Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Premise: In this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ book, Martians land in modern day New York and launch an attack intended to wipe out the human race.
What Works: Spielberg, generally usually associated with sentimental, non-offensive family friendly pictures, has made what is possibly the most intense post-9/11 film yet. The film is shot in ways that are more reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan than Close Encounters of the Third Kind and consequently looks more like a war film than a traditional science fiction film. It visually references World War II, September 11th, and Holocaust imagery. This imagery is combined with a very quick pace that makes the film very unnerving. It also works against the spectacle of destruction in films like Independence Day; in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds we are reminded that people are being destroyed, not just architecture. All the acting is good. Tom Cruise plays against type as the very flawed father of Justin Chatwin and Dakota Fanning. These kids really give really the film its emotional center and Fanning’s vulnerable but smart role steals the show in many respects.
What Doesn’t: In an effort to be faithful to the H.G Wells’ book, the film maintains the original resolution. The trouble is that Wells’ novel used the ending in a way that makes thematic sense, but in the film it comes off as a deus ex machina storytelling error. The film may have been better off changing the ending from the novel (as Spielberg did in Jaws) or doing more to prepare the audience for the twist.
Bottom Line: Despite the trouble of the ending, War of the Worlds does stand as one of the best films in the alien invasion genre. The picture is sufficiently scary and entertaining and should appeal to fans of Cruise, Spielberg, and science fiction or action films. It is also a film that demonstrates how science fiction, perhaps beyond other film genre, is uniquely able to address the anxieties of the contemporary culture by presenting them in a palatable fashion.
Episode: #58 (July 3, 2005)