War of the Worlds (2005)Starring:
Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim RobbinsDirected By:
While on vacation, I finally got around to see War of the Worlds
, which completes my Top Five Movies I Most Want To See This Summer list
. I was interested in seeing it, but then Tom Cruise
went all crazy and my interest waned. But I put my faith in Steven Spielberg
, scientology be damned.
As a big, action-filled, summer blockbuster, War of the Worlds
is quite the achievement. After the quiet opening 10 minutes or so that establish the characters and relationships of the film, the movie is a non-stop thrill ride that is as exciting and intense as anything I've seen in recent memory. Until the final scene of the movie, there is no let down from the excitement, no chance for the audience to breathe. I was wide-eyed through the entire movie, and filled with a genuine sense of dread and terror for much of it. The movie is as visceral an experience as any theme park thrill ride, and would make for an excellent ride should some theme park choose to do so.
Which made it a near-perfect summer popcorn flick, as it accomplishes most, if not all, of what it sets out to do. Spielberg also managed to inject it with touches of originality and quality not usually seen in summer blockbusters. Which helps the movie stand out above lesser alien invasion flicks. But I'm still not sure if the movie had much depth when compared to non-blockbuster films. It's definitely better than the standard sci-fi action flick, but I'm still undecided as to whether or not it's actually a great movie itself.
One thing that makes War of the Worlds
more effective than other alien invasion movies is that while it deals with the fantastic, it is firmly rooted in reality. The focus of the movie isn't on aliens or space battles, but rather with the human reaction to such an invasion. Particularly stunning is the first scene where the aliens show up, shot in the middle of the day in the middle of a suburban street. Spielberg avoids any showy camera work or quick editing, choosing instead to go with static shots and film quality that felt more like news reel than digital effects. He even chose to hold off the scoring of the scene until the drama had come to a head. As a result, the whole scene feels more real, almost looking like something on the evening news, and less Hollywood. Which brought the invasion home and gave it real weight. Other than the alien attack, everything else felt completely ordinary, which eliminated some of the comfortable distance viewers usually get with such movies and brought the attack home.
The film puts the audience at the forefront of the attack throughout. Whereas a film like Independence Day
merely suggests casualties by showing buildings blow up and cities in ruins as survivors pass through, War of the Worlds
places the camera at ground zero of the attacks, showing the human cost of the invasion and providing viewers with scenes nearly as intense as Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan
, with perhaps a bigger body count. Spielberg definitely wanted to provide some Jurassic Park
-like thrills this time out, and pulled no punches doing so. He knows how to make big movies, and does so as well as anybody.
However, the film is not without its flaws. A star of Tom Cruise's box office power is a necessity to open a movie of such a scope, but unfortunately goes against the everyman nature of the Ray Ferrier character Cruise is trying to portray. He's supposed to be the audience's proxy, just an ordinary schmoe dealing with circumstances beyond his understanding and control, but in scenes where he's supposed to be seen as just a guy in the crowd, he stands out too much as TOM CRUISE: WORLD'S BIGGEST MOVIE STAR. There's nothing that can be done about that, I suppose, but it takes you out of the drama for a few moments. As does some of Spielberg's self-reverential nods later in the film, one scene in particular feels as though aliens are merely filling in for the raptors from Jurassic Park
. Finally, the ending falls a little flat, going for the typical finish, providing the audience with too much of an out, so much so that it feels like a cheat in comparison to the rest of the film.
The flaws are significant enough to make me question whether or not I was too distracted by the thrill ride to truly judge the movie as a whole. But that's not really the point, is it? The movie is supposed
to be a thrill ride, designed to be distracting and to scare the hell out of you. It accomplished both exceptionally well. I'm not sure if I'll be seeing War of the Worlds
again, but I do know that for most of its 116 minute running time, I hardly even blinked.3.5/5