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