War of the Worlds (2005)
War of the Worlds (2005)

Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Release Date: June 29th, 2005 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg Actors: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Rick Gonzalez, David Alan Basche, Morgan Freeman

 


 

N

o one in the 21st century would have believed that Earth was being watched by intelligences greater than their own, for potentially millions of years. Humanity, as it reached its peak, was always too caught up in their infinite complacency, confident of supremacy over the planet. But in the cold, dark reaches of space, aliens have been plotting to take the valuable resources of this planet … by force.

With a war of the worlds looming, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is the perspective of commonplace sensibility. He’s a crane operator at a shipyard, dependable above and beyond his coworkers, but still observant of union rules. And he struggles to provide for his two children, Rachel (Dakota Fanning, playing the perfectly precocious voice of reason) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin, donning the role of angsty, rebellious teen), while also hoping to bond with them and appear as a role model. But both are problems, considering that he’s divorced, sharing custody of the kids with his ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), and competing with their wealthy stepdad Tim (David Alan Basche).

“You’ve got nothing to worry about.” When Mary Ann drops the siblings off with their father for the weekend, Ray plans for an uneventful couple of days; after all, he’s a working man, and he needs his sleep. But before the day is through, a storm mysteriously materializes overhead, lashing out with freakishly antagonistic lightning bolts, forcing Ray and Rachel back into the house. When curiosity gets the better of Ray, he races into the center of town to investigate the commotion and the pinpoint target of all the electrical strikes.

The initial alien appearance is unmistakably reminiscent of “Independence Day,” as furious clouds swirl above, hinting at an extraterrestrial invasion. But when the invaders do arrive, they come from beneath the ground, springing up on thin, nimble legs like mechanical octopi (or tripodal automatons). The level of destruction also matches that aforementioned sci-fi thriller, with buildings rupturing and cars getting tossed about as infrastructure crumbles. It’s also quite sudden. The action and adventure is quite significant, especially as panic takes hold and the attackers begin razing everything in sight. It’s here that some of the most memorable sets are designed, with a massive plane resting in sections across a lawn as the best of the bunch (though the wreckage conveniently leaves their parked van untouched), and when images of chaos and catastrophe are most potent (including a stream full of drifting bodies or articles of clothing raining from the sky).

As if predicting the rise of the modern zombie craze, director Steven Spielberg’s vision of an alien takeover includes understandable paranoia, uncontrollable crowds of confused and violent survivors (and sprawling fleers), and the very worst qualities of humanity emerging triumphant (even for the protagonist, who is forced to make tough moral decisions concerning his family’s survival). As with most of his ventures, the film also puts children directly in the path of the annihilation, imparting a sense of innocence and greater unpreparedness, with parenting efforts a key point of contention and drama. Expectedly, adults are just as impulsive, incompetent, and ineffective as the screaming youths. Unfortunately, this somewhat realistic portrayal results in plenty of annoying moments as characters behave contrarily to larger-than-life heroes (and leads to an ending that can’t match the riveting start). But the carnage is more colossal than in most disaster movies, the sound effects are chilling, the sets are spectacularly ominous, the CG is impressive, and the desperation is more psychologically trying (though the PG-13 rating creates obvious limitations for the visualized atrocities). It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s a fitting adaptation of a seminal H.G. Wells sci-fi epic.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10