War Of The Worlds (2005) – movie review

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Movie Review by Dr Kuma

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

Director: Steven Spielberg

When I first read that the biggest star in the world and the greatest director of modern times were getting together once again (after the undervalued MINORITY REPORT) to film the definitive sci-fi story of all time I salivated like a Pavlov’s dog.

Was all the drooling worth the wait? The simple answer is yes.

Whereas MINORITY REPORT was a sci-fi noir, this version of the HG Wells tale is even darker! Too dark for even the Martian red weed to show through, which may explain why there is so little made of the alien vegetation in this version of the classic tale.

Everyone will know the famous opening tome for the book through the velvet tones of Richard Burton via the hugely popular Jeff Wayne musical release in the late 70’s. Not many will know that before that, another voice of his generation, Sir Cedric Hardwick, narrated to the opening of the Oscar winning 50’s version of the film. So, who did Spielberg turn to as the voice of this generation? Simple, there was no other choice as the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman. When the narration accompanies the wonderful opening segment of the film (where the red planet Mars turning into a red traffic light on Earth) we know that this is going to be something special and it is. What we don’t expect in a Spielberg blockbuster is the time spent on character background which takes up the first twenty minutes. This is excellent as it actually makes us care for the characters whose world (and ours) is about to change forever.

This updated story begins when we find Ray Ferrier (Cruise) working hard to pay the bills and come to terms with the fact that he’s estranged from his family and his life isn’t going anywhere. The only thing that’s moving in his life are his kids- further away from him as a father. This all changes when the family are thrown together once more when the red planet Mars sets in motion the invasion they have been planning, literally under our feet, for thousands of years. As the Ferriers escape the city into the countryside Ray must come to the defence of his children and his own sanity as the race is on to escape the invaders and to find other survivors to help in finding ways to exist and resist the dark red forces that have taken hold of this once green Earth.

As is well documented, Orson Welles terrified the USA in the 30’s when a radio transmission around Halloween was mistaken for the real thing and sent Americans into a panic. Whereas then people had never heard or seen anything quite like it, it’s a sad fact that the destruction we see brought to the screen reminds us of terrible events brought about by enemies in our own midst. The comparisons to 9/11 are so strong that you take the whole thing far more seriously than the audiences of past movies such as INDEPENDENCE DAY, which is obviously something people will pick up on. Spielberg has obviously seen the similarities and has thought he couldn’t make the comments he wanted to in a normal summer blockbuster which may explain why the movie is so dark and would have been more fitting for an autumnal day than said “summer” box office.

The cast are excellent, especially Cruise and the superb Dakota Fanning. The film’s only failings are the fact that enough is not made of the said red weed and the fact that Spielberg seems to have backtracked into sentimentality towards the end of the film. Perhaps the film was so dark that the director thought that bringing a character back for a cuddle was a sensible thing to do. If the said character wasn’t so dislikable then perhaps it may have worked, but said character is so annoying you think that he didn’t deserve a second chance. Sounds harsh, but it may have been a chance for Spielberg to say that sometimes life isn’t fair and some people simply don’t make it if they don’t try, instead of falling back on the “happy ending” that most people thought ruined movies such as A.I: ARTIFICAL INTELLIGENCE (I didn’t by the way- I’m one of the few that loved that ending).

All in all this is a triumph. Again, most of the people I have spoken to really didn’t like this film and wonder what happened to the wonder kid of Indiana Jones and The Goonies. Well, the simple fact is that the wonder kid is now nearly 60 and is following that other great director Hitchcock in exploring the darker side of the moon. In the same way Hitchcock brought us VERTIGO at the peak of his powers, his darkest masterpiece, so Spielberg steps once again into the realms of noir. He’ll step back into the sunshine soon, but appreciate the time that he spends in the darkened shadows, as these will be the movies that critics will pour over in future generations. Just be glad you were there to see movies like this when they were first released on the big screen – your children will ask what it was like believe me.

Dr Kuma’s verdict: The red menace of the 50’s is given a cloak of black velvet and in doing so creates another classic from the director of his generation.

5 out of 6 stars

Dr Kuma’s “Would You Believe”

#1 The Grandparents of the children in the film are played by the stars of the1953 version Ann Robinson and Gene Barry.

#2 When Dakota Fanning and Cruise found themselves in freezing dark waters filming the scenes where the ferry capsizes, Spielberg has the sound guys play the theme from JAWS over loudspeakers as a prank. This was Fanning’s first ever stunt too! Bad Steven!

#3 A lot of people think that certain sets look “false”. The fact is that Spielberg had sets from the 1953 original recreated in exact detail as a homage and a nod to cinephiles.