War of the Worlds (Review of 4/5)
During massive world-wide blackouts and storms, the worlds population come under siege from alien tripod figures that have seemingly been buried under their cities for hundreds of years. Welcome to War of the Worlds!
As these machines lay waste to buildings and slay any human being they see, we follow one father and his two children as they attempt to escape the carnage.
Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), a divorced dock-worker, estranged from his two kids, must deliver them to safety while society and the world around them is literally torn apart.
War of the Worlds is a 19c classic!
Now in case you weren’t aware, this film is a remake of a 50′s classic, made from the 1898 H. G. Wells science fiction novel that took the world by storm. I must admit that I have been brought up listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the production, which is epic and I’d definitely recommend anyone to listen to…. ok maybe not ANYone… but definitely if you enjoyed this film even slightly… check out Jeff Wayne’s version.
Onto the modern WotW movie then…
This film starts off a little slow, with the majority of the screen time being for character development; we see that Ray’s marriage has failed, his wife has begun to move on and the children stuck in the middle don’t particularly get on with their father.
The alien invasion begins and we see some great visuals of the storm, the devastation caused by the tripods and of the cities being turned to ruined. We’re shown a few clips to get the point across that this is happening world wide, not just around the Ferrier’s.
As the invasion continues to push from city to city, we see glimpses of society totally breaking down. In particular we see a very dark and well directed scene where a desperate crowd turn on Ray and his kids because they have a working car. Another scene shortly afterwards involves the car ferries – this again was very well directed and shot, and I believe conveyed the chaos and panic that large crowds impose on themselves very well.
As the family gets separated during a chaotic moment on a hillside overlooking the invading force, Ray Ferrier must decide whether to stop his son, Robbie (played by Justin Chatwin), from running off to help/see the military, or his daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) from being carried off by strangers. Choosing the younger, Ray rescues his daughter and takes shelter in a nearby basement with Harlan (Tim Robbins), a man with grand delusional ideas of fighting back when the aliens least expect it.
After several slow moments of a ‘cat-and-mouse’ style hide and seek inside the basement with the aliens, the film begins to speed up. The remaining two Ferrier’s are soon rounded up and caught by machines that seemingly appear from no where, but fear not, they escape soon afterwards (surviving a 100+ foot fall by landing in a dead tree?!?). They then appear entering a city, I cant remember which one, but the military are helping to move all civilians. An alien tripod has crashed into the side of a massive building, while another seems to wonder around in a sort of bewildered drunken state. Ray points out to the military that the tripods shields are down and the military quickly dispatches it.
The film is then rounded up with all the Ferrier’s meeting up, including son Robbie who Ray thought must have died. We’re quickly told by the narrator that ever since the aliens landed they were doomed. Paraphrased it goes something like; “Unlike man, who’d earned the right to live on this planet by suffering a billion deaths beforehand, the aliens had not.”
Why the quick wrap up?
This seemingly throw away sentence is easy to miss, and in my mind, would leave the normal un-experienced WotW viewer completely lost as to why the aliens died. They’ll probably put it down to what they actually saw, American troops sending missile after missile into the tripod until it fell over. What REALLY happened, and what is dangerously hard to figure out from the film, is that the aliens came to our planet and began to consume matter they had not experienced before. With that, they also consumed and were attacked by bacteria and viruses that humans had become immune to, but the aliens had not. The story is meant to be about the fall of a great empire (the aliens) because of the actions of tiny, seemingly insignificant things (bacteria). In fact I think H.G.Well’s admitted it was a warning about the fall of the vast British Empire… but thats probably a sidepoint altogether.
Why re-write it, the original script was brilliant!
The way the story was edited from the original, for whatever reason the directors had, annoys me. The narration, which is iconic to any WotW or sci-fi fan, shouldn’t have been changed. Unfortunately because the story changed (the aliens were no longer martians, and the tripods didn’t come from space, they were already underground, etc etc), the narration also had to change.
To me the film feels like they got bored, or felt that the viewers would get bored, with a 5 minute ending clearly explaining why the tripods failed to end the world. Perhaps the directors wanted people to think the American military saved the day? All in all a good alien invasion film, especially the first half, but ulimately not a brilliant War of the Worlds.
Definitely shouldn’t have the name War of the Worlds, I feel Well’s would have been disappointed.
A generous 4 out of 5 I think