’ll post it up.
    All the best,
    Joe Pearson

  11. Wai

    January 7, 2013 @ 8:35 am

    Joe Pearson: Hi there and Happy New Year to you too! Sure, I’d be honoured to have my review up on IMDB. Not that I’m whoring for hits. Nope. Not at all.

  12. Gregg Davidson

    October 20, 2014 @ 6:55 pm

    Every major media critic in the US has panned this film for good reason. Pearson is a no talent director who leeches off of Wells and Verne because he can’t conceive an original idea.

  13. Wai

    October 24, 2014 @ 6:08 am

    Gregg Davidson: Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts even so long after the fact. Always good to hear different opinions, but I do think you’re being too harsh in calling Pearson a “no talent” director. Using an idea from Public Domain doesn’t necessarily mean one cannot conceive an original idea. Lots of filmmakers do it. Yes, the film certainly has its flaws but one of the things I liked about it was how they used Wells’ idea as a jumping off point for a somewhat “alternate” take on history.

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