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War of the Worlds (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

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 of scales.

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 odds.

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 break.

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 breath.

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 9/11.

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

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