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 stars Tom Cruise, 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... (from WaroftheWorlds.com)
Steven Spielberg's third venture into alien territory, War Of The Worlds, has one strike against it from the beginning -- it'd already been made once before into a film and it's a classic. But a contemporary retelling isn't a bad idea, really. And who would be better to do it than Spielberg, right? Well, that's what I thought before viewing the renowned director's take on the H.G. Wells story.
War Of The Worlds opens with Cruise's character Ray getting off from work and arriving home late to greet his ex-wife and kids. It isn't long before we realize he's a deadbeat Dad and his kids don't like him. There isn't much to like about the film's central characters and, sadly, this doesn't change much through the film's duration. In fact, the alien film becomes more about a lesson in parenting than almost anything else, and with that lies the movie's biggest flaw. While M. Night Shyamalan successfully used an alien invasion plot to deliver a message about faith, Spielberg's attempt at weaving in a message just doesn't seem to work. In Shyamalan's Signs, we were given ample character development from beginning to end, with much to like about the film's central family. Unfortunately, the Ferriers in War Of The Worlds just bicker, argue, and swear at each other most of the time.
What War Of The Worlds does have going for it is that it's certainly entertaining and often intense. The first half of the film was done wonderfully in setting up the way the aliens invade Earth. The tension that builds on the streets of New York and the mystery surrounding the aliens is just really exciting. While people begin investigating a mysterious hole in the ground that's been hit by lightening more than twenty times, Spielberg uses little to no musical soundtrack, letting realism take over. Once Ray and his family are on the run, the tension continues as the trio face terror on the highway, a ferry, and right in the middle of a full scale war.
These action sequences leave plenty of room for some brutally violent sequences. One intense moment involves a mass of people swarming a minivan to take it over. The crowd gets physical, with one person even shooting a driver to get control of it (but the actual shooting isn't really shown). When the aliens attack, we see many people literally vaporized by the alien ships' rays in full-on classic sci-fi horror movie fashion. While not gory in anyway, Spielberg's direction of it makes it quite disturbing. Finally, a startling revelation about one of the intentions of the aliens for people is rather gruesome, but Spielberg is selective about what he decides to show (in true Jurassic Park fashion of hiding more graphic details).
I would definitely stand firmly behind the fact that this is NOT a film for children. Too many sequences are filled with tense family moments, violence, and terror for the younger ones. Dakota Fanning's character Rachel even stumbles upon a river carrying dead people that makes for a more disturbing moment. Spielberg definitely opted for a more horror-based alien film this time around.
Overall, I was disappointed with Steven Spielberg's version of the War Of The Worlds story. The action and special effects are first rate, but the characters left a lot to be desired. Perhaps if we liked them more or the situations felt less forced, would the outcome have been stronger. A standard, Hollywood ending made for a bittersweet finish as well. It should have and could have been a lot stronger of a film. War Of The Worlds is still an exciting and entertaining thriller, but don't go in expecting all too much. You'll probably be better off renting the 1953 classic instead.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/4/05)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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