The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, June 30, 2005

War of the Worlds (2005)

Not Spielberg's masterpiece, but the man plays at such a high level that even his disappointments are better than most filmmakers' successes. And this is no disappointment.  Filmed on a truncated shooting schedual, I occassionally had the vague sense of this or that aspect being rushed (I thinkthe script could have used one more polish, for intance) but, that said...

WOW!  The performances are great.  Yes, you needed a Tom Cruise.  We are with him from beginning to end, and rarely has a single actor carried as much of a major film as does Cruise, here.  No, you couldn't have cast more of an "everyman" without resorting to stunt castng in tons of extremely minor roles.  Not unless you wanted to make the film for 1/10 the money. There is a reason that stars get the money they get--people turn out to see them.  The built-in empathy factor.  and in this case, a built-in confidence in their goodness or capacity for survival. Because, folks, this ain't your daddy's WAR.  It's not the sanitized George Pal version, which kept an odd sense of fun through it all, or even my beloved INDEPENDENCE DAY, a thinly-veiled WAR that winked at the audience through the mayhem, right down to the "virus" that saves the day.  No, this is grim, unrelenting, top-of-the-line filmmaking, filled with horrors no SF film has ever put on the screen in this magnitude.  The story of a  divorce dad (Cruise) coming to terms with the miserable man and father he has been, and learning just how far he'll go to protect his family is in one sense, simplistic, but it works.  It REALLY works. And the SFX, by ILM, are in a few places utterly indistinguishable from reality. 
Those Tripods!  By keeping focus on a single family, we see only what they see.  (Was Cruise the only civilian who could get his car going?  Who knows?  We're so tight on him there could be another thousand cars on the road, and we'd never see them)  What do the alines want? We have only the vaguest, and most disturbing notion.  This is one of the best disaster movies ever made, chilling and thrilling and hopeless and oddly optimistic, absolutely not for children, but just try to stop them.  Wow.  I wish they could have spent a little more time.  But that said, it's a solid "A."

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