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WAR OF THE WORLDS

SYNOPSIS:
A contemporary retelling of H.G. Wells’s classic story about aliens who have ‘sleeper’ tripod machines buried beneath the Earth’s crust waiting for the moment to emerge and exterminate humans to take over the Earth. It begins one day just as divorced New York dockland crane operator Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) takes on weekend duties looking after his two children, 10 year old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and teenager Robbie (Justin Chatwin), while his ex wife (Miranda Otto) and her new husband Tim (David Alan Basch) drive off to her parents’ Boston home. Ray, not the best example of fatherhood, now has to protect his two children, who are closer to and more trusting of their mother. But the catastrophic attacks leave them no choice.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Meticulously set up with the human relationships to the fore, War Of The Worlds begins with a solid half hour or so in which Ray (Tom Cruise) is shown – rather heavy handedly - to be a hapless father with little connection to his children. We become a little too aware that we are being set up for Ray’s redemptive journey into fatherhood, which is triggered by an eerie and truly scary introduction of the alien forces arising from beneath the streets of suburban New York. Hidden for aeons beneath the ground we walk on, these tripod monster machines arrive in the wake of terrible electric storms that suck electricity out of just about everything – except Ray’s getaway car and his in-laws expensive home.

Unless I missed some explanation due to mixing problems, I don’t recall having any explanation for the car, and as it speeds through a mass of stalled vehicles, the question is screaming silently in the heads of the audience. As for the electricity-happy house, there is nothing more than a vague aside about the alien ‘things’ not being near the area, which is in any case nonsensical as none of the neighbours has lights either.

Such indifference to credibility undoes a lot of the great work put in by Steven Spielberg as he fashions a credible panic scenario, and avoids some of the predictable and clicheed shots that plague many disaster movies – a genre that this film most closely resembles, despite the sci-fi source. And we do get to see aliens, although I would have preferred not; their design aside, the walking aliens confuse the plot, in which their sleeper agent machines do the damage. The living beings must have caught a cab…. 

There are some masterly moments as terrified people become terrifying mobs, an excellent and extended sequence at the Hudson Ferry, and an ominous tone that Spielberg maintains, despite the lapses concentration that permit simple flaws like the ones mentioned above. But then he has John Williams at score board.

Tom Cruise makes Ray a little dull, and his bluecollar credentials don’t end up as any sort of symbol or as significant fact. The children are both excellent in their very different characters: Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is a young rebel who is desperate to fight back anyhow he can; Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is an intelligent but frightened little girl with a deeper understanding of her family than the rest of them combined.

Tim Robbins turns up as a deranged loner (again) and Miranda Otto has the thankless role of the pregnant ex-wife, with a couple of cheesy moments.

Fading badly in the final third, the film loses the tension Spielberg has tried to maintain with padding, and scrambles the all important resolution. Spielberg then smears this downer with sentimental corn to bring the film to an unsatisfactory finale. The grandeur of the vision and its potential for focusing on our humanity is thus compromised. See it, but lower your expectations.

Review by Louise Keller:

Watching the new super-hyped, big budget Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise sci-fi spectacular, War of the Worlds, I felt strangely detached and uninvolved. And disappointed. There was a sense of having seen it all before in various disaster movies, and I wish I didn’t feel that way. No question that the gee-whizz mega-stunts and special effects are impressive on a large scale, and try as he might to balance these with the story about a flawed father intent on saving his kids, Spielberg can’t help but getting bogged down with a layer of sentimentality that never rings true.

Based on H.G. Wells’ classic story about an alien invasion, this big-screen remake shows too much of the gigantic machine-line creatures with spindly tripod legs and snake-like steely tentacles that slither disarmingly into every nook and crevice. Not enough is left to the imagination – the power of which is much greater than any special effect. Even though the dimensions of these awesome mechanical creatures are formidable, they never impose the kind of dread and sinking feeling of terror they should ignite. To my mind, no sci-fi creatures have ever equalled Ridley Scott’s terrifying aliens, whose excessive salivating drool will never be forgotten. 

I like the film’s set up, showing Cruise’s Ray as a totally inept father. When his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) drops his young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and rebellious teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) at Ray’s dishevelled home, it is clear that he has no idea whatsoever how to relate to them. Then after a freak electrical storm and gale-force winds, roads crack open, buildings collapse and cars are flung about like autumn leaves. That’s when the aliens buried deep under the earth, surface. My heart pounded loudly as a long steel tentacle thrust its way through the windows of the car in which Ray and family were stationary, quickly flipping it over. The panicking crowd scenes are the most effective, as hundreds clammer to board the ferry crossing the Hudson River. 

Cruise as always, has appeal, although in the performance stakes, it’s Dakota Fanning whose vulnerability and terrified saucer eyes involve us. She is both wise-beyond-her-years, but retains the persona of the frightened little girl who wants to be sung a lullaby. Chatwin as the teen intent to prove himself, is also impressive. Tim Robbins’ deranged stranger is more of a caricature than a frightening presence, and the sequence in which one of the tripods nearly discover their presence, fails to have the required startling impact.

But for all the massive stunts and CGI, the final confrontation is anti-climactic, and a couple of crucial plot points are never adequately explained. The result is a super-expensive big-budget Hollywood extravaganza that is all for show, with little substance.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

TRAILER

WAR OF THE WORLDS (M)
(US)

CAST: Tom Cruise, Justin Chatwin, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto

PRODUCER: Kathleen Kennedy, Colin Wilson

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

SCRIPT: David Koepp (novel by HG Wells)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Janusz Kaminski

EDITOR: Michael Kahn

MUSIC: John Williams

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Carter

RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 29, 2005







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