War of the Worlds (2005) 2.57/5 (2)


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Rating: The Bad – 53.8
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 116 mins
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins

Steven Spielberg and writers Josh Friedman and David Koepp make the mistake of trying to tell a “meaningful” story of fatherhood and family against a backdrop of H.G. Welles’ classic alien invasion story and the result is a complete mess. Tom Cruise stars as a part-time father of two children who happens to be looking after them when strange lightning bolts begin shooting down from the sky. It’s not long before everyone is running for their lives and the Cruiser decides to shepherd the kids from his home in New York to Boston where their mother lives.

This early part of the movie is handled quite well and as you’d expect from the master of excitement on screen, the build up and initial disaster sequences are brilliantly set up. Alas, there are such critical character and casting problems present from the beginning that beyond that excellent opening, we never really buy into the film. For a starters, even though he plays the part of the grown up kid very well, Cruise looks about as fatherly as Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. In addition, the two children are overwhelmingly annoying with each rivaling the other for most annoying child character since Edward Furlong’s John Connor in T2. Dakota Fanning spends the two hours either disobeying her father, forcing him into repeated rescues, or screaming hysterically with her arms in front of her chest in some Dr Philian nonsensical self help exercise. Justin Chatwin (as Cruise’s son) on the other hand keeps trying to convince the three of them to turn back and fight the aliens! No, that wasn’t a typo, he wanted the three of them ….to…. fight…. the…. aliens.

All too often, Spielberg attempts to make his fantasy or sci-fi movies ‘something more’ by adding a rather crass emotional component and so, somewhat inevitably, the faulty family dynamics present in the story come off as being nothing more than a saccharine and cynical attempt at audience manipulation. Take for example the moment where Cruise is ‘forced’ to let his son walk over a hillside into certain doom because the son “needs to see it”(!?!). Spielberg cuts to a wide shot of Cruise slowly retreating from his son as John Williams’ heart rendering music kicks up a gear (or four) and the special effects (Spielberg’s favourite cloak) go into overdrive. There are few cinematic moments as artificial, false, and lazily manipulative as this one and it represents with crystal clarity the worst of Spielberg as a director. Come on Steve, you made Jaws!

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10 thoughts on “War of the Worlds (2005)”

  1. I agree with much of what you say here. I think the laziness of CGI really killed the film in its second act and repelled me from buying into the drama that was unfolding. I did however enjoy some of the family dynamics at the start but ultimately thought they became to repetitive, forced and overplayed in the end. Like most of Spielbergs outings, there were themes, dynamics and plot devices I loved and then there are sections I thought were thought were over manipulative and weak. Ultimately I think the picture is a bit of a mish-mash and not completely coherent. I also feel Spielberg falls victim to the same thing almost everytime……..Trying to hard to please everyone.

    1. I think everything you said here is accurate. I also really enjoyed the opening 20 mins and while I never felt Cruise was a convincing father, the initial disgruntlement he and his son shared was interesting. Unfortunetly, once the action got going, it unraveled and as you said, it felt forced. It’s very annoying that it didn’t work out because the scale of the visual and sound effects was very impressive. I think that was what angered me most.

      1. I hope that when Spielberg does eventually return to sci-fi he remembers how it used to be done. When it came to the sci-fi blockbuster he used to have the genre in the palm of his hand. lately, not so much.

        1. Very true. Spielberg has always frustrated me. Talent to burn but he’s a sucker for superficial sentiment and it has destroyed too many of his films.

  2. I hate such a love/ hate relationship with Spielberg and with this movie as well. You make some very valid points. I love these films from him over all of his boring dramas, though. Good review!

  3. I think this version has nothing over the 1953 version. It does become progressively more incoherent, and the set pieces of mass hysteria begin to feel trite, and the grating family drama more so, especially with those two brats of children.

    I don’t think Orson Welles would be amused in the least.

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