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A narrator reveals that hostile aliens are hard at work;
So let us watch their conquest through the eyes of Ray, a selfish jerk.
He’s immature and slovenly; his ex-wife knows this (hence the ex),
And when she leaves their kids with him, their presence only serves to vex.
Both Robbie and his sister Rachel aren’t too happy being there,
And Ray ignores them overall until a storm creates a scare.
The lightning strikes the same location twenty-six alarming times.
When Ray investigates the place, from underground a tripod climbs.
The giant alien machine starts zapping people left and right,
And Ray recovers both his kids and drives until it’s out of sight.
His ex-wife’s empty house is where they hide and try remaining calm.
The three are woken in the night by loud explosions, like a bomb.
The next day, Ray emerges to a sprawling field of plane debris,
And learns the foe is everywhere, at home and out across the sea.
The three set out for Boston, where they hope to find Ray’s former wife,
And dead or desperate folks abound and make them each fear for their life.
Their car is fiercely taken (since most vehicles no longer start).
They then attempt to take a ferry, which turns out to not be smart.
A tripod rises from the river, capsizing the ferryboat,
And tentacles reach down to snatch the men who dare to stay afloat.
Escaping from this massacre, they all continue on their quest,
But Robbie wants to join the fight to stop the uninvited guest.
He gives his father little choice, and Ray is sad to see him go,
But he and Rachel flee and join a man with shelter down below.
This Harlan Ogilvy soon proves that he has clearly gone insane,
And rants about survival and the chance to fight their own campaign.
They’re rattled by some narrow shaves with aliens and periscopes,
But Harlan’s thirst for vengeance and his folly threaten all their hopes.
He freaks out when he sees the foes collecting blood from human slaves,
And Ray feels he must silence him before his ranting digs their graves.
But Ray and Rachel still are found; a tripod lifts her in the air.
Her father follows with grenades and frees the captives from their snare.
Again with Rachel, Ray continues into Boston’s wrecked downtown,
And sees the aliens are dying, helping us to take them down.
He reconnects with his ex-wife and Robbie, whom he’s glad to see.
The narrator reveals that germs brought down the hostile enemy.

Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, the most advertised and successful of the three film adaptations released in 2005, is gripping, thrilling, frightening, insightful, and compelling. From the opening/closing narration by Morgan Freeman to the uniquely grainy cinematography to the inclusion of the very real threat of an EMP to wipe out all electronic devices, it’s a modern retelling of H. G. Wells’ classic story that is also the best adaptation I’ve seen so far. Tom Cruise is at his best as Ray Ferrier, and Dakota Fanning is entirely believable as his increasingly traumatized daughter Rachel. In the words of the judge from The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins plays Ogilvy as “icy and remorseless,” but also with a wide-eyed edge when threatened. (It’s a shame he and Morgan Freeman never got a scene together.) The special effects and the design of the alien tripods are also well-done and often unnerving.

The drawbacks are the bad language (though it’s a bit more understandable under such extreme conditions) and, basically, the character’s story. The main goal of the film is to show this harrowing what-if situation through the eyes of a single American family, an objective that is mostly well-realized. The main problem is that the family the writers chose is unnecessarily dysfunctional, and Ray, as mentioned in the poem, is a juvenile jerk. While he has a positive character arc, particularly when he realizes what a poor father he is, unable to even sing his daughter a decent lullaby, I think the filmmakers could have chosen a more relatable guy who was less of a lowlife. He saves his daughter, but there’s little indication what his relationship with his kids is going to be like from now on. Plus, the subplot with Robbie wanting to abandon his sister to participate in a fight he can do little to help and somehow surviving it all is weak and makes Robbie even less likable than he already was. Also, the changes in the alien plot, adding in the burial of the tripods eons ago to be ready for the invasion here and now, is a little unbelievable, considering they must have learned on their first visit about the microorganisms that would later kill them. Still, War of the Worlds is an engaging, if rather morbid, feast for the eyes, and, in my opinion and my VC’s, creams the original 1953 version for special effects and entertainment value. (My VC would have it even higher on her list.)

Best line: (Robbie) “What is it? Is it terrorists?”
(Ray, speaking of the tripods) “These came from someplace else.”
(Robbie) “What do you mean, like, Europe?”
(Ray) “No, Robbie, not like Europe!”


Artistry: 6
Characters/Actors: 7
Entertainment: 7
Visual Effects: 8
Originality: 5
Watchability: 5
Other (language and weak elements): -8
TOTAL: 30 out of 60

Tomorrow: #312: Where the Wild Things Are

© 2014 S. G. Liput