I'm not talking about masked-psycho-with-a-chainsaw scary.That's kids' stuff. This is a slow, relentless, meticulous fear. It's thefear of uncertainty, the fear of grand-scale devastation that humanityis powerless to stop. It's a fear that fills the air like a storm and creepsup your spine in a way that's hard to shake. It is a fear not unlike whatevery American felt on September 11, 2001 -- but divorced from fact andrealigned as entertainment through the subconsciously reassuring comfortof a movie theater seat and a tub of popcorn.
It's visceral, it's psychological, and it comes more fromthe terrified performances of Tom Cruise and the remarkable Dakota Fanning(the angelic 10-year-old from "Hide& Seek" and "Manon Fire") -- as a dock-worker deadbeatdad and his daughter on the run from 100-foot alien killing machines --than from the film's hyper-realistic special effects and monsters (whicharen't that different from the ones in the shamelessly corny "Warof the Worlds" rip-off "Independence Day").
The film is worth seeing just to experience this fear,which is a testament to the power of cinema.
Unfortunately, if you look beyond this seat-gripping scarefactor and the spectacular imagery of the Earth under siege by towering,tentacled, three-legged alien tanks that fire building-leveling, human-crispingheat-rays -- if you look at the script and characters at its core -- this"War of the Worlds" starts falling apart from its opening voice-over.
One of the few elements lifted directly from Wells in thisadaptation written by David Koepp ("Spider-Man," "Mission:Impossible"), the book's first sentence (as read ominously by an uncreditedMorgan Freeman) doesn't make a scrap of sense when removed from its 19thcentury context: "No one would have believed in the first years ofthe 21st century that this world was being watched keenly and closely byintelligences greater than man's..."
Huh? In 2005, everyone in the civilized world could easilybelieve aliens might be watching us. The notion has been a part of ourpop culture since, well, H.G. Wells -- and the passages read from the novelthat bookend this film are conspicuously incongruent with everything inbetween.
Koepp and Spielberg cherry-pick what they like from Wells'story (the aliens are no longer from Mars), but many of their changes resultin gaping plot holes, like the fact that the hundreds of thousands of thegiant, high-tech extraterrestrial "tripods" have supposedly beenburied on Earth for millennia.
How is it that not one of these things has ever been unearthedby thousands of years of erosion, plate tectonics, excavation and construction-- or detected by modern, ground-probing sonar equipment used to find fossilsand oil? Why didn't the aliens stay here when they brought all this equipmentin the first place? Do they just go around the universe burying weaponson planets they might want to invade someday?
Apparently so, and in this movie, the aliens return inwhat appear to be massive lightning storms all over the world, includingin the blue-collar neighborhood where Cruise's ex-wife (Miranda Otto) hasjust dropped off her kids (Fanning and a petulant teenage brother) fora visit with their selfish, irresponsible dad. When the inevitable panicensues, Cruise must learn typical Spielbergian lessons of fatherhood (thedirector's films often revolve around characters with major daddy issues)while spiriting his children to safety.
Despite the logical gaffes (and there are many, many more)and the heavy-handed emotionalism, Spielberg keeps a tight grip on thefilm's nail-biting atmosphere by never leaving his central characters'points of view. There is no B-story here about the military battle ragingjust over the next hill as Cruise and family flee in the opposite direction,and the invasion is all the more distressing and disorienting as a result.(This is not unlike what M. Night Shyamalan did in 2002's "Signs.")But by the same token, this often leaves Cruise's emerging parental responsibilitystanding between the audience and the action.
This "War of the Worlds" is further underminedby Spielberg's preposterously sanguine last scene and by Wells' originalfinale, which works perfectly on the page (and which was at the cuttingedge of science 100 years ago), but is anti-climactic in a Hollywood "eventmovie" -- especially when it has to be explained in Freeman's floridclosing narration before the ending becomes clear.
Steven Spielberg's masterful filmmaking (his blend of modernspecial effects with stylistic homages to classic science fiction filmsis just what this material called for) and the picture's resulting powerto twist your gut in a knot are not enough to overcome the flaws of "TheWar of the Worlds." But they are enough to distract you from thoseflaws long enough to have a goosepimpling good time at the movies.
Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 29th June 2005
Box Office USA: $234.1M
Box Office Worldwide: $591.7M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks SKG, Amblin Entertainment, Cruise/Wagner Productions
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 186 Rotten: 65
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier, Dakota Fanning as Rachel Ferrier, Miranda Otto as Mary-Ann, Justin Chatwin as Robbie Ferrier, Tim Robbins as Harlan Ogilvy, Camillia Sanes as News Producer, John Scurti as Ferry Captain, Morgan Freeman as Narrator (Voice), Takayo Fischer as Older Woman, Yul Vazquez as Julio, Ann Robinson as Grandmother, Gene Barry as Grandfather
Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...
Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...
This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...
Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...
After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...
In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...
After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...
Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...
With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...
Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...
The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...
It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...