H.G. Wells’ book, The War of the Worlds, was an indictment of European colonialism. But throw that off your mind when you go watch Steven Spielberg’s latest CG-fest because it has almost nothing to do with the book.
The movie, unlike the book, which is set in London in the 1800s, is set in the post-9/11 world of New York. Tom Cruise plays the misunderstood deadbeat dad with a heart of gold whose wife has dumped him for a rich guy. His two children, a stereotypical whiny teenager and a little girl who has an affinity for screaming, come to spend a weekend with their father, whose relationship with his children is a distant one. They think that it will be a typical weekend. It all goes well for a while, until the aliens attack. You see, aliens have been watching us for centuries and have apparently planted huge metallic things with tentacles (called Tripods in the movie) in the ground, which are to be activated at a later date by pods which travel through lightning. Outlandish, isn’t it? And on the very same day the children visit their father, they decide to unleash their fury. Buildings get blown up, the road blasts open and the tripods emerge from the ground. Upon their emergence they start to annihilate the humans, who panic and run in fear. (Did I mention that all the cars in the city cease to work due to some unexplained phenomenon?) Tom Cruise decides to gather his children (the teenager whines, the little girl screams) and decides to flee in the only working car in the city. During their journey they have all sorts of crazy adventures. They meet a deranged TV news reporter, watch the city and its surrounding being destroyed by hundreds of tripods, and get shelter from a pedophilic psychopath. And in between all this lies a typical Hollywood plot about the bonding between Tom Cruise and his children, who learn to depend on each other and come close together in the time of crisis. Let me get the puke bucket.
War of the Worlds isn’t a bad movie. It is certainly better than other science fiction movies which are based around the oft-repeated plot of alien invasion. (Read Independence Day). The movie is very intense, with many tense moments and scenes of nail-biting action. Steven Spielberg knows how to make movies, I will give him that. And that shows in War of the Worlds. The movie is filled with vivid images: the immense tripods trampling the city, puny humans getting blasted to smithereens by their laser guns and scores of dead bodies floating in the river. Tom Cruise gives a solid performance and manages to play the role of the deadbeat father who must rise up to the occasion to protect his children very well. But the movie doesn’t feel complete. All we get is scene after scene of Tom Cruise and his children fleeing from one location to another, escaping death on every turn, while the aliens annihilate the human race. You never get a chance to connect with the characters because there is so much going on the screen at every second. In my opinion, the movie is confused. It tries to be both: a look at how a family reacts to a terrible situation and a science fiction movie about the invasion of Earth by strange extraterrestrials. Also the movie tries to squeeze in too much in too little time, often providing inadequate information. It never really explains exactly what the mission of the aliens is or why they decided to plant their minions on Earth. Also the movie also has one of the worst endings I have ever seen. I am not going to spoil it for you, but I am sure that you too will be disappointed at the haphazard conclusion.
The only reason I would want to go watch War of the Worlds in theaters is that the tripods would look cooler on the giant screen than on a television set. Plus, you never need a reason to get your ass off the computer and go outside.