War of the Worlds
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Steven Spielberg
scr Josh Friedman, David Koepp
with Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, David Alan Basche, Yul Vazquez, Camillia Sanes, Rachelle Roderick, Christopher Evan Welch, Ann Robinson, Morgan Freeman
release US/UK 29.Jun.05
05/US Paramount-DreamWorks 1h56

Panic on the streets: Cruise, Fanning and Chatwin

fanning robbins otto

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War of the Worlds Spielberg mixes two of his vintage genres, E.T./Close Encounters aliens and Jaws/Jurassic Park suspense, for a thoroughly terrifying action movie. As always, he effortlessly centres on the human drama amid the astounding imagery. So it's a pity the adaptation of HG Wells' classic novel becomes so contrived.

Ray (Cruise) is a working class New Jersey single dad whose ex (Otto) has just dropped off their two kids for the weekend: 10-year-old Rachel (Fanning) and sullen teen Robbie (Chatwin). Ray is, quite clearly, a terrible father, but he's about to test his mettle with the earth-rending invasion of an alien force that seems intent on wiping humanity off the face of the planet. Forget the world, can Ray save his children?

Spielberg's visual sensibilities are so finely tuned that he's able to keep us completely focussed on the characters while their world is being torn to shreds around them. Several sequences are astonishingly inventive, and the mind-bending effects almost always remain in the background while something meaningful happens between people who are trying to survive, often using the worst methods. And it's so riveting that we can even forgive glitches like a functional camcorder after all electrical objects have been rendered useless, a convenient news van, car-sized paths through the rubble. All of this and more signals the arrival of the Michael Bay mentality, hurling characters into random acts of selflessness, usually involving big guns and explosions.

In other words, it feels like two movies. Cruise is excellent in the first half, because he excels at playing jerks (see Collateral, Magnolia, Rain Man), but becomes grating as a leading man. And this script visibly bends to force him into hero mode. Fanning, meanwhile, delivers a solid performance that continually catches us off guard. And Chatwin nicely holds his own. Nobody else gets much of a chance (Robbins as a goofy-creepy gun nut; Freeman providing superb bookend voice-overs). Despite the script's appalling lapses, Spielberg masterfully crafts a film that's absolutely gripping. We can barely breathe for much of it. And when you're hyperventilating, it's kind of difficult to notice cliches creeping in.

cert 12 themes, violence, suspense, language 27.Jun.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... War of the Worlds Thomas Moore, Japan: 4/5 "I enjoyed this film but was a bit bothered by the sequence involving Tim Robbins. I understand that Spielberg needed to get the characters into a basement so he could pay some homage to some scenes in the original film but Robbins' character seemed superfluous. Why did this character have to be so 'bent'? The conclusion to this sequence bothers me. It could have been done differently, but maybe Spielberg was trying to make some kind of point?" (29.Jul.05)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall