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Friday, January 13, 2006

War of the Worlds — DVD Review

When Stephen Spielberg and Tom Cruise team up to re-make a well-known, if not quite a classic, film like War of the Worlds, something special is to be expected. Unfortunately, the remake seemed to rely on those expectations and sci-fi special effects to carry the film as opposed to good story-telling.

Cruise plays every day guy Ray Ferrier who is divorced, and is in the midst of his time with his son and daughter when, like the rest of the world, they are suddenly thrust into a fight for survival. The human race is being exterminated by aliens that have been stalking planet earth for centuries.

I feel like their should be more to that summary, and therein lies the problem with this movie. There isn’t any more to summarize. It’s the typical disaster, the world-is-coming-to-an-end flick, with the possible exception that it focuses entirely on one family. That actually backfired as there was absolutely no sense of how the “world” was reacting. There was merely an overwhelming sense of complete hopelessness.

I get what Spielberg was going for – boil this massive fight for survival down to the individual story. (I haven’t read the book yet, so possibly it’s what H.G. Wells was going for.) There is a decent potrayel of the sibling bond between Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Ferrier), and even the tension between father and son is done in an above mediocre way. It’s just not developed enough.

Despite a slow start, the film actually does pull you in. In fact, the opening narration by Morgan Freeman sets a stage for the human race to finally understand it’s place in the universe. Yet, the story that unfolds is mostly one guy running for his life. Even what should have been a poignant moment when Ferrier is forced to give up restraining his son from joining the battle in order to keep his daughter from getting separated from him didn’t do much for me. It was more like a misunderstanding with some well meaning people thinking the girl had been abandoned than an impossible decision a father to make.

I was also bothered by the subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions that when push came to shove, man throws other man overboard to survive. The most obvious example was the small riot that breaks out when the family approaches a large group in the only working vehicle for miles. They’re literally torn from the vehicle as people scream about how many people could travel in the mini-van as if the greater good was being upheld. Yet, the mob then turns on itself as they try to steal the van.

The common theme for me with this film was that nothing is ever explained enough. Good special effects carried the film passed the lack of development for the family friction and the every man for himself mentality. But it had no chance at overcoming no real explanation for the invasion or the wildly simplistic, out of nowhere ending. There’s just nothing special about this film, which will leave you having expected more. It should be left only for the true fan of sci-fi.

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