Review by Mark Walters


Steven Spielberg knows how to make good movies.  Just about anyone would agree.  Even his least popular films are still considered good by both critics and fans.  A few years ago he teamed with Tom Cruise to make MINORITY REPORT, an intriguing murder mystery set in the future.  It wouldn't be the last time these two box office superstars got together.  Now they're presenting a new take on the classic H.G. Wells novel WAR OF THE WORLDS.  The film is set in present day, and like many Spielberg films is quite a spectacle to behold.  There's been a lot of hype lately due to the recent romance of Cruise and actress Katie Holmes.  While hype like this can be good for a movie, it does make people wonder if the end result will live up to the increased expectation.


 The movie opens by showing us a dock worker named Ray Ferrier (Cruise).  He leaves work in a hurry to meet with his ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), now remarried, and dropping off their two kids for the weekend.  Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin) clearly aren't happy about spending time with their dad, but Ray wants to prove himself worthy.  Unfortunately he's just not a very good father.  The news reports on TV begin talking about lightning storms across the world, apparently knocking out all electricity wherever they occur.  Soon the lightning storms begin outside Ray's home.  At first it seems like no big deal, but quickly things get very bizarre and violent.  Ray realizes that something not of this earth is attacking, and he quickly takes the kids as far as he can in hopes of staying safe.  During their journey he discovers that the threat is bigger than he originally thought.  The military tries to fight back, but their efforts seem useless against the aliens.  Ray struggles during his travels, since the emotional distance between him and his kids makes things difficult under these circumstances.  Along the way they run into desperate people looking for some form of protection, and it begins to look as if there may not be any hope left for the world.

There have been other films about alien invasions, like INDEPENDENCE DAY, where machismo and action sequences take center stage, overshadowing the dramatic effects of the event taking place.  This version of WAR OF THE WORLDS is very realistic, in the sense that it's dark, and everyone in it is very afraid for their lives.  There aren't any perfect characters here.  In fact the main character of Ray is pretty flawed as heroes go.  But it works, because it allows us all to relate to what is going on at any given moment.  Spielberg does a great job of showing the desperation and fear of those in the thick of it.  Simple elements like Rachel screaming uncontrollably in fear strike a nerve, making us feel for them in this situation.  Cruise as usual gives a phenomenal performance, perhaps because his character is anything but perfect here.  The fact he's a bad father makes it that much more difficult for him to maintain control over his kids when things get bad.  Imagine trying to suddenly take control when you've avoided it your whole life.  Tim Robbins shows up in the film as a vengeful man who has lost his entire family, and wants nothing more than to get revenge on the aliens.  It's an interesting contrast, since Cruise simply wants to stay safe, while Robbins' character wants to rush into battle.  The film is extremely dark, especially for a Spielberg movie.  People are shown dying hundreds at a time, instead of just being implied.  One scene in the film shows a violent display of desperate people, and what extremes they will go to for survival.  It's a scary moment, and frighteningly honest to the human condition.  There is also one extremely dark scene late in the film which is one of those character defining moments that can truly make or break a movie.

The most effective element of the film is the aliens themselves.  Many people have complained that the trailers never show what the aliens look like.  Well I for one am glad they went that route, since it makes all of those moments properly scary and surprising.  These things are creepy, and very creatively done.  Thankfully they never outshine the performances, but rather complement the story very well.  The screenplay by David Koepp and Josh Friedman isn't all that complicated.  In fact there are several moments of just reactionary shots as people look on in horror while the aliens doe their dirty work.  There is an opening and ending narration by Morgan Freeman, which you know would've been even greater had Orson Welles still been alive.  Considering the enormous amount of effects shots, I'm very impressed with the way Spielberg was able to direct this film.  In fact the effects are so well done, there are many times where I forgot what I was watching wasn't actually there.  This film is a masterpiece as far as movies like this go.  I think the reason it works so well is because of it's realism.  If aliens really attacked, this is exactly what it would be like.  No president jumping into a fighter plane, no flying into a mother ship and planting a virus.  Just us running like scared little girls, and hoping against hope that maybe we'll survive to see another day.  The ending seemed a little rushed and convenient, but the rest of the film makes up for that.  Perhaps the only shortcomings of the story are in some of the unexplained reasons for things.  The aliens do different things at different points in the film, leaving us to wonder what their purpose is, and how they come to these decisions.  But maybe the fact that it's never spelled out is what makes this work so well.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give WAR OF THE WORLDS a 9.

Visit the official Paramount Pictures WAR OF THE WORLDS movie website by clicking here.

War Of The Worlds
War Of The Worlds
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