War Of The Worlds (2005)

Steven Spielberg should be ashamed of himself for making this movie.  It’s hard to believe that this depressingly boring dreck was directed by the same man who made Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List.  It is quite a comedown.
Very loosely based on the terrific 1898 novel by H.G. Wells, this is a movie with an enormous identity crisis.  Although it takes place in a post 9/11 America, (there are a few, quick mentions of the word "terrorists", for instance), the characters behave as if that horrific real-life event never happened. 
Looking for smart, interesting characters to care about and cool technological wonders to get lost in?  Look elsewhere.
Tom Cruise plays a divorced father of two living in New York.  He has a job working on a port.  Early in the film, his ex (pregnant again, this time with her new husband’s baby) drops off their two kids at his cluttered residence.  Dakota Fanning plays his young daughter, Justin Chatwin is his teenage son.
It’s made abundantly clear that there are some unresolved tensions regarding this new arrangement.  (It doesn’t help that Cruise arrives home a half hour later than expected.)  His ex-wife (a wasted Miranda Otto) is highly critical of his messy kitchen and near-empty refrigerator while he appears disinterested in looking after the dietary and emotional needs of his children.  His son resents him and his daughter is more affectionate towards her new stepfather, as a result.
The ex and the new husband soon leave to return to Boston.  Cruise, exhausted from work and the stresses of his personal life, takes a much needed nap after instructing his children to order their own supper.  When he wakes up, Fanning tells him that her brother has taken his car.  Cruise goes to look for him but he’s nowhere in sight.
Then, the dark clouds appear, followed by intense, repetitive lightning.  But the wind accompanying this brewing storm is blowing in the wrong direction.  Something is wrong. 
Cruise eventually hunts down his miserable teenage son who hasn’t even got a proper driver’s license.  After Cruise tells him to go back to his place to look after his soon-to-be-terrified sister, the clueless father joins a large group of onlookers who wonder what has caused a hole in the road.  They soon get their answer.  A giant, mysterious, three-legged contraption wastes no time in causing general mayhem and panic once it manages to become unavoidably visible to the startled New York citizenry.
It doesn’t make any sense why these people take forever to do something that shouldn’t require any serious thinking.  You know, like, run!  Why they just stand there and stare at this menacing machine instead of fleeing as fast as they can in order to save their own hides is beyond me.  Once The Tripod, as it’s nicknamed, is free and out in the open, it doesn’t waste any time eviscerating these slow-witted folks with a laser so hot it reduces its victims to very fine ash, some of which ends up all over Cruise’s face, much to his utter shock and disbelief.  When he returns home in absolute silence, it isn’t until he’s splashed water on his face that he motivates his kids to quickly pack some things and get the hell out of there.  They’re on the move for the entire film.
Not too long after that, other Tripods surface and continue to declare war on the extras.  (It’s never believable that Cruise avoids getting incinerated when he’s so clearly in the line of fire.)
For the rest of the movie, he suddenly takes charge and tries to become a superdad after years of just going through the motions, a depressingly predictable plot point.  Halfway through the film, after his son decides to join The Resistance (which isn’t entirely inspiring), Cruise and Fanning are welcomed into an abandoned basement by Tim Robbins who is, easily, the most interesting character in the film.
Robbins doesn’t receive much screen time but like the consummate pro he is he makes the most of it.  This house that he’s taken refuge in (he’s on his own after losing his entire family) happens to be in a strategic location.  The alien Tripods hover overhead from time to time.  Robbins thinks the key to beating them is to do the same thing they’ve been doing to them:  attack them from underground when they least expect it.  (With what, exactly?  That rifle isn’t cutting it, dude.)  If the movie had revolved around this former ambulance driver instead of the miscast Cruise it would’ve at least had a stronger starting point, even if he is in over his head.
What a mess this is.  There’s no joy, no wit, no heroes to root for.  The villains have two functions:  killing humans and checking out stuff in that basement.  That’s it.  (And why do they look like cheap knock-offs of the ferocious space creatures in the Alien franchise?) There’s no imagination and the special effects while technically sound aren’t all that inspiring, either.  Was it really a good idea to try to use H.G. Wells’ 19th Century vision for the aliens in a 21st Century adaptation?  They’re not exactly frightening, guys.  This premise of utilizing old, antiquated ideas in a modern setting falls completely flat.  It’s as if no one in the movie has ever heard of science fiction or aliens or Independence Day or the original 1953 version of The War Of The Worlds. 
Intelligence is sorely lacking here.  Spielberg should’ve known better than to focus more on the way the movie looks and sounds instead of creating a compelling story with irresistible characters.  I haven’t seen all of his films yet, but, so far, this is his worst picture.
The faulty logic of the film inspires questions that are never satisfactorily answered.  Is it really plausible that an alien invasion can take place like this without being detected by NASA?  How come there isn’t a single politician character in the film doing something, even if it’s tomfoolery?  Why is Cruise’s character the only one who can figure out how to fix a car after the aliens manage to shut down every mechanical device in the city?  Why doesn’t that angry mob simply ask how he got the car to function properly again?  (They would’ve saved precious bullets.)  How come, in a post 9/11 climate, no one thinks to be prepared for another calamity of a similiar nature, even one as preposterous as this?  And really, why does Cruise pick a fight with Robbins?  Why not leave instead?
And that ending is such a dud.  Was all that tedious action merely a tease?
War Of The Worlds is an unnecessary remake in a period loaded with them.  Spielberg, you have some explaining to do.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, March 30, 2007
11:02 p.m.
Published in: on March 30, 2007 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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