The debate about life on other planets has been raging since the earliest days of astrology, when men looked to the stars and attempted perceive of their own importance, and the vastness of the universe around us. Mankind looked to Mars, and Venus, our closest planetary neighbours and wondered “what if …”.
At the turn of the 20th century, HG Wells wrote ‘The War of the Worlds’, a novel outlining the destruction of mankind, at the hands of his planetary neighbours. Needless to say, it scared the crap out of a lot of people.
War of the Worlds, the new movie by Steven Spielberg, and adapted from the novel by HG Wells, starts off with a narration straight from the book, explaining that “across the gulf of space, intellects vast, and cool, and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes … and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us.”
The novel carries the theme of mankind’s sense of invincibility, and the resulting complacency, and sought to show mankind’s weakness and fragility.
The movie also shows mans weakness and fragility, and demonstrates it in the most simple way possible.
We meet Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) who is finishing work for the day, before rushing home to meet his estranged (and disrespectful) kids, who are being dropped off for their monthly visit.
I tell you, it would have been easy to complain about the family drama early on in the movie … except for the fact that it is finished before you get a chance to complain about it. Very quickly, lightning storms start hitting the major cities across the globe, and before you can say ‘what the heck is going on’ 3-legged alien machines are emerging from the ground.
Spielberg has got alien movie experience, but these aliens are nothing like the friendly ones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or the lovable one from ET – and they make it very clear by quickly destroying everything in sight, and providing the viewer with one of the best action sequences ever put down on film.
The initial scenes of the alien attack make for some of the most disturbing and scary scenes of the movie, as we follow Ray trying to escape, collecting his kids, and then trying to escape some more. Spielberg uses indirect shots of the aliens, for example reflections of the machines in windows, shots that are partly blocked by people or objects, and shots where smoke is blocking the machines, which serve to further increase the sense of terror.
From there, War of the Worlds deals with the survival of Ray and his kids, and the struggles they have to endure as the aliens systematically destroy every man, woman and child on planet Earth.
As far as the filmmaking goes, the special effects are probably the best effects available, but part of that is because you feel like the events are really taking place. The machines themselves are immense, and dwarf everything they come up against. The destruction scenes are as realistic looking as any movie, and again serve the purpose of showing mans weakness and fragility.
The acting is top-notch, and Cruise leads the way, performing as well in this movie as he has ever been. The supporting cast is great, with Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin, as Ray’s kids, holding up well under the strenuous conditions. Tim Robbins is great too, although his role is so small its almost a cameo.
While the movie was almost perfect, there were 3 things that annoyed me a little bit. The first is the pacing: after the first hour, the movie slows right down, as the aliens shift from destroying the masses to going after the individuals who have managed to hide.
Although it does slow down, it does get incredibly tense, and this leads to some of the most desperate and frightening scenes in the film.
The second thing is the anti-war sentiment which is used as an undercurrent in the film. Which leads to the third thing, the family aspect. Which then leads to the ending, which is predictable and wishy-washy.
However, as one reviewer put it, 96% of the movie is so good that you can forget about the 4% that isn’t so good.
One thing that did surprise me, and made me quite happy, was how Spielberg stuck to the book. While the story is modernised, and the location is changed, fans of the novel will find that several major events from the book have been brought into the movie, for example, the ship/harbour attack, the red vine, bodies floating down the river, the lone soldier, the vehicle hijacking, even the news crew. Part of me thinks that HG Wells would be incredibly pleased with this new imagining of his original story.
Overall, War of the Worlds will probably finish as the best sci-fi movie of all time, one of the best overall movies of all time, and will be remembered as the movie that made us forget just how cheesy Independence Day really was.
I’ve given it a 9.5 out of 10, and recommend it to anyone who wants to see a well-acted, well-scripted, well-balanced movie with enough action and destruction to satisfy the most hardcore action fan.