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War of the Worlds

A 2005 movie starring Tom Cruise

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  • Aug 5, 2011
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The most that one can say for Steven Spielberg's adaptation of H.G. Wells' most famous novel is that it doesn't try to be anything other than what it is. Unsurprisingly, the movie's story is bookended by graceless and unnecessary expositional narration and opens with fifteen minutes (ten too many) of an equally pointless introduction to the central characters. Nonetheless, this is escapist entertainment and it's presented as such, and I'm almost surprised that Spielberg didn't attempt to work some social message into the storyline. Triumph is not merely the absence of failure, and this film hovers between the two.

Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning are entirely adequate in their roles, though plenty of unknowns could have performed them just as well at a fraction of the cost. In fact, Cruise's presence isn't necessarily an asset to a film's production, considering how the public has recoiled in disgust and amusement from his tactless advocacy of Scientology and psychotic antics. Never mind, though; Spielberg has become something of a dinosaur, and star power still means so much to him. Tim Robbins is considerably less convincing as a grizzled, unstable shut-in. All of the cast's talent can't overcome the screenplay's lack of a single likable character. His output over the past fifteen years indicates that Spielberg has long forgotten what makes for a sympathetic character, so I didn't expect to glimpse one in the first place.

Predictably, the special effects of this outing prove to be far more satisfying than its human element. Rising up with menacing, groaning sirens as they shoot their human targets to ash with heat rays, those looming, annihilative tripods are great fun, as are the gruesome consequences of the invading extraterrestrials' feeding habits. There are a few notable faults - some conspicuous digital birds, a few frames here and there in moving shots where the green screen backgrounds aren't entirely believable and CGI smoke that never looks real (as usual). Otherwise, the CGI is entirely credible, and while this is hardly the overwhelming spectacle that Spielberg would like it to be, it's very exciting at its best - almost enough to distract the viewer from the hokey, clichéd tragedy superficially written into the story.

At the very least, this was much easier to stomach than Spielberg's prior outing with his dwarven leading man, that noxious and moronic adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Minority Report, but overall, it's pretty forgettable. Despite one embarrassingly stupid, ridiculously gimmicky wraparound shot and some annoying closeups, there are relatively few sour notes here, and thankfully little of the idiotic dialogue that have become a staple of Spielberg's movies. For whatever reason, Janusz Kamiński chose to light every single interior shot with absurdly high contrast and no small amount of glittering, glowing light. The result is darkness that never impedes the viewer's vision, and photography that makes even the most grotty sets somehow look photogenic. Maybe I'm wrong to expect abject ugliness where it's supposed to be, or to hope that a director and his DP have the guts to shoot in pitch blackness or something like it, where the famous actors' faces aren't always entirely and immediately recognizable. Well, what's the point? When all is said and done, this is just another of hundreds of remakes and retreads, and it's not as though Spielberg will ever trust his viewers to accurately perceive even a hint of ambiguity. If I wanted art, I'd watch some.

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More War of the Worlds (2005 movie) reviews
review by . September 09, 2009
   Speilberg has done a superb job making this movie which is highly original from the 1953 version. In it Tom Cruise is an irresponsible divorced father who is given charge of his two children for the weekend. The movie is about how he has to cope with death all around him while keeping his children and himself from becoming mad.       There are some real touching and heart wrenching scenes especially when his young daughter is witnessing the horrors of people being …
review by . January 21, 2009
One thing I will always do when watching a film of this kind is always look for the positives as, let's face it there isn't going to be many. Being a Stephen Spielberg picture, there was a lot that this movie could have offered, seeing as he's considered a Sci-Fi directing legend (in my eyes anyway). The War of the Worlds legacy is a massive one with the original H.G. Wells novel in 1898, the 1938 radio broadcast that led to a few people committing suicide due to them thinking the world really was …
review by . July 24, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Story, special effects of Tripods Aliens, thankfully this was on HBO.     Cons: Plot holes, terrible ending.     The Bottom Line: Could have been great....ultimately bloated and did not reach a suitable conclusion.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot. I so wanted to enjoy this movie. I really did. I am a fan of Tom Cruise (I forgive him for his PDA tendancies), I really love Dakota Fanning …
review by . November 24, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
The real dazzler about this reincarnation of an old story is that it IS the reincarnation of an old story. H.G. Wells published his scary sci-fi novel in 1898, Orson Welles terrified the country in his 1938 radio drama version of the book, in 1953 the book became a film, and now in the time of terrorism Steven Spielberg makes the story not an invasion from Mars but an enemy from within the bowels of the globe. Quite a fest for a book over a hundred years old to still seem pertinent.    Steven …
review by . December 02, 2005
The movie is alright, I think they (preview, trailer, media, etc...) hype it up too much before it was released. The special effects are outstanding the scenes of the tripods ascending from the streets and rocking the city was amazing. There are also some classic lines, e.g., "...are we dead?" this is extermination!", "...are you your mother, or mine?", and "...they come in the lightning..." Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, but I was surprised at how small Miranda Otto's (Lord of the Rings) part was.    &nb …
review by . October 28, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
WAR OF THE WORLDS was one of the few movies I definitely wanted to see during the summer of 2005. I was really looking forward to it. Having heard Stephen Speilberg comment over and over again how he would never make a "bad alien" movie, I was more than curious to see how his adaptation of the really first "bad alien" story would turn out. I guess I had my expectations set too high because I was disappointed.    The film starts off promising enough. Spielberg updates Wells' classic …
review by . December 28, 2005
Based on H.G. Wells' book, "War Of The Worlds" had everything it needed to be a superb film, but it was as dull as the thud of the alien tripods' feet. The film started out very well, with plenty of build-up to prepare the viewer for what was to happen. The relentless alien attack was very tense. There was plenty of pop and fizzle to grab the eyes. Even in the basement, this film was very tense. However, the conclusion to this film was wretched. It totally killed any and every ounce of anxiety that …
review by . July 24, 2005
Pros: Technically flawless.     Cons: No emotional connection was established between us and the characters.      The Bottom Line: In the final analysis, War of the Worlds was mildly entertaining, but not at all thought-provoking, or partially profound.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. My wife is enamored with Tom Cruise and swears most women are as well. I however, can take or leave the man. …
review by . June 28, 2005
Pros: Nice Setup.     Cons: Lousy acting, weak FX, little action, paper thin plot.     The Bottom Line: With so much potential, it is hard to believe this went so far south.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. In a summer season of grand blockbusters, “War of the Worlds” is perhaps the biggest dud in years, and is a failure of epic proportions. The film is a remake of the classic 1953 film …
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Robert Buchanan ()
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I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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About this movie


Despite super effects, a huge budget, and the cinematic pedigree of alien-happy Steven Spielberg, this take on H.G. Wells's novel is basically a horror film packaged as a sci-fi thrill ride. Instead of a mad slasher, however, Spielberg (along with writers Josh Friedman & David Koepp) utilizes aliens hell-bent on quickly destroying humanity, and the terrifying results that prey upon adult fears, especially in the post-9/11 world. The realistic results could be a new genre, the grim popcorn thriller; often you feel like you're watching Schindler's List more than Spielberg's other thrill-machine movies (Jaws, Jurassic Park). The film centers on Ray Ferrier, a divorced father (Tom Cruise, oh so comfortable) who witnesses one giant craft destroy his New Jersey town and soon is on the road with his teen son (Justin Chatwin) and preteen daughter (Dakota Fanning) in tow, trying to keep ahead of the invasion. The film is, of course, impeccably designed and produced by Spielberg's usual crew of A-class talent. The aliens are genuinely scary, even when the film--like the novel--spends a good chunk of time in a basement. Readers of the book (or viewers of the deft 1953 adaptation) will note the variation of whom and how the aliens come to Earth, which poses some logistical problems. The film opens and closes with narration from the novel read by Morgan Freeman, but Spielberg could have adapted Orson Welles's words from the famous Halloween Eve 1938 radio ...
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