June 30, 2005
Very Minor Spoilers to follow
First a few technical observations. The overall look and feel of this film is very dingy and gritty - the colors were muted a bit and the use of sunlight and shadows was pretty effective in the beginning of the film. They did a good job of creating a fairly realistic setting of a working class neighborhood in what was probably supposed to be Newark, NJ. Aesthetically, it worked very well. Photography was mostly on an intimate scale - focusing on the characters. There were very few grand vistas or scenic shots (and when there were they were at night). There didn't need to be.
Told from the perspective of a divorced father to represent an American "everyman" (Tom Cruise actually pulls this off), the story follows their escape out of the frying pan and into the fire. Cruise's character, Ray Ferrier, manages to steal a car the works (electromagnetic pulses short out most of them) and pursue a journey along secondary roads with his son and daughter, Robbie and Rachel, to Boston to meet up with their mother.
The underlying story focuses on Ray's having to deal with the complete responsibility of caring for his children - an experience he seems to painfully lack. When told by Rachel that she is allergic to peanut butter, Ray just snorts and says, "yeah, since when?" "Since birth" says Rachel, incredulously. The tension between Ray and Robbie comes to a head when they get into an argument that ends with the son saying what we all suspect in the back of our minds - that the only reason he is trying so hard to get to his ex-wife is so he can leave them with her and not have to worry about anyone but himself.
The development of Ray's growing re-attachment to his kids is poignant in a way. We see him struggle with keeping himself together as he manages to find the strength to keep his family safe. And we also see the lengths to which he is willing to go to protect them. There is the occasional plothole which most people won't notice but all-in-all the film is pretty well grounded. This attack on Earth is personal. These aliens destroy homes and stores and churches rather than iconic images like the White House. There are no big "Independence Day" type scenes of heroism, although at one point Ray's quick thinking with a belt full of grenades gives us a scene to cheer. But I don't recall any part that left me feeling, "yeah, right like that would really happen".
Be aware that this is a violent film. The aliens are massacring the population and it's not like the sanitized 1953 George Pal version where an energy beam hits a person and they freeze and fade out of the shot. People are blown apart and incinerated before our eyes. And there is one shot around the middle of the film of a landscape on the horizon covered in the crimson spray of human blood.
The design of the tripod ships seems to have come right from illustrations in the original H.G. Wells novel and they're very cool. The aliens themselves are seen very little but they make good use of them. They were really creepy looking and I should think they'd seem pretty scary to a young child.
The two hour running time flew by as there was plenty of action and the acting was very good. Tim Robbins plays a guy who gives temporary shelter to Ray and Rachel. He is hiding out from the attacks in his basement and is maniacally hell-bent on surviving the onslaught. I have to admit that the character did get annoying to the point where his fate was not an unwelcome one. I've read some reviews that call the movie's ending anticlimactic but it is true to the original story and frankly the only one that would be plausible. Mankind is simply not going to stop this attack with anything they've created. If you've read the book or seen the older movie, you know what I'm talking about.
In a nutshell, War of the Worlds will thrill you and maybe scare you a little. I would not bring a child under 10, however. It depends on the kid, but there are parts that may give them nightmares. Definitely worth the $9, this movie will do very well because the word of mouth should justify the hype.
(Note: this is a re-write of a more rambling version that I posted last night, when I was dead tired.)
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