War of the Worlds (2005)
Starring:
Tom Cruise, Miranda Otto, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Justin Chatwin
Directed By:
Steven Spielberg
Grade
A-

Okay, so Tom Cruise has made an unwanted spectacle of himself in the weeks prior to this movie's release. This alone might be reason for people to avoid seeing his most recent effort. Fortunately, War of the Worlds is helmed by Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters), whose track record makes this modern update of the H.G. Wells sci fi tale worth your notice. This tale, made popular by Orson Wells infamous radio drama, tells of the invasion of Earth by forces from Mars.

Instead of focusing on a more global scale, like Independence Day, WotW aims its narrative upon the plight of a bad father (Cruise) and his struggle to get his children to their mother's home in Boston (all the way from New York City). While that concept alone might be terrifying for Red Sox and Yankees fans, the true terror is presented in a realistically portrayed invasion by monstrous robotic tripod ships. At first, Tom and his neighbors are witness to an odd storm which lands 26 consecutive lightning strikes in one spot. He follows the crowd to the spot where the lighting has left its mark, only to be witness to the vanguard of the alien invasion and the damage it's death ray can cause.

From the start of the movie, things progress hard and fast, leaving the viewer breathless until the lull that arrives about an hour in. During this hour, though, the charters are developed on their action rather than on lengthy conversations, making them feel solid and connected to the viewer in a more emotional-based manner.

Performances from the limited cast are excellent all around. Cruise is once again superb as the failure of a father who begins the film as more of a child than a man, but through struggle, proves his worth as a father. Fanning is basically one long series of screams and terror-filled panic attacks. Tim Robbins shows up late in the movie, but plays paranoid like he's done it all his life. It's nice to see Miranda Otto (from Lord of the Rings) as the mother, although her parts are merely garnish.

As expected, the special effects are well done with being excessively overdone. Unlike George Lucas, Spielberg doesn't overuse CG for the sake of making CG effects. Still, the tripods and the havok they present are impressive on a scale that no real-time special effects could do on a reasonable budget. Some of the more intimidating scenes feature the tripods laying waste to fleeing humans are going about their macabre tasks later in the film. Near the end of the film, there are hints of Half Life 2 in the street sequences.

While the visual effects present some scenes that are actually gorgeous to behold, where the true terror is driven home is the audio effects that ground the monstrous machines in our world. When you hear the deep tone sound off, you know that things are only going to get bad.

On the whole, War of the Worlds is one of the best films you'll get to see this summer. Except for some minor "flubs" in the script (a handheld camera that works after an EMP attack) and an ending that might be a little too happy for some jaded viewers, WotW does just about everything right and does it with the right balance of action, social commentary and downright fear.

- - Vane

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