Jaws It Ain’t
War of the Worlds
Dir: Steven Spielberg
“Yet across the gulf of space … intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”
Morgan Freeman speaks these words, written by H.G. Wells over a century ago, in the prologue of Steven Spielberg’s 2005 summer blockbuster. These words set the tone for the shape of things to come. There are no sombre-faced presidents to explain to us what is happening. Instead, we are told the story from ‘the grunts’ point of view: everyman Tom Cruise, divorced from his wife and emotionally detached from his two kids, played by Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin. So it’s no surprise that his kids are less than pleased to be spending a weekend with him.
After some brief and painful attempts at family bonding, a terrified Cruise watches as the aliens begin their invasion. It’s one of the best scenes of the film: ships burst from the ground and start wreaking havoc, evaporating people, and generally heralding the end of the world.
Cruise collects his kids and is able to drive out of the city, passing thousands of stranded onlookers. What follows are a series of increasingly terrifying events as the family run and hide all over New England hill-and-dale, having close encounters with the bloodthirsty kind along the way.
The film then dwells a bit too long in the basement of an old farmhouse, with Tim Robbins looking and talking like a parody of a crazed yokel, but the tension created within this small space is palpable. Here we get to see a couple of the invading creatures, which I think was a bit of a mistake, as they would have remained far more mysterious and fearsome had we been left to imagine them.
Spielberg’s wonderful, long-time cinematographer, Januz Kaminski, who has photographed every Spielberg film since Schindler’s List, creates an atmosphere of doom and gloom. This is one of the few films of recent years where the computer-generated objects blend seamlessly with the surroundings, giving them a frighteningly realistic look.
Family is central to the film. While on the surface, it may be about aliens ripping apart the Earth, at its core is Cruise, convincing as the no-nonsense papa-bear, learning how to be a better father and atoning for all his past neglect. Families reuniting, or new family units emerging under difficult circumstances, is a central theme to many Spielberg films, from E.T. to Hook to Jurassic Park – the list could go on.
Unfortunately (and I feel obliged to warn those of you who haven’t seen the movie to STOP READING), the film’s final few minutes are awful. I can forgive the fact that all the aliens die because they contract Earth viruses (it’s also part of the book). I cannot forgive the fact that every single member of Cruise’s family survives – his ex-wife, her husband and even the kid’s grandparents – proving all you have to do to survive an alien invasion is stay inside your house. I don’t mind a slightly implausible happy ending, but a ridiculously implausible ending to what is otherwise a very good piece of blockbuster fun is insulting.
Watch it for the thrills and amazing craftsmanship, but though it may be a technical triumph, in the end it seems as if Spielberg and his screenwriter David Koepp, have misjudged their audiences’ 'vast and cool and unsympathetic' intellects. llewopemearg