of the Worlds. Paramount
Pictures presents a film directed by Steven Spielberg.
Written by Josh Friedman and David Koepp. Based on the
novel by H.G. Wells. Running time: 118 minutes. Rated
PG-13 (for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and
disturbing images). Starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning,
Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto.
of the Worlds (2005)
Spielberg's War of the Worlds is a profoundly frightening
film, preying on our post-9/11 fears as well as his own unequaled
skill as a technical craftsman to make what will likely be
most of the best big-budget film released this year. I
say most, because, for all of his other accomplishments
here, Spielberg still can't avoid a pandering and falsely
is not a problem with the source material - H.G. Wells' novel
-, which is just as potent as it was when originally published.
Centered around the family of Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), War
of the Worlds details an alien invasion in which there
is little hope of mankind's survival; military strength is
useless and victory can only be defined as "not dead
yet." Left in charge of his estranged children, Rachel
(Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin), Ray spends much
of the movie either on the run or hiding in buildings, sequences
that Spielberg invests with terrifying bluntness and immediacy.
the aliens' arrival to Ray's meeting with a potentially insane
farmer (Tim Robbins), War of the Worlds is an impeccable
feat of visceral filmmaking. Ray flees from the aliens' massive
"tripods," and we follow in several long, shaky
tracking shots, as buildings collapse and people are vaporized
all around him. This is followed by the most stunning sequence
in the film, a trip through a crowded freeway, in which Spielberg's
camera, in one shot, swoops from the interior of the car to
the panic on the streets, back into the car; it's a bravura
evocation of the terror created in moments of destruction
is miscast as a blue-collar worker, but it's largely irrelevant.
He does his best to invest Ray with emotions beyond terror,
and occasionally succeeds; but terror is all we really need
here, and Fanning is more than up to the task, screaming and
crying with devastating realism.
the film is also not afraid to shy away from the complex moral
issues that arise in these situations. One sequence has Ray
defending his car from an angry mob; no one is in the moral
right, and how both Ray and the mob act serves as a particularly
chilling reminder of mankind's selfishness when left to fend
for itself. Or consider Ray's reaction to Robbins' unhinged
survivalist, as he realizes that he may have to commit a murder
to save the lives of his family.
a shame, then, that the ending is such a cop-out. It isn't
how the invader's are defeated, which is the same as it was
in the novel, for better or worse; no, it's the utterly implausible
survival of a particular supporting character, an attempt
at a happy ending that is at once hopelessly false and morally
questionable. Should Ray not have to sacrifice, to suffer
loss, just because he's the protagonist?
lets the audience off the hook. We don't have to confront
this sacrifice, because it wouldn't be happy, it wouldn't
be right. It's a cheat and an insult, and a betrayal
of the frighteningly grim film he had been fashioning up to
that point. It's a misstep that could sink the film, if the
rest of it weren't pretty much a masterpiece.
thank God it is.
2005 Matt Noller, not that anyone would ever want to steal