WAR OF THE WORLDS
**1/2 (out of 5)
June 29, 2005
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
Studio: Paramount and DreamWorks
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Once you get past “Star Wars” and “Batman Begins,” “War of the Worlds” is probably the most highly anticipated films of the summer, and for the most part, it lives up to its hype.
If you haven’t seen the original 1953 version of “The War of the Worlds,” it’s not a bad idea to rent the DVD and refresh your memory. While that film was groundbreaking at the time, it’s not everything you might remember it to be.
I won’t say that the 2005 rendition of “War of the Worlds” is free from problems. There were parts in it that got on my nerves. However, I forgive many of the problems because they all seem to stem from the nostalgia and reverence for not just the original film, but for the book as well.
When H.G. Wells wrote “The War of the Worlds,” all of these concepts were new. Alien invasions. Microbes. Immunity. Putting all of these ideas in a science fiction piece was the “Jurassic Park” of its day. Of course, more than 100 years later, we’ve seen these things many times before. Heck, if Ed Wood can do alien invasions, what makes “The War of the Worlds” so special today?
The strength of this film stems from the choices Spielberg made – from the final confrontation between Tom Cruise’s character and Tim Robbins, to the manner of extermination the aliens use on us. It’s just much more personal of a death ray than we’ve really ever seen, and it is really chilling.
Spielberg managed to do a classic alien invasion film and actually show us some different sides of the story. Not all of it was different, mind you. There were shots and creature designs that looked so much like “Independence Day” that I got to wondering which film he was actually remaking. But of course “Independence Day” was nothing more than a rehash of “War of the Worlds” – even down to the fact that the best weapon against the aliens is a virus, a computer virus.
Spielberg managed to make a cogent, interesting film about an alien invasion from the perspective of the average Joe. Too often, it’s tempting to show the military meetings and the presidential reaction to such a thing. But that was done so effectively in “Independence Day,” why retread it? And the alien invasion from a point of view outside of a major city was done expertly well by M. Night Shyamalan in “Signs.”
In truth, “War of the Worlds” isn’t really about an alien invasion at all. Sure, it’s there for a backdrop, but that’s not the heart of the film. Instead, it’s a character study in human nature. How do we act when we’re panicked? We’ve seen this in films like “Independence Day,” but there’s always that regrouping moment when the military decide to retaliate and it becomes a revenge picture. However, “War of the Worlds” removes us from that, and it’s an interesting choice. After all, if aliens did invade today, most of us would be running around like chickens with our heads cut off, rather than climbing in an F-16 to kick E.T.’s butt, as Will Smith might say.
The parallels to 9/11 are not very subtle in this movie. And while I thought it was a bit heavy-handed at times, I understood the emotions that Spielberg was trying to tap into. He was showing humanity’s nature of flocking around a disaster instead of getting the heck out. How many of us really would hop a ferry back into New York City after its been leveled by alien war machines? While I’d like to think that I’d flee from any large grouping of people and find a quiet place in the mountains to hide, sadly many of us would make ourselves sitting ducks like the characters in this film do.
Although Tom Cruise has dominated the press about this movie (and particularly NOT about this movie at the same time), the real hero of this film is Steven Spielberg. After making films with warm, cuddly aliens like “E.T.,” and having come out in the late 1990s to say he didn’t plan on making a movie with evil aliens, Spielberg sucks it up and made one heck of a film. This will live on in his repertoire the way “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park” have. It’s not the best Spielberg film out there, but there are pieces of it that are truly monumental.
There are still parts that get tedious, and many of the periphery characters are just plain idiotic. However, it can be easily argued that they are realistic to human nature. It was said best by Tommy Lee Jones in “Men In Black”: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”