"War Of The Worlds"
Dir: Steven Spielberg

Patricia Ducey

It’s summertime, and little Dakota Fanning is in jeopardy again. The 10-year-old star of last year’s spooky thriller Hide and Seek and killer/thriller Man on Fire now takes on huge hungry…Tripods! But Director Steven Spielberg and Producer/Actor Tom Cruise, along with the intrepid Dakota, deliver a tasty retro sci-fi adventure yarn based on the H. G. Wells classic. In an homage to WOW’s storied past, Morgan Freeman opens and closes the film in full Orson Wellsian basso profundo tones, reciting almost word for word the narration of his 1938 radio version that frightened listeners up and down the eastern seaboard. In addition, classic sci-fi buff Spielberg convinced two stars of the 1953 War of the Worlds version, Ann Robinson and Gene Barry, to make cameo appearances (as the grandparents) in this version. If you grew up on movies like The Day The Earth Stood Still, like Spielberg, you’ll want to see War of the Worlds.

The cast shines, and the script wisely focuses on one family, the Ferriers, and how their relationships are forged in the crucible of sci-fi hell. Tom Cruise ably plays Ray Ferrier, an unlikely hero, a working class stiff and divorced Dad. He’s irresponsible, self-centered and hanging on to his job and his life by a thread. His ex-wife (Miranda Otto) drops off their unwilling, pouty kids, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin), so she and her new husband can visit her aristo parents in Boston. Soon after, the sky darkens ominously, an ear-splitting lightning storm rips through the city, and the Tripods burst out of their hiding places under the city like chicks out of eggshells.

The huge Tripods resemble machines on stilts, whipping endoscope-like appendages all around them—all the better to collect their human fodder—as they pillage the countryside. Director Spielberg has a bit of fun in one scene as one of the endoscopes slithers into the cellar where Cruise, Dakota and wacko survivalist Tim Robbins cower. The thing bears an uncanny resemblance to ET, but this is not your mother’s ET—we squirm in suspense as the trio bobs and weaves to elude this vicious raptor. The machines look like something we could build, if we wanted to, which only emphasizes the central premise that these invaders are really only more advanced, or more lunatic, humans.

This is basically a political movie; the Tripods are executing a well-planned attack aimed at dominion over the Earth. No science-gone-wrong zombies or bloodthirsty chain saw-wielding maniacs here. The hapless humans have two big questions: how to get away from them or how to kill them. Lots of running and hiding ensues as they realize killing them is not an option. They leave that to the military, but fighter jets and armored tanks are blown to smithereens in the battle. Ray alternately stumbles and rises to the occasion in order to save his kids. In the end, he redeems himself. He doesn’t save the world, but he does save his family.

For those so inclined, the opportunity for allegorical allusion abounds here, as in any sci-fi flick. It could be about foreigners living among us who then attack, or about the folly of invading an alien culture, or about the importance of commitment in childrearing, or how crises brings out the best and, more often, the worst in human nature. It could be, if you really want it to.

But WOW is ultimately the perfect summer disaster movie: not excessively bloody or reality-based, full of characters we care about, and sealed with a comforting, if somewhat tragic, ending. We can sleep soundly after WOW because we learn what finally vanquished the dastardly Tripods from Outer Space. Here’s a hint: if you see one, just sneeze on him.

-- Patricia Ducey

Copyright Web del Sol, 2005

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