Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Movie Review: War of the Worlds (2005)

United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 6/29/05
Running Time: 1:57
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, frightening images)
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto

Director: Steven Spielberg
Producers: Kathleen Kennedy, Colin Wilson
Screenplay: Josh Friedman and David Koepp, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
Music: John Williams
Studio: Paramount Pictures

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In years past, Steven Spielberg has helmed a boatload of gems. Very rarely is an unfavorable film added to his extensive filmography. With War of the Worlds—a remake of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic, the special effects, human drama, and brooding intensity compensate for any missteps that the happily-ever-after ending hastily takes. Even though War of the Worlds is neither a gem nor an unfavorable feature, it is still one loud and riveting ride.

One morning, crane operator Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) returns home from a long shift to greet his ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin), and pre-teen daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning). It is Ray’s weekend to have the kids. Ray has not had a good standing relationship with his children for quite some time, but that changes once a series of fierce lightning storms result in the surfacing of massive alien tripods. After evading one of the tripods, which have the capacity to dematerialize a human-being, Ray quickly gathers his offspring and makes a mad dash for Boston to meet his ex. Meanwhile, the tripods are roaming the Earth and decimating anything and everything in their paths.

Despite his recent pitfalls with the press, Tom Cruise is back—in a film where one and all can forgive him for constantly professing his love for Miss Katie Holmes, openly spreading the Scientology word, and profusely jumping on Opera’s furniture. Cruise performs on par with his previously shown aptitude as the uninvolved-turned-attached father. Although, it is difficult to pass Cruise – New York Yankees hat, jeans, and all – for a blue-collar worker, considering he has such a metrosexual head on his shoulders. Nonetheless, Cruise still belongs on the pedestal as one of this summer’s biggest action stars.

At Cruise’s side, Justin Chatwin (who Steven Spielberg previously cast in his TV mini-series “Taken”) fairs well as a typical disgruntled teenager. Spielberg’s utilization of Chatwin should serve as a stepping stone for him to move on to bigger and better things. Likewise, Dakota Fanning cries, screams, and hyperventilates quite convincingly. Bar-none, Fanning is one of the finest child actor available; here, her talent is a tad underused.

In addition to the core family of characters, Tim Robbins executes his role as a barn-laden ambulance driver with his expected vim laced with eeriness. Morgan Freeman also assists in the production by providing the opening and closing narration—making War of the Worlds the second theatrical release of 2005 (alongside of March of the Penguins) to feature Freeman’s voice, but no face.

Spielberg’s direction is as flawless as ever. Exactly how he incorporates the ILM technology is mesmerizing. From the initial instances where the “tripods” appear, to the concluding wonderment of the “red wheat,” Spielberg conveys oomph unlike any other—constantly elevating the level of suspense and suffocating the audience from scene to scene. However, with his faithful-to-the-novel ending, where the tension abruptly subsides, he falls into the snake-pit of convention.

War of the Worlds is wrapped up a little too quickly—enough to leave both an exceedingly saccharine and sour taste in the mouths of the moviegoers. Instead of rewriting an ending and taking the road less-traveled, screenwriters David Koepp and Josh Friedman allow their script to plummet into clichés and emit a bulk of artificial emotions. This is heartbreaking, because when War of the Worlds reaches its climax, it is on the verge of being outstanding.

War of the Worlds may be a slight comedown – with its conclusion – for Spielberg, but it is still a blockbuster motion-picture that deserves to be seen. On the whole, War of the Worlds is a big-budget summer hit that will make you both not regret withdrawing a few bucks from your wallet and forget that you are even wearing a watch. (*** our of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005