Friday 19 October 2018

Movie Review: War Of The Worlds (2005)

A science fiction thriller, War Of The World boasts slick special effects, a character-centred story and a sturdy Tom Cruise performance.

In New Jersey, port crane operator Ray (Cruise) has custody of his kids, moody teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and the younger Rachel (Dakota Fanning), for a few days as their mom Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) visits her family in Boston. After a strange-looking storm causes multiple lightning strikes, massive advanced technology tripod war machines burst from below the ground, piloted by evil aliens intent on annihilating humanity and occupying Earth.

Mass casualties ensue, and Ray goes on the run with Robbie and Rachel, generally heading towards Boston. Along the way they encounter other survivors, and have to survive multiple attacks by the rampaging tripods. An attempted ferry river crossing causes a riot and exposes the worst of humanity. Robbie very much wants to join the outgunned army to try and fight back against the aliens, while Ray and Rachel take refuge in the basement of rough survivalist Harlan (Tim Robbins), who causes his own set of problems.

An adaptation of the classic H.G. wells story directed by Steven Spielberg, War Of The Worlds is a consistently exiting and tense science fiction thriller, with a tight focus on a reluctant father suddenly faced with a large dose of responsibility. The CGI is mostly convincing, and the visual scope and ambition are never less than impressive.

Comprehensively breaking away from his previous aliens-are-friendly ethos demonstrated in Close Encounters of The Third Kind and E.T. The Extraterrestrial, here Spielberg has no qualms defining the invaders as pure evil beings intent on literally sucking humanity dry. And the film quickly gets to the point, the invaders emerging from the sky, activating their long-hidden death machines from subterranean hideouts, and carrying out the business of killing with ruthless efficiency.

To maintain a reasonable level of bloodless and gore-free family friendliness (at least for families with older kids), the aliens initially kill by vaporizing the squishy humans. But Spielberg does emphasize the horror in a chilling riverfront scene exposing the extent of the genocide, and later the landscape is colored a sinewy red as the grotesque details of the invasion are revealed.

War Of The Worlds does not get everything quite right. The interlude in Harlan's basement does serve to slow down the mayhem and introduce tension instead of mass and breathless destruction, but it goes on for too long and eventually threatens to spiral into a whole different movie. And the ending is first too rushed and then too Spielbergian, a bittersweet opportunity squandered.

Tom Cruise radiates star presence at the heart of the film. With Ray not asked to accomplish anything other than save his kids, Cruise demonstrates the true meaning of heroism. Dakota Fanning, all of 11 years old, is affecting as the terrified kid forced to grow up in an awful hurry.

War Of The Worlds ponders the potential inconsequentiality of the human species, a vision both nightmarish and undeniably entertaining to imagine.

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