War Of The Worlds (2005) Directed By Steven Speilberg. With Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin and Tim Robbins.
When the director of Jaws and Raiders Of The Lost Ark announces he’s making an alien invasion film, there comes a certain buzz of excitement. For my money, Steven Spielberg is at his most effective as a film-maker when the subject matter is lower-rent. That’s not taking anything away from the likes of Saving Private Ryan, it’s hard to think of another director who entertains with such magic, yet humanises what looks on the surface as throwaway B-movie material. It’s testament to his talent that a movie about a giant fish terrorising a beach community endures to be celebrated and revered as much today as it has ever been.
So on to War of The Worlds, Spielberg’s stab at reviving H.G Wells’ seminal, classic sci-fi horror. Modern-day alien invasion films have depicted the end of the world as a global catastrophe with vast military presence. Cartoon President’s ordering – “Go to DEFCON4!“, and an abundance of CGI critters. What we have here is a more personal account of the invasion as told through the eyes of Tom Cruise’s Ray Ferrier, as he and his two children flee the alien apocalypse. This keyhole view of the invasion is a bold, but effective move. At times, we glimpse the unfolding disaster in the background as it envelops everything behind our escaping protagonists. That’s not to say there aren’t jaw-dropping, full on CGI moments, but these are done sparingly and without ever feeling like something’s being jammed into your face until you submit.
Spielberg also understands the threat and suspense created by implication. When it comes to use of sound, as with Jaws, he proved how much you can heighten that sense of impending danger with a few notes. In War Of The Worlds, the alien invaders have machines that omit a low sonic boom that immediately sends shivers down the spine and recalls the ominous sound of the air raid sirens used during World War II. It’s another master stroke – a simple idea executed for maximum impact.
Jumping and leaping around like the perennial energiser bunny, Tom Cruise brings great verve to the film. Instead of playing the typical all American hero, his character is presented as a failing father whose relationship with his children borders on mutual apathy. Once all hell breaks loose, that dysfunction allows the film a pleasing dramatic opportunity, which helps drive it forward on two fronts. If I have any criticism, it’d be that the film isn’t long enough. In some ways that’s a back-handed compliment. Such was my enjoyment that I was disappointed when the end came so abruptly. All things considered, though, another fine addition to an impressive catalogue of films from the king of the summer blockbuster. 4/5