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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "War of the Worlds" (2005)

Steven Spielberg’s update of “War of the Worlds” exists on the surface as a 2-hour nightmare in which aliens have taken over the earth with plans of destroying it. Nobody knows why. Nobody knows how to stop it. Nobody seems to know anything, but the media and almost every kook have a theory. The movie doesn’t go deep into explanation either. We meet no scientists with any special knowledge. We don’t have any angry army generals who seem to have a plan. The media only knows what they film, which reveals something significant, but not much. We only have the Everyman as our guide, in this case a blue collar dock worker named Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise).

The movie opens with Ray’s family in slight disarray. A divorced father of two, Ray must look after his teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and younger daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning). When strange storm clouds appear over their neighborhood, they come accompanied by lightning striking more than once in the same spot while making a bizarre pulsing sound that does not resemble thunder of any kind. Soon after, the aliens land and destroy everything in their path, be it a building, highway or human. Ray and his kids gather their things, jump in the car and head out of town looking for refuge of any kind with only a half-baked plan to flee to Boston where Ray’s ex-wife (Miranda Otto) happens to be.

Simple. Easy to digest. The essence of a true disaster film. Funny how we haven’t seen disaster movies in a while. I seem to remember throughout the ‘90s there being no end to them. Once the pioneers of “T2” and “Jurassic Park” set the stage for the boundless possibilities of special effects, Hollywood took the technology and ran with it concocting and executing any idea they had for blowing things up. The biggest box office hit of this genre, if you recall (and I don’t blame you if you tried to block it out) was a little movie called “Independence Day,” the mighty beacon of grandiose patriotism and cultural stereotypes endorsed by our beloved Bob Dole.

Spielberg’s movie clearly has more of a purpose and doesn’t seem too interested in being a safe crowd pleaser. It helps that our world has changed drastically since ID4. “War of the Worlds” keeps its simplicity in check because it’s not really about an alien invasion at all. We’re not meant to get a full explanation about the aliens because the movie has little interest in telling that story. Spielberg has basically made a movie about 9/11 and the paranoia, fear and loss of innocence associated with it. Ray spends most of the movie trying to shield his daughter’s eyes from the horror around her while trying to keep his reckless teenage son on a leash so he won’t run off to fight with the military.

Sure, one can read a 9/11 parallel into almost anything these days and I certainly don’t want to give the impression that the movie has a heavyhandedness about it. Spielberg has made another thrill ride and you can either choose to go along with it and not think too much about the logic behind it, or suspend your disbelief at the door completely and immerse yourself in the nightmare that he and his crew have effectively created. Spielberg has not lost his touch when it comes to scaring the audience, making them jump or surprising the hell out of them. This is the Spielberg of “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park,” the deceptively good-natured showman who’d like to send you home with a few lingering nightmares.

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