7.01.2005

War of the Worlds

Steven Spielberg delivers a powerful sci-fi adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” (published 1898) novel that focuses on humanity with intense special effects that are guaranteed to blow you out of your seat.

“War of the Worlds” stars internationally famous Tom Cruise as the divorced parent of two kids, Rachel and Robbie. Ray is forced to come to terms with the distance he has created from his children when the world is attacked from the ground up by aliens driving monstrous artillery, determined to destroy Earth. The torn family must pull together to survive devastation and eminent death.

H.G. Wells is one of the greatest authors of time; it is only acceptable that a director of equal stature attempt to develop a film of such epic proportions as the novel, and Spielberg does so with precision. Each shot is planned with perfection in order to emphasize and create an empathic connection with the characters and the scenes of destruction. Spielberg is a masterful cinematographer, utilizing light to portray beauty juxtaposed with death. A scene in the woods shows the alien lights gently glowing through the trees as the clothing of the deceased softly flutter toward the forest floor. Spielberg ingeniously plants shots that are reminiscent of earlier shots in the story, threading the film into an intricate web.

Probably what makes this film the best film of the summer is the intelligent writing that evokes fear and tension. Josh Friedman examines humanity in crisis, showing mass chaos, selfishness, and benevolence. He visualizes mob mentality and self-sacrifice, and skillfully traps characters in “safe spots.” He innovatively tells a blind story, allowing the audience’s knowledge to be only as much as the characters, creating immense fear and exciting thrills. Writing of such caliber is long overdue.

Most sci-fi thrillers have painfully cheesy dialog and horrible sub-plots, but Freedman managed to avoid such clichés. In fact, this film has no unnecessary dialog and relies on action and performance, avoiding fillers.

Spielberg constructed the aliens to be faceless terrorists, shielded by tri-pod vessels set to terminate and torch Earth. He portrays humans helpless against the powers of the machines, but their will to live is great. When the veil is lifted, there isn’t much of a surprise; the aliens don’t deviate much from the general conception of an alien. However, Friedman gives the alien beings a connection to their victims by forcing them to humanize Earthlings. Yet, despite their observations, they remain apathetic and monstrous.

Dakota Fanning’s performance is flawless in the role of Rachel. She never overacts, and has a remarkable ability to develop symbiotic relationships with the other actors; she is destined to be a star. Cruise never shies away from giving a good show. He fully embodies the disposition and persona of his character. The character arcs of all the characters are deserving praise. Each character develops that missing piece that is evident at the start of the film, creating satisfaction for the viewer.

The ending is a pure disappointment to the fierce momentum created by Spielberg and Friedman. It is nothing less than a cop-out, considering the amount of emotion and trust the viewer places in the hands of the film. Wells’ stunning ending in the novel mitigates the film’s ability to carry the audience to a justified conclusion. So much time is spent on building up the invasion that there is little time spent on resolution fit for film.

MPAA Rating: PG-13, Running Time: 1hr 57min

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