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War of the Worlds (US, 2005)

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

There have been some changes, obviously, to the storyline from Wells' novel. It has been updated to present day, set in the United States rather than the U.K., and unlike the book, the main protagonist has a name, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise). I may have just missed it, but I am sure that there was never a mention of the fact that the invaders are from Mars, that was left most vague. There are actually more close connections to the book than there are to the 1953 film version. The narration (by Morgan Freeman) of the prologue and epilogue are nearly verbatim, the tripods are more like the original description than the hovering craft of the earlier film, and the "Red Weed" is in evidence here. There is a very brief nod to the '53 film though, with cameo appearances by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson.

This is not a great film, but it is a good one, and I recommend anyone interested see it in a theater...that is, unless you have a home theater with 50"+ plasma screen and the latest Dolby sound processors...if so, you might want to wait. But some films simply need the scope of a giant screen and DTS/SDDS digital stereo, along with the feeling you get in a packed auditorium with hundreds of other people experiencing the terror with you.

And speaking of the terror, a cautionary note to parents: there are quite a few extremely tense scenes with some disturbing imagery. I'm a bit surprised I didn't have nightmares about it myself, and it is certainly possible that younger children might. This is one instance when the PG-13 rating might ought to be taken literally. Unless you know your child's tolerances well, it would be best to view this prior to taking any pre-teens (or older if they are extremely sensitive).

This is possibly Speilberg's least polished-looking film. Even though the special effects are spectacular and very convincing (we should expect nothing less from the master of the summer blockbuster), the cinematography in many of the scenes is of an almost documentary-like, "You Are There" quality, which lends a heightened sense of reality to the most unreal of occurences. Even though Wells wrote a cautionary tale concerning imperialist nations, it seems it is almost inevitable that any depiction of either nationwide or global disaster must now bear the taint of the paranoia that has gripped the world since September 11, 2001.

You will probably read other reviews that are more negative than this, and I've seen several posts on various message boards where individuals have gone to great lengths listing plot inconsistencies and illogical occurences. They may very well be true, but no film is perfect, and I could do something similar with some of my favorite films and television shows. It is my opinion that in this instance the good outweighs the bad, many of those complaints can be explained away (except one, and I'll get to that in a bit), or else you will be able to ignore them and enjoy the spectacle. About the only ones who should be that upset about it are those who think a literal translation of a novel to film is both possible and expected. I know that in the past I have spoken negatively about certain film adaptations (Starship Troopers in particular), but in that case it was a matter of a director totally misunderstanding the point of the underlying theme of the novel, whereas I feel this latest rendering of War of the Worlds is very close to the spirit in which Wells presented the story.

I've done my best to steer clear of spoilers here, not that that is really necessary, since the basic story as told in the film is well known. However, I previously mentioned an illogical plot device, and it is one that I think most would agree makes no sense at all. I know some people are very spoiler-phobic, so for those of you who are I'm going to hide this next paragraph. For anyone who wants to read it, highlight the area between the two solid lines to bring the words into view.

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The advertising tagline for this film has been "They are already here." Unlike in the book and the earlier film, wherein the Martians disguised the entry of their vehicles into our atmosphere as meteors, in this new film it is proposed that the tripod machinery has been buried on Earth for many thousands of years, and the aliens themselves come down in what appears to be massive lightning storms that pierce the ground at the sites where the machinery has been buried. This happens everywhere around the globe, and once inside the tripods, the aliens turn on the machinery and begin their destruction. Two problems, at least, with that scenario as I see it. If their machinery has been on Earth all this time, why weren't the aliens already here and dominating the planet long before human civilization evolved? Also, as it seemed there were an extremely large number of the tripods what are the chances that none of them would have previously been unearthed during construction projects? However, one thought about that occurred to me just as I was writing this paragraph. Could this have possibly been a reference to another SF film, one that David Longhorn reviewed recently - Quatermass and the Pit ?

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Tom Cruise does an okay job here, nothing spectacular, but better than critics of his might expect. But I would like to focus on the acting ability of young Dakota Fanning, only ten years old. I have a very strong suspicion she will get an Oscar nomination for this role. She appears immensely more mature than her years in interviews I have seen, and yet in this film she hits all the right notes for a girl of her age, both in scenes prior to the attacks in coping with her estranged father, and also during the truly horrific experiences her character lives through. I feel confident hers is a face we will be seeing a lot more of in years to come.

In conclusion, this is a film worth seeing, ideally in the theater, with images that will reverberate in your mind afterwards, and possibly haunt your dreams. These are definitely not the cuddly aliens from previous Spielberg films, and woe be unto us if we ever encounter like-minded aliens (and let's hope they don't have immunities to our bacteria).

 

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Director
Steven Spielberg

Screenplay
Josh Friedman
David Koepp

Released
June 29, 2005

Cast
Tom Cruise
Dakota Fanning
Miranda Otto
Justin Chatwin
Tim Robbins

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray