Director: Steven Spielberg. Screenwriters: Josh Friedman, David Koepp. Based on the novel by: H.G. Wells. Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin and Tim Robbins. Running time: 117 minutes. MPAA Rating: PG-13, for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images. A Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures release.
It’s kind of odd that the same filmmaker who created the summer blockbuster has delivered a film that, in some way, is the opposite.
Yes, there is action in “War of the Worlds” and almost never lets up but this is not the traditional junk you’ve seen in films like “Independence Day” where the special effects take center attention or famous landmarks being destroyed.
Reflecting 9/11 in terms of imagery and subtext, “War of the Worlds” offers a grim and harrowing look at not how humans defeat the aliens but how they survive. It contains a realism that hasn’t been seen in these popcorn films and only someone as talented as director Steven Spielberg could do it just right.
The same goes for Tom Cruise, tabloids and Scientology issues aside, as he delivers yet another knockout performance. As deadbeat dad Ray Ferrier, Cruise plays him an unlikable jerk that would rather be at his job as a dockworker or tool around in his Ford Mustang than attempt to be a good father.
Ray‘s ex-wife (Miranda Otto) drop the kids off for the weekend and you can tell immediately that there’s not going to be any father of the year awards coming to him soon. He’d rather make a connection with the engine that’s on his on the kitchen table than with his kids- young Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and moody teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin).
I liked that instead of the usual “spaceships hovering Earth” scenes, we’re given time with Ray’s relationship with the kids. Another note is that since the general public has been kind of turned off by Cruise’s real life antics, not liking the character he plays in “War of the Worlds” is pretty easy.
Once the aliens appear-in the mechanical and menacing Tripods-Spielberg goes into horrific yet brilliantly-filmed scenes of carnage. He pushes that PG-13 rating with these scenes that are as frightening as the opening minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” by making it as real as possible.
Spielberg continues with the struggles of not only Ray, but everyone else in the United States. From the angry mob that try to steal Ray’s van to the crazed beliefs of Ogilvy (Tim Robbins, almost playing it too crazy), the desperation of many in this film is harrowing.
Of course, everything can’t be perfect. The 9/11 overtones are sometimes too much to bear, the scenes of aliens looking around in the basement reeks of “Jurassic Park” and the ending was almost too Hollywood.
Forget whether or not it’s faithful to the H.G. Wells novel. Forget comparing it to the 1953 film and forget Tom Cruise’s antics on The Today Show. Just see “War of the Worlds,” which is science fiction at its finest. I’m not going to instantly proclaim it as Spielberg’s best or in the same category with his classic works but I know that it is one of the best films of this summer.
Overall score: @@@@ (out of five)