SMBFC Movie Bites Review – War of the Worlds

Having come from a generation where Spielberg is the standard, one comes to expect much from the Indiana Jones-creator. Forgiving occasional million-dollar blunders like Jurassic Park 2, Spielberg is usually a one-shot, one-smash hit director. Even his “smaller” pictures like Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal have their own intricacies that only this director can give us. So when I heard Spielberg was remaking the classic story War of the Worlds, I could only imagine what epic brilliance Spielberg would deliver. I am still trying to imagine it.

War of the Worlds highlights the story of a divorced father and his two children in the midst of a crisis of biblical proportions (a staple of Spielberg Sci-fi). The cast mainly consists of the unlikely father, played by new-Spielberg favorite Tom Cruise, the rebellious PIA son Justin Chatwin, and the sometimes-introspective, sometimes scream-y daughter portrayed by Dakota Fanning. The entire tale reminds this reviewer of the basic plot of Fellowship of the Ring; a small group travels from one point to another, gradually getting smaller as adversity increases. However, when you have a cast of three, one imagines you need all the actors you can get. We lose our traitorous, Red Sox fan Robbie, to spur-of-the-moment patriotism, and the rest of the film highlights Cruise’s love and dedication for daughter Fanning.

The film has a few surprise guest-stars. Morgan Freeman provides the voice of the narrator with a calculating introduction and conclusion, with an injection of warm-heartedness. Freeman exists to remind us that there could possibly be a benevolent force in this chaotic world, though represented it’s still the lowest paid actor in Hollywood. A head-scratch inducing cameo was Tim Robbins, acting as the safe haven for Cruise and his daughter during the crisis. It doesn’t take long for the audience to realize through Robbins’ physical appearance and uncouth ramblings about America that he is a danger. Robbins’ threateningly extreme level of patriotism can only be satisfied by an implied bludgeoning to death, and we can get back to the movie.

When we discover the aliens’ secret weakness, you really start to notice that 116 minute run-time. After this, it’s the simple matter of dispatching the aliens and meeting up with the entire family. The entire family. When Cruise and Fanning arrive on the front steps of a surprisingly untouched upscale apartment complex, we don’t just bare witness to the heart-warming reunion of Cruise, his children and their mother. Her ex-husband emerges from behind the door, completing the cycle. What a happy, forward-thinking film. But what’s this? Two more heads emerge from behind the door. Why, it’s grandma and grandpa! They survived the alien holocaust too! Where’s Sparky? He can carry the newborn baby out in a red wagon, thus completing the Hollywood convention-fest and giving everyone diabetes from the overtly sweet, sappy scene.

What is really striking about this film is the apparent connection Spielberg seems to have with Boston. Cruise’s son is a Sox fan. The family moved to Boston after Cruise’s wife left him, and it seems the aliens could not bring themselves to destroy Bean Town. Newark, New Jersey receives total and complete Armageddon in the form of tripod machines and ray guns that reduce a man into dust in seconds, but once in Boston the aliens decide to take it easy.

War of the Worlds suffered from two problems: time and emotional connection. Children in movies today seem to have been elevated to two extremes. Either a) the children are always snarky brats and the teenagers are always angst-filled and misunderstood, or b) the children are forty year-old hippies from San Francisco. In the case of Cruise’s daughter, she is a mix between the two. She flips like a light switch from vegetarian free-spirit with a chiropractor (and probably an analyst) to insufferable child with screaming spells. In the case of Cruise’s son Robbie (Chatwin), he is a blend of angst-filled, mad-at-the-world rebel without a driver’s license to patriotic-to-a-fault. He goes from being his sister’s sworn protector to abandoning her to total strangers the second the army comes running.

It could be Spielberg’s attempt at a running commentary on the corruption of the government on the youth of America, or the dangers of being overly patriotic when there is major adversity transpiring. However, I would not give this film that much credit, transparent and predictable as these elements are. It could be that Spielberg pulled an M. Night Shyamalan and relied on cheap showiness and typical, conventional plot and “twist” tactics to churn out yet another hundred million dollar summer blockbuster. I tend to side with the latter.

~ by Crivelliman on August 1, 2005.

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