Published on July 5th, 2005 | by Erich Becker0
Review: War of the Worlds
Warning: The following review contains spoilers.
I’ll just come right out and say it. With all the hype, hoopla, and press surrounding War of the Worlds, you would think it would be a better movie. Instead we are left with and E.T. meets Independence Day mash-up that is so poorly written even the “star power” of Tom Cruise can’t save it from being just another summer movie.
In fact, any marketing material that claims this film is an epic summer movie is clearly talking about Batman Begins. Even with the huge numbers put up opening day and this past holiday weekend, War of the Worlds is no where near the quality of film I was expecting. You’d think the team up between Cruise and Spielberg would generate the film to end all films, but by the time the credits starting to roll, I just wanted this movie to end.
You develop a love/hate relationship with Worlds, mainly because you want to like it so much, and the parts you turn your brain off and just watch the wanton destruction of the human race, you do like it. What inevitably happens is the destruction only makes up about 25% of the film leaving the other 75% to focus on the 2D characters so honed in on their cliché molds that nothing really stands out until the Rainbow Happy-time Care Bear Ending that makes you immediately want to lick the goo stuck to the theater floor in the hopes you might pass out.
War sees Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) inherit his two kids for the weekend while his ex-wife and her new beau race off to Boston to meet her parents. Like every single dad, Ray has no food in his house, his son hates him, his daughter is spoiled, and he rebuilds engines in his kitchen. Can you see the excitement building already?
When a freak storm causes lightening to strike one particular spot dozens of times, everything electronic shuts down as alien “Tripods” spring to life, having been hidden beneath the streets of New York, and every other major city across the globe. But these aliens aren’t the Reese’s Pieces eating, finger healing kind we’ve come to expect from Spielberg, no, these aliens want us dead, and they zap us with laser beams and harvest our bodily fluids as fertilizer.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
Then the movie ends, just like that. You don’t even see it coming. It’s so abrupt and so sudden that Tom and I looked at each other like, “That was it? That’s how they’re going to end this?” It isn’t that the way they ended it was bad, it was the execution that really felt as though there was a third grade contest to write it, and this is what won.
The fact that you feel absolutely nothing for the characters is only a side-point to the overall disappointment. Cruise portrays Ferrier adequately, knowing that he doesn’t have a lot to work with, but Dakota Fanning’s Rachael and Justin Chatwin’s Robbie are so underwritten and paint-by-the-numbers that the déjà vu of, “I’ve seen this character 100 times before,” really starts to set in five minutes after they’re introduced.
Also, the primary focus of the film is Ray trying to get his kids to their mother in Boston, but why? It makes no real sense that he would brave big, busy cities filled with canon fodder instead of hiding out in the countryside and waiting to see what happens. In a moment of brilliance Ray actually does this only to meet one of the most insane characters I’ve seen all year in Tim Robbins’ Ogilvy. The relationship between Ogilvy and Ferrier tries to display the social underpinnings of humans under stress. This part succeeds, although it limps along until the act’s defining moment.
Spielberg’s direction is adequate to collect a paycheck, but there isn’t the magic and cinematography we saw in E.T. or Saving Private Ryan. Instead we get another by-the-book performance mainly used by the distributors to market the film.
I’m really not trying to be overtly harsh on the film, and maybe I’m making a point that Hollywood really can’t expect us to continue to go to the movies when they continue to release half-assed product such as this. There was so much potential here that it all feels wasted for the short term goal of making money rather than art. When the studios finally figure out that we wouldn’t mind a good movie (like Batman Begins) in the summer rather than this standard schlock, we’ll either be watching TV, or, better, listening to Orson Well’s radio broadcast and letting our imagination do the work.
To everyone associated with this film: try harder next time.