Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Revisiting The Invasion - Spielberg
and Cruise recount their on-set experiences. The H.G. Wells Legacy.
Steven Spielberg And The Original War of the Worlds - Gene Barry
and Ann Robinson, the stars of the original 1953 film, share their
experiences. Characters: The Family Unit. Pre-Visualisation -
Spielberg in pre-production. Production Diaries: East Coast. Production
Diaries: West Coast. Designing The Enemy: Aliens and Tripods.
Scoring War of the Worlds. We Are Not Alone. Photo Gallery.
SINCE it was first published in 1898, HG Wells' The War of the
Worlds has been recreated on numerous occasions by film-makers
with a penchant for staging widespread destruction on the grandest
Most recently, in 1996, we had Roland Emmerich's Independence
Day - a spectacular crowd-pleaser that was all about jingoistic
flag-waving and American bravado triumphing over insurmountable
Now comes Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, an altogether
different beast that takes a classic tale and capably transforms
it into something that reflects the world in which we live today.
It's all about fear. Fear of attack. The fear that comes with
being vulnerable. And the fear of having failed as a human being.
It is a blockbuster tailor-made for the post 9/11 audience. One
which contains all-too real parallels with the events of that
day and which taps into the psychology of being an American today.
It delivers on the spectacle, of course, but each set-piece comes
riddled with tension - Emmerich's wow-factor having been replaced
with something far more disturbing.
And it's most certainly not for children given the adult nature
of its scenes of destruction.
The film centres around Tom Cruise's Ray Ferrier, an arrogant
divorcee, who agrees to look after his teenage son (Justin Chatwin)
and young daughter (Dakota Fanning) for a long weekend while his
pregnant ex-wife (Miranda Otto) heads to Boston for a hard-earned
It's clear from the outset that tensions run high between Ray
and his children but their bond is put to the test following a
series of catastrophic events that result in towering, three-legged
war machines emerging from the earth and incinerating everything
in their path.
Earth is under attack from aliens and ill-equipped to fight back,
prompting Ray to go on the run with his children in a desperate
bid to survive.
The ensuing chaos is a genuinely exciting and frequently terrifying
experience that has to rate as a major triumph for both star and
director given the short space of time it took to create.
Spielberg wastes precious little
time in establishing the scenario and then packs the film with
awe-inspiring set pieces that look devastatingly authentic.
The arrival of the war machines is particularly well-handled
as they arrive amid a flurry of strange weather phenomena.
But what follows is no less exciting, neatly counter-balancing
moments of awe-inspiring spectacle with nailbiting tension as
only Spielberg knows how.
A sequence aboard a boat expertly demonstrates Spielberg's ability
to deliver moments of sheer adrenaline-rush cinema, while the
claustrophobic moments inside a bunker owned by Tim Robbins' unstable
ambulance driver will have audiences collectively holding their
Yet what lends proceedings an extra edge is the eery sense of
familiarity that permeates throughout - not just from previous
films, but from real life as well.
It's no coincidence that Spielberg has chosen to start his film
in New York City, yet while he avoids depicting the destruction
of obvious landmarks such as The Statue of Liberty, the tumbling
of a church serves as a chilling metaphor for the role of religion
in contemporary society.
Likewise, images of survivors stumbling the streets while covered
in the ash of victims, or noticeboards covered in the faces of
lost loved ones, provoke harrowing memories of the footage from
This is very much a grown-up blockbuster, one which doesn't shy
away from the spectacle that is required from its target audience
but which no longer revels in it.
Destruction has consequence. The human cost is all too apparent.
For Cruise's self-centred hero, it exposes his shortcomings as
a father, and the actor does well to convey the mounting desperation
of both his predicament and his feelings towards a distant family.
Amid the carnage, there is a chance to learn from past mistakes,
to forgive and reconcile. It is the continued threat to Cruise's
family that gives the film its strong emotional core.
The only disappointment comes in the ending, which feels rushed
and awkwardly sentimental.
There are few surprises and the major one that occurs merely
serves to lessen the impact of a pivotal scene that has gone before.
Yet Spielberg is renowned for giving into the need for a happy
ending and does so again, while also deciding not to stray too
far from Wells' source material.
Taken as a whole, however, War of the Worlds is an impressive
achievement and a brilliant summer movie. It is a blockbuster
of its time that chills as much as it excites.
Global box office success
for Cruise and Spielberg
Tom Cruise interview