Movie Reviews 136 – War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the WorldsI wasn’t all too thrilled when they announced this remake of the one and only classic Martian invasion movie. It helped that  Steven Spielberg was going to be sitting in the director’s chair, but I did not know what to make of Tom Cruise as the star. But when I saw the first images of the massive tripods and how realistic they looked, I was hooked. Being familiar with the H.G. Wells classic novel (OK, I read it 30 years ago) and the 1953 George Pal movie, I then wondered how faithful this movie would be to either of these sources.

For starters, the tripods don’t just fall in giant canisters all over the world as we knew from the original story. Instead there is this cool global storm that hits every part of the world at once that starts of the invasion.

Cruise is actually very good and drops most (but not all) of his usual over the top machismo. It’s very much a family movie in that Cruise’s character is fighting to salvage the strained relationship with his kids from a recent divorce as much as he is avoiding the Martians. His daughter (Dakota Fanning) wavers between an annoying kid and a pivotal character but she does have a few great lines in the script. Tim Robbins has a small role that I found was more of a distraction although his character is used to make some dramatic points about people completely overwhelmed by the situation and the hard choices people have to make to survive.

As far as remakes of 50’s SF classics go, this is pretty much as good as it gets. They kept in the most memorable scenes in the movie while at the same time expanding on the traditional cardboard cutout characters commonly found in those old SF movies. A lot of the special effects are mesmerizing and we get to see a lot more of the Martians, both in an out of their tripods than we’ve ever seen before. They even managed to keep some of the old nifty sound effects. One thing the advent of realistic special effects also brings to the screen is a horrific and gorier movie than anything from back in the day. While the old ‘atomic ray’ of the past merely made people suddenly disappear in a glow of bright light, the new and more realistic rays here literally have people vaporizing into ashes before your eyes. This and other aspects of the movie bring it closer to the horror genre than mere science fiction.

And what of the ending? Well you’re going to have to see this one yourself to find out of mankind survives.

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