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Published on June 21st, 2008 | by simeon


War of the Worlds

In a summer season of grand blockbusters, War of the Worlds” is perhaps the biggest dud in years, and is a failure of epic proportions. The film is a remake of the classic 1953 film of the same name which like the new one is inspired from the H.G. Wells novel of 1898.

The new version is directed by Steven Spielberg, and stars Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier, a divorced dockworker who is spending some time with his estranged children, Robbie (Justin Chatwin), and Rachael (Dakota Fanning), while his ex-wife and her new husband take a trip.

The children are very cold to Ray as they feel they were dumped on their mother as Ray only cares about himself. When a series of freak electrical storms hits various cities around the world, Ray attempts to comfort his children who are disturbed by the storm as well as the fact that all electronic devices have ceased to function.

Ray leaves the children at home and ventures into the neighborhood and is soon facing a waking nightmare as giant machines burst from the ground laying waste to everything in their paths.

Ray gathers his family and flees in a working vehicle trying to stay one step ahead of the alien machines in an attempt to find safety and reunite the children with their mother in Boston.

As basic as the above plot outline is, it is pretty much the entire plot of the film. There is little else to it aside from a few interruptions such as the family seeking shelter in a couple of houses or facing an angry mob as they attempt to reach a ferry.

While a thin plot can be excused for many action films, what cannot be excused are the painfully bad lack of any excitement in the film and the lack of any compelling action or suspense.

We are supposed to believe that the world is being destroyed by the alien’s but aside from a few blasted bridges, and small buildings, we see a surprising lack of carnage. There are no sequences of classic landmarks being reduced to rubble, there are no scenes of vast armies locked in a desperate struggle against the invaders.

Instead, we get a sequence of helicopters firing, and a line of soldiers firing, but they never show us what they are shooting at, nor do we see the alien retaliation behind a bright explosion and a few vehicles emerging on fire. This is particularly frustrating when you consider that the 1954 version at least showed a few tanks being blasted outright.

Another issue I had with the film was the painfully obvious superimposed backdrops as during the films limited action scenes; the background was clearly inserted into the shot as it was so fuzzy that it did not fit in with the events in the foreground.

While I am willing to dismiss this as stylistic nitpicking what cannot be ignored is that for most of the films running length, the cast does little more than stand around waiting for something to happen.

There are no great segments of character development, no insight into why the aliens waited all this time to attack when they could have done so centuries earlier, why they want the planet, and numerous other plot holes, some of which are so glaring. One of my favorites was the guy who was able to use a video camera to record the opening attacks when it was clearly shown that all electronic devices were rendered useless.

Much has been made of Cruise’s recent off screen actions and I must say that those have been far more interesting and engaging than his performance here. Cruise spends the majority of the film in a wide-eyed gaze or frantically moving and yelling. His character like his annoyingly bratty daughter are so unsympathetic, I found myself hoping that the aliens would take them out and end our suffering.

I hate stated prior that I thought this film may have problems as in light of films such as “ID4”, the story would seem bland to modern audiences unless the action was increased and there was a dynamic story with interesting characters. Sadly all of those are missing from a film that also has one of the worst endings in recent history.

There is no build up, no final confrontation, no moment of high tension to get to the payoff; it just ends with a whimper. One would think that a grand battle or an effects royale is in store instead, it plays out in a very matter of fact fashion with shockingly little action or suspense.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that between the weak acting, tired, thin plot, and infrequent and underwhelming action and effects, this is a film that exists only due to the talents of Cruise and Spielberg., That being said, I have to wonder how and why they could not have picked a better product than this stale offering.

1 stars out of 5

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