- Based on the 1898 novel The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
- Directed by Steven Spielberg
- June 23, 2005 (Ziegfeld Theatre) / June 29, 2005 (US)
A father struggles to protect his children and reunite them with their mother when malevolent extraterrestrials invade Earth.
To be totally honest I went into War of the Worlds not expecting too much. I was feeling that it would be something that looked good but wasn’t ultimately not satisfying. Spielberg is a great director, and he is tackling a great book but so much is style over substance these days.
But you know something? This was pretty good. What we get here is a story about hope and survival against the bleakest of circumstances. And it’s also about how some people don’t quite rise to the occasion when things get genuinely tough. In the presentation there is the shock and wonder one might feel at it at unusual events present in this film, but it shifts to horror and terror as reality sets in.
Tom Cruise plays Ray, a divorced father who doesn’t quite have the best relationship with his kids yet you can see underneath it all he’s not a terrible person. He just can’t get it together for whatever reason. He is still a bit of a kid at heart but he does love his children.
Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin costar as Ray’s children Rachel and Robbie respectively. Together those three make up the main cast. There are characters that come and go here but largely those three are what we see throughout. Characters show up and then we never see them again. Spielberg though does a pretty good job of making them feel if they belong in the film and aren’t just fluff to extend out the runtime.
I’m not big on Tim Robbins but he shined in his essentially a cameo performance as Harlan. His was the longest appearance of a supporting character. He was crazed and creepy and his interactions with Rachel were straight up icky. What hurt him though was that accent he put on. It was the Southside of Bad Idea. Not every actor can fake an accent. Sometimes you just need to use your own voice otherwise things can drift towards goofy or just make otherwise good work weak.
War of the Worlds is not a one-to-one translation of the book to film. The story is updated to the present day and there are no mentions of the aliens being Martians. Personally I really would have liked to see a well budgeted version that was era appropriate but that is unlikely. As it stands this keeps close as possible to things.
In the narrative things go from bad to worse in the story. Events are a progressive downward spiral as the characters move along the devastated landscape. Unlike other alien invasion stories at no point does anyone muscle their way into defeating the aliens. These things are clearly superior to us in a military sense and there is no one ridiculous weakness that we can exploit. “Firewalls? Passcodes? Nah. We will leave everything completely unguarded.”
One particular moment I really liked was the train. You hear the ding ding ding and the guards come down and then this burning train just zips by the crowd of refugees. It is rather disturbing. The scene drives home how hopeless things really are and that survivors are just witnessing the extinction of humanity.
The special effects are not bad, but they do look a touch on the fake side. I know this is several years old but when I first saw this they weren’t that good. What helps you get past it is the story. It is solid and keeps moving with no dead spots.
In a nice acknowledgment of the previous version of the story Ann Robinson (who played the lead role of Sylvia van Buren in the 1953 film) and Gene Barry (who played lead role of Dr. Clayton Forrester in the 1953 film) show up briefly as the grandparents of Ray’s children. I honestly didn’t realize that at first. It wasn’t until maybe the second viewing that I figured out what was going on.
Steven Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds is a great science-fiction alien invasion disaster movie. It’s tense and exciting and appropriately downbeat without being bleak. Special effects may be a little dated but everything else is just fine. Either pick this up at your local retailer or when I wrote this it was showing on Netflix and watch it there. Either way check it out.