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War of the Worlds Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/01/2005

As much as I try not to let the annoying actions of a celebrity bother me, for War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise’s idiotic behavior over the last month or so really affected my perception of the movie.  Fortunately, all it took was some of director Steven Spielberg’s movie magic to bring me back to Earth.

As the narrator (voiced by Morgan Freeman) tells us in the beginning of the movie, intelligences greater than our own have been watching us for some time and have made plans to attack us.  Ray Ferrier (Cruise) is a dockworker from Newark’s Casciano Bridge in Bayonne, New Jersey, and he is kind of a selfish jerk.  He is divorced from his wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), and he shares custody of their two kids, teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin), who still doesn’t have his driver’s license yet but borrows Ray’s car anyway, and 10-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning.)  They would rather spend their time with their mom, who is pregnant, and her rich new husband Tim (David Alan Basche), because Ray is so self-centered.  Mary Ann and Tim have plans to see her parents (Ann Robinson and Gene Barry) in Boston, so they drop Robbie and Rachel off at Ray’s house for the weekend…something that doesn’t appeal to either of them.  Ray hasn’t tried very hard to get to know them very well, and in fact, as soon as they arrive, Ray goes to bed following a long shift on the docks while Robbie takes off with his two friends Vincent (Rick Gonzalez) and Julio (Yul Vazquez), and Rachel orders health food to be delivered.  He wakes up to hear reports on the news about odd blackouts and earthquakes in other parts of the world.  He goes outside and sees that the sky is covered by some thick black clouds, indicating that a large storm is coming.  Suddenly a series of lightning strikes hit near his house, and Ray goes back inside and hides under the kitchen table with Rachel.  After the lightening strikes end (there were 26 strikes in the same spot), Ray discovers that an electromagnetic pulse from the storm has disabled anything mechanical, including the lights, the phone, everyone’s cars outside, and even his wristwatch.  This seems to be happening all around, so Ray goes to investigate.  He bumps into Robbie, who tells him that Ray’s car doesn’t work anymore.  Ray tells Robbie to go home and stay with his sister while he finds out what is going on.  He goes to an intersection near his house and sees a smoking hole in the pavement (which is also seen by dozens of people all around.)  All of a sudden, the ground shakes and the hole opens wider, destroying all of the buildings around it.  A three-legged robot comes up from the hole and immediately begins to zap everyone around with its laser beams.  Ray manages to escape from this “Tripod” and goes home to get Robbie and Rachel so that they can get the heck out of there.  He finds a working Chrysler Voyager minivan that his mechanic neighbor Manny (Lenny Venito) had been working on and makes plans to drive to Boston to find Mary Ann.  They make it to Mary Ann’s house, which is empty.  They spend the night there, but the next morning, Ray comes across the wreckage of a Boeing-747, which had crashed in front of Mary Ann’s house.  A news producer who had been filming the Tripods’ destruction shows Ray some footage of the planet being attacked.  The Tripods had been laying dormant underground for millions of years, and the lightening strikes came from aliens from some other world waking them up.  Their plan is to destroy as many people as possible.  Ray and his kids continue on to Boston, encountering other panicked people and aliens as they go.  They lose their minivan at one point during a mob scene, and Robbie later becomes separated from Ray and Rachel to watch the U.S. military strikes against the aliens.  After being separated from Robbie, Ray and Rachel seek shelter in the basement of ambulance driver Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins), who is going nuts with his plans to fight back against the aliens, prompting Ray to do something drastic.  From that point on, it’s just a matter of survival against the aliens and other dangerous people.

While his character was supposed to be a jerk in the movie, I couldn’t help but be distracted by Cruise’s real-life antics over the last few months.  Sure…his relationship with Katie Holmes is weird, but forgivable.  His Oprah stunt was odd, and his feud with Brooke Shields was irritating.  Why he has to shove his love for Scientology in everyone’s faces is beyond me.  At least in the movie, Cruise’s character Ray predictably redeems himself in the end.

Special effects-wise, the movie was great.  The first appearance of the Tripods was cool, along with a scene of a ferry boat being destroyed (it reminded me of Titanic.)  Another scene was one that looked like the raptor kitchen scene from Jurassic Park, but in this case, Ray, Ogilvy, and Rachel were hiding from a Tripod eye.

The movie was very disturbing as well.  When the people were running for their lives following the first appearance of the Tripods, it showed people being incinerated completely, leaving only their clothes.  By the time Ray got home after narrowly escaping from the Tripod, he was covered in the ashes of the victims.  He looked like the people did on the news reports during 9/11.  In fact, Spielberg makes more than one analogy to 9/11.  Rachel assumes that terrorists are attacking us, and Ray keeps trying to shield her from the horrors of this war of the worlds (she loses her innocence in the horror halfway through when she witnesses dead bodies floating down a river as she is trying to find a place to go to the bathroom.)

Despite my Cruise distraction, he did very well playing a father who eventually becomes loving.  The apex of his character’s transformation is when he sings the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” as a lullaby to help her go to sleep.  Fanning continues to amaze as a daughter who is clearly more mature than her father is.  Chatwin’s character was confusing, because he started out as a kid destined to follow in his father’s irresponsible footsteps, but he quickly ended up being someone who wanted to help people, whether it be saving people on the ferry or joining the Army to fight against the aliens.  It seemed a little too convenient (actually, their whole family dynamic in the end was a little too convenient.  I guess that’s what happens when you are faced with extreme circumstances.)  Robbins was convincing as the paranoid Ogilvy though.

War of the Worlds was a great popcorn flick, albeit a very dark one.  The aliens themselves were reminiscent of the 1953 original movie style-wise, but with better CGI effects (speaking of the original…Robinson and Barry were the leads in it, so it was a cool cameo appearance in this version.)  Spielberg took Josh Friedman and David Koepp’s screenplay and ran with it.  I felt like it was it was a contemporary version of H.G. Wells’ classic 1898 novel, with the ending being the same as the book (the beginning of it is another matter.)  It was a more personal version than the grand-scale tale in the book, and even though it may have looked like 1996’s Independence Day in style (a comparison noted by many other critics), it was different in story.  Cruise got off easy this time, because Spielberg saved his butt with this movie.


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