Written by Josh Friedman and David Koepp
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 1:56
for frightening sequences of
sci-fi violence and disturbing images.
War of the Worlds was a terrific summer popcorn movie. It had lots of explosions, aliens, graphic violence and a solid story and was very entertaining throughout.
Ray Ferrier is divorced and lives alone. One weekend his ex-wife drops off his two kids, Robbie and Rachel, and almost immediately things start to go bad. Ray isn't the greatest father in the world, and neither of his kids truly respects him. But just when Ray thinks his life couldn't get much worse, it all goes to hell. Aliens, who have been planning this attack for millions of years, bombard the planet with giant tripod machines that destroy everything in their path. Ray is suddenly thrust into the role of protector, something he hasn't had much practice with. His kids still don't listen to him and cling more to each other than their own father. But where do they go? The aliens are everywhere, so Ray decides the best course of action is to get to Boston (from either New Jersey or somewhere in New York City, I wasn't quite sure) to get to his ex-wife and her parents. Along the way they come face to face with the dark menace from above, and Ray and his kids learn what it means to be a family.
I went into War of the Worlds without high expectations. I've never read the book or heard the famous Orson Welles radio broadcast. And of course, Tom Cruise has been plastered all over the media lately, and not in the most flattering light. It kind of made the movie a little bit of a turn off, even though I enjoy almost everything he does, but I was able to put his personal life aside once the lights went down. The trailers for the film have been good, but not great. They don't show much, which is different in today's world, so when the movie got very intense, very quickly, I was on the edge of my seat. It only takes about ten minutes before things start happening, and once they do, they never let up. This is one of those movies I think people will go in not thinking it will be very good, but will leave raving about. Instead of offering up a simple "let's see how many aliens we can blow up" movie, Steven Spielberg has made a story more about a family trying to survive in a world that's eerily reminiscent of 9/11. There are scenes that could have been taken straight out of news footage of the attacks in New York, complete with people running from oncoming debris clouds and ending up covered in dust. Dakota Fanning's character even yells out at one point "is it the terrorists?" and it sent chills up my spine. It's been almost four years since the attacks, but this movie brought a lot of that back.
The special effects in the movie were very well done. There was never a time when you felt like you were looking behind the veil. There was one scene in particular that I thought was done incredibly well, and that was when Ray and his kids first hop into a car and start driving away. The camera starts off like it normally would in a scene like that, planted in the front of the car looking in. But it never stays that way. The camera moves in and around the car seamlessly, showing the action from at least five different points of view, but never looking like it was shot on a soundstage. The rest of the effects, from the alien ships on down to the actual aliens themselves (oh yeah, this movie doesn't tease you, you will see things you wouldn't expect), were also seamless and never went into the world of cheese.
What makes War of the Worlds different from say an Independence Day, was that you follow the travails of one family, instead of a bunch of people in intersecting stories, but also it was more of a serious film. ID4 was meant to be pure fluff while War of the Worlds gets you involved in real characters. Ray didn't suddenly turn into a great father when the aliens hit. He still yelled at his kids and never got control of them. He couldn't protect them all the time. He broke down and cried when things went too far with a crowd of people. He acted like most people would act, instead of turning into a hero out of nowhere. And his kids, especially Rachel, wasn't some preternatural prodigy, she was just a kid who screamed for her mother when she got scared. Instead of having characters that became extraordinary, the movie had characters who were regular people and I found that to be much more believable.
The other great thing about the movie was how graphic it got. I went in thinking this being a Spielberg film, we would get a lot of teasing and never really get into the dirty part of an alien attack, but I was very, very wrong. There is a reason this movie is rated PG-13 and it's not (just) for the language. When the aliens attack, they go all out, destroying buildings, homes, cars and yes, people. Don't go in thinking you can take your seven year old for a happy time at the movies. There is a lot of violence and a lot of scary moments. There are many scenes in the movie where people are hiding, and you would think it might get boring, but Spielberg manages to bring a serious amount of tension to the proceedings. The only real downside to the film was the ending, which seemed to come suddenly, and was at the very end, a bit too convenient. But otherwise, it was a great ride.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I would definitely go out and see War of the Worlds. It's a great summer movie full of great special effects, but it doesn't feel like mindless entertainment. The actors draw you in to their characters and make you believe that this could be happening. And see if you don't look up into the sky when you leave the theater!
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