The everyday processes of the world come to a startling halt as destructive forces from another planet come to claim the Earth as their own in the new Steven Spielberg thriller, War of the Worlds.
The Sci-fi feature is based on the H. G. Wells literary masterpiece about a hostile alien invasion and the struggle for survival amidst the catastrophe. To say the least, War of the Worlds is no E.T. Spielberg does his best to make the novel a modern marvel with the aid of a flurry of special effects and a dose of CGI treatment.
War of the Worlds delves almost directly into the action, only briefly introducing Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) as a blue-collar absentee father. His two kids, the teenage rebel Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and darling Rachael (Dakota Fanning), come to stay with Ray while their mother and stepfather go on a weekend vacation. Ray’s kids are less than enthusiastic to spend time with their dear old dad and make no effort to hide their disappointment.
The disjointed family is treated to an early morning storm of swirling clouds and hazardous lightning. The oddity about this particular storm is that there is no rain or thunder, and lightning continually strikes the same spot in the heart of the city. Ray leaves the kids at home and runs to the site just in time to see the chaos unfold. The earth erupts, and a robotic creature springs from the upturned gravel and rains terror on the helpless citizens and structures of the city. The race for survival begins as Ray runs to rescue his family from a literal hell on earth.
The beginning of the film is intense, grab-the-edge-of-your-seat scary as the alien’s march to conquer the world starts. Spielberg manages to create a true feeling of urgency and fear. He does this well for the first 30 minutes. The film then falls into the typical pitfalls of many suspense thrillers and alien flicks. The action becomes a series of approaching aliens and fleeing innocents. Basically, it becomes a cat-and-mouse game.
While the effects are grand and technically pretty amazing, they do not make up for the lack in plot and mediocre dialogue. War of the Worlds meets summer film expectations of being a huge production and a film that is basically nothing more than nice to look at.
The acting does not fare much better. Cruise delivers his performance well but is obviously given little to work with. The case is much the same with Fanning’s dialogue mostly consisting of shrieks of terror. Tim Robbins contributes the best performance in a brief role as Ogilvy, an erratic man who offers Ray protection in his bomb shelter.
While the aliens themselves are a step up from those in films such as Signs, they are disappointing and nothing new. Spielberg makes the mistake of showing the audience the actual aliens while the effect would have been more powerful if left to the imagination.
Overall, War of the Worlds feels recycled and flat. All reason for the attack is lost in big expensive effects and cheap thrills. War of the Worlds fits the bill as a flashy summer feature, but even its moments of brilliance can’t save it from being a considerable let down. Maybe Cruise’s antics in the media were meager attempts to distract from a poorly made film. H. G. is probably turning in his grave.
Action, PG-13, Running time: 117 min.