War Of The Worlds

War Of The Worlds

****1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

As a example of filmmaking, this is better than Jurassic Park and more complete than A.I. The tension is relentless and the effects awesome. Steven Spielberg and writers Josh Friedman and David Koepp are telling the story of an absent father, with his estranged kids, against a backdrop of total destruction. The intimacy of the human predicament is never abandoned for the sake of spectacle and the cinematography, with its grey, almost monochrome touch, reflects the ashen prospects of man's survival against the onslaught of giant alien invaders.

Spielberg has always tended to be inclusive with his blockbusters, spreading plot links wide to give a global perspective. Ironically, when faced with H G Wells's sci-fi classic, he takes an opposite view and stays close, avoiding almost entirely, but not quite, the TV news technique beloved by directors who need to keep their audiences up to speed on what's going on "out there."

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Ray (Tom Cruise) is an ordinary Joe, a mechanic and crane operator, father of two who live with their mom (Miranda Otto) in Boston. She has married again and is heavily pregnant when she dumps seven-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and teenage Robbie (Justin Chatwin) on him for a holiday break. It's obvious they don't know dad that well and resent - particularly Robbie - being there.

Soon nature starts behaving oddly, with massive electrical storms, followed by power failures and the immobilisation of mechanical devises, including motor vehicles. Panic seethes at the edge of knowledge as metallic monsters of gigantic size erupt from the earth, tearing up tarmac and destroying buildings. Once these towering tripods have been "switched on" by the lightning, they attack everything that moves with their laser weaponry.

The film follows Ray and the kids as they attempt to stay together, ahead of these robotic killing machines. It is one hell of a journey and reminiscent on a larger, yet more intimate, scale of Sam Neill's flight from the dinosaurs. There is a scene in a cellar, where a half crazed former ambulance driver (Tim Robbins) has holed up, that recalls the terrifying raptors-in-the-kitchen sequence from Jurassic Park.

It is so easy to be cynical about CGI and the effects revolution that directors' contributions can be overlooked. It would be foolish to do so here. Spielberg has made an extraordinary film that tackles the ultimate doomsday scenario with a unique visual style, even though the ending feels hurried and the 12A certificate too lenient.

What lifts War Of The Worlds higher than Jurassic Park, Close Encounters and The Lost World are the performances. Cruise discards his Mission Impossible/Last Samurai persona and acts as well as we know he can (Collateral, Born On The Fourth Of July). He is emotionally and physically vulnerable as Ray fights literally for the life of his children. With him every breath of the way are Fanning and Chatwin. All three carry us with them through this maelstrom that is Armageddon.

Reviewed on: 30 Jun 2005
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Earth is under attack and survival at a premium as giant alien robots gather for Armageddon.
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Read more War Of The Worlds reviews:

John Gallagher *****
The Exile ***1/2
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Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Josh Friedman, David Koepp

Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, David Alan Basche

Year: 2005

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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