Movie Reviews

War of the Worlds

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 8 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier
Justin Chatwin as Robbie Ferrier
Dakota Fanning as Rachel Ferrier
Tim Robbins as Ogilvy
Miranda Otto as Mary Ann Ferrier
David Alan Basche as Tim
James DuMont
Yul Vazquez as Julio
Daniel Franzese

Summary:
Despite sticking with H.G. Wells' original anti-climactic ending to the novel, War of the Worlds is an exciting and nail-biting adventure featuring fine performances by the actors, cool effects, and an engaging story.

Story:
The following is the official description of War of the Worlds:

"On June 29th, 2005, Earth goes to war. From Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures comes "War of the Worlds," directed by Steven Spielberg and starring international superstar Tom Cruise. A contemporary retelling of H.G. Wells's seminal classic, the sci-fi adventure thriller reveals the extraordinary battle for the future of humankind through the eyes of one American family fighting to survive it. The film also stars Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin, and Tim Robbins.

Cruise stars as Ray Ferrier, a divorced dockworker and less-than-perfect father. Soon after his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) and her new husband drop off his teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) for a rare weekend visit, a strange and powerful lightning storm touches down.

Moments later, at an intersection near his house, Ray witnesses an extraordinary event that will change all their lives forever. A towering three-legged war machine emerges from deep beneath the earth and, before anyone can react, incinerates everything in sight. An ordinary day has suddenly become the most extraordinary event of their lifetimes - the first strike in a catastrophic alien attack on Earth.

Ray scrambles to get his children away from this merciless new enemy, embarking on a journey that will take them across the ravaged countryside, where they become caught in the desperate tide of refugees fleeing from an extraterrestrial army of Tripods.

But no matter where they run, there is no safety, no refuge... only Ray's unconquerable will to protect the ones he loves."

War of the Worlds is rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.

What Worked:
Let's face it. The primary reason to see War of the Worlds is to see stuff 'splode. And 'splode it does. The action in the film is stunning and quite exciting. Eerie scenes of alien Tripods rising out of the earth will stay with you long after you leave the theater. Imagery of humans blowing up, jet fighters attacking, and cars being tossed around like toys will blow you away (no pun intended). The gut shaking bass sounds coming from the Tripods also help add to the nerve rattling effect of the machines. This is everything you want a summer popcorn flick to be. But like any war, there are long stretches of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror. Fortunately, there's enough to keep things exciting. You really feel like you're in the middle of a fight for survival.

If you're familiar with H.G. Well's original novel, I think you'll find yourself alternately pleased and annoyed by this adaptation. The only real change is that the aliens no longer come from Mars. Like the movie posters stated, "They're already here". However, it is similar in every other respect. The machines and aliens are all three legged. Humans are attacked globally. And, as will be discussed later, the ending is exactly the same. But in reality, the story of alien invasion told in the novel is only a backdrop for the story of the film. As the tale of Ray and his children unfolds, H.G. Wells' story is happening just over the hill in the background and our main characters occasionally wander into it.

The real story of War of the Worlds is that of a man growing up, taking responsibility for his family, and reconnecting with his children. At the center of that story is Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier. As usual, Tom Cruise does a great job of acting. Forget Katie Holmes, forget his Oprah hysterics, forget the squirting microphone. It doesn't take the movie long to make you forget about all the gossip and accept Cruise as the character of Ray. He makes a fantastic transformation from irresponsible dad to protector. Supporting him is Justin Chatwin as Robbie Ferrier and Dakota Fanning as Rachel Ferrier. Chatwin makes a good rebellious teen full of fire and ready to fight. Even more impressive is Fanning who proves yet again why she's such a great actress. Her screams make you believe a Tripod is really about to stomp her. In smaller roles are Tim Robbins as Ogilvy and Miranda Otto as Mary Ann Ferrier. Robbins is given a bit more to do as an unstable survivor, but Otto is barely used in the movie.

Overall, it's great to see Spielberg return to action / adventure / sci-fi movies. This is very different from anything he's done recently. It's also great to see him give aliens a bad name. John Williams also delivers an exciting score and there are echoes of his Jaws score here and there in this movie. If you're looking for an effects filled summer extravaganza, War of the Worlds will fit the bill.

What Didn't Work:
I already mentioned the ending of War of the Worlds. It is pretty well-known, but I won't mention it here in case you're unfamiliar with it. But suffice it to say that it is rather anti-climactic, though somewhat realistic. If you walk into the movie knowing how it ends, then I don't think you'll be disappointed by the movie. If you walk in unfamiliar with it, you'll probably think the ending is a cop-out. I honestly expected them to change it, but they remained faithful to the novel. On the one hand I applaud them for sticking with the book, but on the other hand I think I would have been happy if they tinkered with it some (like they did with the origins of the aliens).

War of the Worlds also has a distinctly anti-war message at times. When Robbie begs to rush headlong into war or when Ogilvy desperately tries to attack the aliens, Ray is there to try and pull them away from getting themselves killed. The message is quite clear and the idea of running away from the aliens makes a heck of a lot of sense in the movie. However, the idea that if you sit back and don't fight and the problem will go away doesn't hold so much water in a post-9/11 world. In any case, your personal politics may come into play at one point or another while viewing. I still enjoyed it anyway.

The Bottom Line:
War of the Worlds is yet another exciting team-up between Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, and John Williams. Whether you're looking for a spectacular alien invasion summer film or something a little deeper, this movie delivers. Just be aware that the ending is a little anti-climactic.

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