Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

War of the Worlds (2005)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto


I’ve been waiting many years for a good science fiction movie to take alien invasion seriously, and when I heard about this project, I became very excited. I was sure Spielberg would improve on the original, making it more believable, more dramatic, and more exciting.

But it was only a partial success. The movie as a whole is OK, but I think I prefer the original, with it’s real dramatic tension and necessary plot points. We lose the religious comment and the Martian angle. I agree with Ebert in that this movie would have been kick ass if it was set in the period of the original novel, 1898. When the film ended with bacteria as the hero, the whole theater moaned. Predictably, today’s audiences didn’t buy it.

Spielberg almost ruins it by trying to force a dramatic father/son storyline. It doesn’t seem relevant, and the actors are actually poorly directed. Dialogue is not delivered correctly on more than one occasion. Here’s an easy way to make a movie more dramatic: have one of the main characters die.

Spielberg has a bad habit of getting rigid, stock performances from his actors, particularly with less important, auxiliary characters. They come across as actors, not characters, and that pulls you out of the story. Some of his camera shots suffer in the same way. They are too perfect, too clean. Things fall in the right way, movements are too fluid. Every angle is perfect. I think this kind of perfection really makes things a bit less realistic. One of the things that made his Saving Private Ryan so good was the loose, documentary-style camerawork. It was a departure for him.

As far as the action goes, the tense moments aren’t milked properly. The scene in the garage with the eye camera was pretty good but could have been much better. And the scene with the dying alien plopping out is anticlimactic. The soldier non-chalantly flips the dead arm with his gun and the moment, and movie is over. And on top of that, the timing is a bit off. We see Cruise blow the thing up with a grenade. What a heroic, redeeming moment. But the next shot shows the machines dying by themselves, minimizing Cruise’s accomplishments.

This movie is about man vs. alien, not man vs. son. Trying to tackle both weakened both dramatic arcs.

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