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July 2005

By Julian Roman

War of the Worlds

Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Colin Wilson
Screenplay: Josh Friedman and David Koepp, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski
Composer: John Williams
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins Miranda Otto




Hollywood titans Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise take on ruthless aliens in "War of the Worlds", a remake of the classic fifties film; which in turn was adapted from the novel by H.G. Wells. The original version was an absorbing epic that looked at an alien invasion from an all-encompassing point of view. Spielberg shifts the focus entirely and concentrates the film on a single family trying to escape the onslaught. The change in scope works initially, but becomes more implausible throughout the film. The lead characters put themselves in preposterous situations and, in key moments, act completely different from what we've come to expect. This is a sign of a weak script and is done to propel the story into the big special effects scenes.

Cruise plays blue-collar, New Jersey working man Ray Farrior. His two children, a precocious young daughter and rebellious teenage son, visit him for a weekend. His ex-wife has married a yuppie and they're going to Boston to see her parents. Spielberg establishes a disconnect between the father and the children. Ray doesn't really know his kids and they don't see him as a father figure. When the aliens begin their attack on Earth, Ray's goal is survival. He decides to take his children to their mother in Boston. The film never establishes why this is a good idea, but he sticks to his goal and they embark on a dangerous odyssey to achieve it.

I was mystified by the characters choices. The aliens and their tripod machines are ruthless in their attacks. Instead of hiding or seeking cover, Ray continuously takes his children into wide open spaces. There is a scene where they try to board a ferry with the aliens giving chase. Spectacularly, the alien tripods destroy the ferry and our protagonists are forced to swim for their lives. No one in their right mind would ever go on a boat in that situation. It's a set-up for the action and nothing more. This is the gaping flaw to War of the Worlds. There is just no logic or believability to the characters decisions.

The look of the film is surprisingly similar to the original. The alien tripod machines and their devices are almost exactly the same. The aliens themselves are composites of every alien we've seen in recent years. There's really no creativity on display here. Everything seems like a retread. Spielberg is obviously paying homage to the original film, but more should have been done. There is no awe factor to the special effects. They are well executed, but completely uninspired.

War of the Worlds is essentially a popcorn flick with no substance. It doesn't have the great adventure feeling that Spielberg has accomplished so masterfully in his other films. Cruise and the rest of the cast shed a lot of tears, but don't deliver enough to resonate with the audience. Their plight becomes mundane, because it's obvious that they will survive. You're better off renting the original film. It's a much better adaptation and infinitely more entertaining.