DreamWorks // 2005 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // December 16th, 2005
"No one would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiple in a drop of water. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world. Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us."
War of the Worlds may have slightly suffered some popular appeal due to the behavior that Tom Cruise (Collateral, The Last Samurai) was exhibiting leading up to the film's premiere. However, the slump only translated to a box office gross of over $230 million. But if that's disappointing, what's considered a Spielberg bomb? Regardless, at the end of the day, is War of the Worlds good enough to ignore the couch jumping and marriage proposing?
In War of the Worlds, based on the H.G. Wells story and directed by Steven Spielberg (Jaws, The Terminal), we have Ray Ferrier (Cruise), a divorced father of two who has his kids for a weekend. His son Robbie (Justin Chatwin, Taken) is the older and more rebellious one. He wears a Red Sox cap when Ray likes the Yankees, and is somewhat hostile to Ray. It's like he was playing the prototypical child of a divorced family who was mad at one of his parents. The younger child is daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning, Man on Fire, Uptown Girls), who is somewhat more receptive to her father's care, but doesn't seem to mind either way. Ray works at a dock and drives a pimped-out Mustang, and seems to not have a care in the world.
Things take a turn when a storm nearby contains a lot of lightning, some of it hitting in the same spot, which is unheard of. Ray decides to check it out, and goes down the block, where a machine slowly emerges from under the asphalt, with lasers that vaporize everyone. He gets home and loads the family into a minivan and out of New Jersey, where the machines attack and shoot up everything. You've seen the trailer, so you can remember what happened. So the rest of the film focuses on Ray's attempts to get to Boston and get the kids to safety.
One could only presume that another Spielberg and Cruise partnership would yield excellent results, similar to 2002's excellent Minority Report. The film focuses on how Rachel sees the events around her transpire, and Robbie and Ray's continuous conflicts. Robbie wants to fight the aliens, and Ray wants to get the kids to safety.
The problem is that most of what is seen in this movie are things we have already seen before in other Spielberg films. One scene could easily have been plugged into Schlindler's List, some visuals are almost deleted scenes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, while others appear to be identical in concept to Minority Report. The film isn't without some merit; there are some camera shots and panning that looks good too, along with a shot that required so much editing that I re-watched it to see where the cuts could have been. But I just wasn't overwhelmed or enthralled with this film as I have with other Spielberg films. To cater to my sensibilities, War of the Worlds would have been more fun focusing on the chase, or the battle, than it did with the flees to safety. And for any people who say that this film is some leftist slap at the "War on Terror," I'd suggest that you're reading far too much in this little romp. For his role as Harlan, Tim Robbins (Bob Roberts, Mystic River) seems to be more insulting as a stereotypical slack jawed yokel than he does by slipping in any subliminal message into his dialogue. Besides, I tuned out of the film before that point. And at the end, there's a resolution that can only be described as so "Spielbergian," even my cats saw it coming.
From a performance side of things, not everything was bad. In fact, Chatwin and Fanning are actually OK. In a way, Fanning is carrying the film when it's not focused on Cruise, and sadly, that's a good thing. At this point in his life, one would think that Cruise would be tired of playing the single guy out having fun. This film may be the end of that era, because at times, he looks almost confused in his part, and his attempts to reach out to his kids seem to be void of any real emotion at all. It is a shame, because he is a superb dramatic actor when it comes to crunch time; hopefully he's realizing that being the action star is getting a little, well, old.
DreamWorks joined a growing trend of DVD releases with War of the Worlds. You can either pay a good price for a fairly barebones release, or you can pay more than expected for an expanded edition of the film. And aside from a 15 minute look at the robots/aliens in the film, there's nothing else on this single disc DVD version. When it comes to how this disc looks, god bless cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who is on his eighth collaboration with Spielberg, but the way this film looks is just bad. The grain and blown out whites in the film are reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan and yes, Minority Report, perhaps to compensate for occasionally noticeable seams between live action and CG shots. However, the audio tracks sound great. If nothing else, it is a loud film. I kept turning the volume down on my receiver, I was that surprised by the volume. And there's a lot of work on the low end, with deep bass noise almost constant.
Well, one has got to give points to Spielberg for making sure that Gene Barry and Anne Robinson, who were in the 1953 version, appear in cameos. And my wife was a lot more scared and enjoyed the film more than I did. I guess I'm in the minority on this. Forgive me for using Minority Report as a bit of a crutch in this review, but that's what I took away from this experience.
I didn't come into War of the Worlds expecting anything, but what disappointed me is just how directionless the film was. Most of the performances are empty, some of the CG scenes appear recycled, and I just wasn't engrossed in the film as much as I thought I'd be. If you see this on your Netflix queue, delete it. Or better yet, catch the 1953 version of the film that captured a lot more of the tension and terror in it than this remake does.
War of the Worlds is found guilty of lack of imagination. However, community service is sentenced for the cast and crew, based on their previous work.
Review content copyright © 2005 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens"
* Official Site
* War of the Worlds (1953) Review