War Of The Worlds (12A)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/06/2005

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 116 mins

Thrilling, action-packed and genuinely scary – in terms of jaw-dropping special effects, War of the Worlds is the blockbuster to beat this summer.

Despite the kind of high-level secrecy and delayed-until-week-of-release press screenings that would normally indicate a Grade A stinker, War of the Worlds is actually very good indeed. There’s no sign of the cute and cuddly alien-loving Spielberg of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind; instead he pulls out all the stops and gives us almost two hours of solid Earth-trouncing action, albeit sprinkled with a Tom Cruise sub-plot about parental issues.

The Plot

Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a divorced dockworker and lousy father who hardly ever sees his two children, young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin). When his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) and her new husband drop off the kids for a rare weekend visit, their mutual bickering is soon interrupted by a powerful lightning storm.

Leaving the house to investigate, Ray witnesses a giant three-legged war machine emerge from the earth and start incinerating everything in its path. However, this is just the beginning: the Tripods are all over the planet and the Earth’s forces are powerless against them. With no other option but to flee, Ray scrambles to get his children to safety, joining thousands of other refugees…

The Effects

The effects, as you might expect, are literally out of this world. The Tripods are genuinely terrifying and yet strangely beautiful; there are some terrific shots from a distance of the Tripods stalking across the landscape, blazing away. On this point, it’s gratifying to note that the various War of the Worlds trailers have managed to convey a sense of menace without actually revealing the key images.

The action-packed set-pieces are guaranteed to have you either on the edge of your seat or hiding behind your hands, although there’s a slight over-reliance on shots of Tom being able to run just that little bit faster than the explosion / falling car / collapsing building / Death Ray behind him.

There’s also a fantastic sequence set on a ferry that is basically Spielberg proving that he could have made Titanic with his hands tied behind his back.

The Script

The script is careful to avoid the rampant flag-waving jingoism that is present in the likes of Independence Day and there are some chillingly amusing jokes where the children think that terrorists or “Europe” are behind the destruction.

Also, whether it’s deliberate or not, the initial scenes of panicked civilians fleeing are uncomfortably reminiscent of the 9/11 footage when the towers collapsed. In addition, Spielberg includes a particularly bleak sequence that involves a car, a crowd and a gun and gives the lie to the Spider-Man-endorsed idea that Americans will all band together in a crisis.

The Acting

Cruise and Fanning are both superb; it’s a relief that Spielberg didn’t decide to capitalise on Fanning’s vaguely alien-like looks by giving her a freakish bond with the aliens. Chatwin’s part is underwritten by comparison and Spielberg bungles the big father/son emotional scene, but this doesn’t really detract from the film.

However, Tim Robbins’s creepy extended cameo is disturbing on a number of levels, even if Cruise and Fanning hiding from aliens in his basement is just a blatant excuse to rehash the ‘raptors in the kitchen’ sequence from Jurassic Park again.

The Conclusion

In short, War of the Worlds is surprisingly dark for a blockbuster and delivers handsomely in terms of thrills and special effects. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

War Of The Worlds (12A)
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Content updated: 26/09/2018 00:40

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