War of the Worlds (2005) Review

*Small spoilers inside

It's hardly fair to judge this big budget adaptation of War of the Worlds based on the plot holes. The 1898 book is a classic (and it should be), so by ripping this Steven Spielberg piece, you're also ripping the H.G. Wells novel. There are parts of the film, including the horrible, incomprehensible ending, that make it a bare that are the filmmaker's fault. The rest of the time, it's one of the best alien invasion movies in decades, and that's simply because it closely follows the story as written in a new era.

The film opens with a brilliant shot of foreshadowing, letting those that have seen the original film version and read the book know little has changed here. It wastes little time in getting started after that. The first half hour contains more destruction, brutal mayhem, and action then most straight disaster films. This one draws you in early, giving you enough of what you came to see from the start, so it has the opportunity to slow down and move on with its characters.

It closely follows the three main actors, Tom Cruise and his two children (including Dakota Fanning who is simply amazing here). It offers an amazing sense of being in a situation none of us will likely ever encounter, and making it all believable. Most of the death and destruction occurs from a human point of view. It gives the spectacular alien tripods immense weight and size, and the special effects never once manage to pull the viewer out of the film.

More proof to that is the scene in which out military begins their assault. As missiles, rocket launchers, helicopters, and tanks blast away at the advancing enemy, the camera focuses on Tom Cruise fighting with his son. The after effect of the military struggle is when the characters become involved, and we see that in fantastic detail.

Those opening moments (where most of the budget was likely spent) do cause the second half to drag in spots. You simply can't tell an audience "This is what the movie will be like" and pull out. Numerous scenes could have been cut without harming anything. By the hour mark, we're all well aware Tom Cruise's character is a bad father; there's no need to keep showing us.

Still, even this exposition offers some fantastic sequences. As Cruise enters a stranger's basement (played by Tim Robbins), he slowly comes to the realization this man will get him and his daughter killed. In a fabulous, eerie sequence, Cruise blindfolds his daughter and tells her to sing as he murders the man to survive. It's as effective as any scene involving aliens blowing things up.

By that point, silence becomes more terrifying than the death rays coming from the Martian machines. Just before every strike by the invaders, there's this calming quiet, if only to prepare you for what's to come. It's a sign that something is about to occur, and you don't want to be a part of it.

Nearly all of that is destroyed by the ridiculous ending. That has nothing to do with how the aliens die, but how Cruise's son managed to survive a near-nuclear explosion and make it home safely in one piece. His mother's block seems unaffected, along with Gene Barry and Ann Robison in a cameo as grandma and grandpa. Considering the sheer panic and violent war just moments before, it's illogical, and it's distinctly possible this was a studio call, or Spielberg's refusal to let his characters die.

Expected plot holes in the story aside, this is the closet thing to a perfect aggressive alien invasion movie you'll ever see. It offers everything you want, and does it often. It requires some thought (some people are still confused as to how the aliens demise came about), but not enough that you simply can't enjoy what you're watching.

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