WAR OF THE WORLDS
Review by Gordon Justesen
Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins
Director: Steven Spielberg
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2005
the lightning back?”
this is something else.”
I’ve never wanted
to like a movie more than this, but War of
the Worlds is truly something of a disappointment, especially when one
considers the talent that was involved. Heck, the last time director Steven
Spielberg and superstar Tom Cruise collaborated; the result was one of the best
science fiction films of the last twenty years, Minority Report. And although the visuals in this movie are top
level, the overall effect can even begin to measure up to many of Spielberg’s
past endeavors, most notably Close
This is an
essentially a contemporary retelling of the classic H.G. Wells novel. What
Spielberg has done this time around, as far as I can tell, is make the alien
creatures similar to that of his man eating dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. There are countless sequences of humans getting
zapped and disintegrated by alien tripods, but no explanation as to why they are
invading in the first place. The result is essentially the same film as Independence
Day, but with a lesser effect.
Cruise, in a very
fine performance, plays Ray Ferrier, a New Jersey dock worker and single father.
Ray isn’t the best father in the world, as he is late to meet his ex-wife,
Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), who’s dropping their kids off with him for a few
days. His daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning), gets along with him just fine,
while older son Robbie (Justin Chatwin), isn’t the prettiest father/son
relationship you’ve ever seen.
As the day gets
darker, a strange dark cloud seems to be forming over the city. Lightning starts
to strike at the oddest points. Before long, the ground begins to seriously
shake, only there’s no earthquake occurring. Ray rushes downtown to see what
all the fuss is about, and is shocked at what he sees rise from below the
The rest of the
movie basically consists of Ray and his two children searching for safe shelter
as alien tripods invade not only America, but the entire world. Ray also has to
come to grips with the fact that he hasn’t been the best father, as his
relationship with Robbie seems to be on the breaking point. And as for Rachel,
she has a hard time trying to stay un-frightened.
I will give the
screenwriters, David Koepp and Josh Friedman, credit for applying a little twist
on the alien invasion plot. I thought it was neat to see that, this time around,
the alien invaders had buried themselves underground and were waiting for the
right time to make their strike against humans. I also was taken by a few visual
tricks Spielberg delivered, including a nice little suspenseful scene where
bright lights flash through a basement where Ray and his kids are hiding out.
Lastly, there was a
portion of the movie that I really was blown away by. It involves a character
named Ogilvy (Tim Robbins), a man who Ray meets up with late in the movie, and
who provides shelter to him. This character’s level of paranoia was more than
enough to make my skin crawl. Before long, it’s hard to determine which is the
greater threat, the predatory aliens or this man’s derangement. It’s a
section of the movie that finds an interesting and very dark solution.
I liked a lot of
what I saw in War of the Worlds.
Again, there were many times when I felt the urge to like a move so much, but
certain story points and character flaws kept me far from fully enjoying it. As
I mentioned, Cruise is in top form as always, but it’s the children characters
that got under my skin. Dakota Fanning, perhaps the best actress ever for her
age, irritates with frequent yelling, shrieking and crying. Meanwhile, Robbie is
portrayed as a son who’s constantly got something stuck up his you-know-where.
Another weak area
of the film is the conclusion. After all that has gone on, it seems the
screenwriters came up with the least creative way to resolve the defeat of the
aliens. Without explaining what it is, let me just say that hardly ever in a
single alien-invasion flick has an ending felt so rushed and tacked-on.
The movie will
indeed get Oscar nods for visual effects and sound (it absolutely deserves
them), but in retrospect, War of the
Worlds simply isn’t a breakthrough for a filmmaker with the name Steven
Spielberg. When you compare this film to others on a resume such as Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Jurassic Park,
Saving Private Ryan and especially Minority
Report, all that can be said is that the sense of wonder and impact that one
normally associates with Spielberg is sorely lacking.
Morgan Freeman provides brief narration in the opening and closing of the movie.
delivered one AMAZING looking disc! Leave it to Spielberg and gifted
cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to boast many incredible visual shots, which do
occupy the screen quite frequently. Image quality is consistently clear and
crisp. Nighttime shots also deliver a good effect. A hands down superb visual
All I can say
is…WOW! Though I’ve slammed the movie, I do think that on a technical level,
this is something of an achievement, and the folks at Dreamworks have mixed in
all the proper elements to make a most memorable sound experience. The 5.1 mix
in both Dolby and, ESPECIALLY, DTS will blow your minds. When the aliens invade,
a loud vibrating sound ignites that will make tremendous use of your speakers,
especially your subwoofer. The entire presentation is in as high-quality as you
could ever hope for a single movie to be heard in. Dialogue, music, effects,
action, etc. all get amazing attention. Truly one of the best sounding discs of
The only feature
included on this single-disc release is a 15 minute featurette entitled,
“Designing the Enemy”, which takes a look at how the alien creatures for the
movie were conceived and designed.
well-received by most and being one of the year’s biggest hits in theaters, War
of the Worlds just didn’t provide the usual sense of awe I get when
watching a Steven Spielberg movie. Having said that, I will say that the DVD
handling from Dreamworks is a technical accomplishment.