|WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005)|
David Alan Basche
|"There's nothing living in that direction! "|
|Time: 116 mins.|
Spielberg explores the dark side of science fiction yet again with Tom Cruise as his leading man. After watching WORLDS, I think I prefer the version of Earthís future as laid out in MINORITY REPORT where one has a fighting chance at survival. Based on the classic novel of the same name, WORLDS is basically the flip side of E.T. or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS where the aliens are curious about humanity, but far from friendly. Though a first class affair with top-notch effects, effectively disturbing visuals and fairly good acting all around, WORLDS will not be remembered much past the shock of the initial experience. Itís a fierce rollercoaster ride that touches primal emotions of fear, desperation and isolation yet never grabs the heart, despite a truly outstanding and subtle performance by Dakota Fanning. She ages before your eyes without ever calling attention to her acting. Itís an intense, honest, innocent heart-breaking turn that will leave you breathless. She makes everyone around her look like an amateur, turning the thankless role of beleaguered ingénue into the only character you care about surviving.
While the initial brutality of the attack left me speechless and riveted (the sound alone was traumatizing), after the first hour the unrelenting force of the action began to leave me mentally exhausted. We learn almost nothing about what's happening, which is done to heighten the disorientation and create terror, but ultimately the lack of mystery/knowledge left me bored with the endless carnage. As the film ticks on it becomes harder and harder to believe that our unhappy little family manages to stay alive as they make their way from New Jersey to Boston. Ray (Cruise) is so useless as a parent his daughter prefers the arms of her older brother Robbie (Chatwin) than those of her weekend dad, who turns out to be more lucky than brave or smart. Due to their constant movement to escape death or capture, we are never given any more than the usual trite character arcs to hang our hopes onto. Will the deadbeat dad redeem himself by stepping up to the plate to save the lives of his children? Can the surly son learn to appreciate their relationship before itís too late? Will the precocious daughter begin to trust and respect her father? Because our hero is Tom Cruise you know from the get go that the answers to all those questions is a resounding ďyesĒ.
Spielberg tries to scuff him up a bit, but itís never very believable. His encounter with Tim Robbins' insane and creepy "resistance fighter" is supposed to prove that he'll go to any lengths to protect his kids, but his moral "sacrifice" is rendered almost immediately unnecessary by subsequent events. Instead of letting the audience stew over the line he's just crossed, we are immediately sucked into another horrible situation which makes you instantly forget what happened in the basement and robs the sequence of it's power and his character of any depth. This becomes nothing more than the usual bastard-turned-hero arc Cruise has played throughout much of his career. He gives it his all, however, the film bails out time and time again when it comes to character or plot development. It's all about scaring the bejesus out of you and no one is better than Spielberg at turning the screws. Are the tripods scary? You bet. Do you feel the fear, disorientation and exhaustion of the leads in their struggle to survive this horrifying new world? Absolutely. And yet, when itís all said and done the ending left me disappointed in the experience. Since the humans never figure out a way to combat the aliens, weíre merely forced to watch them be killed like fish in a barrel until Mother Nature regains the upper hand. Though true to the ending of Wells original story, itís not very satisfying and more than a little unbelievable, especially the inevitable happy family reunion. Apparently Boston wasn't on the Top 50 list of cities to destroy. Good to know.
WAR OF THE WORLDS makes you wonder if you have the grit and determination to survive something as horrible as the events shown here. It also made me wonder why most people run towards the danger to assuage their curiosity instead of running away when they have the chance. Do you have to see the destruction yourself to know itís deadly? How weíve survived this long is clearly not through our own intelligence, which is one thing this film gets absolutely correct. While most viewers will probably be satisfied with this cinematic experience, itís not a film I think many, myself included, will be in a rush to revisit. Once you've taken this ride there's really nothing compelling about the story or characters to make you want to go back. A fun summer flick, but a film neither Spielberg nor Cruise will be rewarded for.