PG-13 for frightening sequences
of sci-fi violence and disturbing images.
June 29, 2005
Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman,
Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Justin Chatwin
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War of the Worlds
Dr. Tom Snyder
War of the Worlds is an exciting remake that
achieves a high level of tension, but its pace and pretensions
hold it back from being a truly great action movie.
Tom Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a blue collar dad in New Jersey
who is divorced from his wife and sees his children only occasionally.
Ray is irresponsible, and his family seems to have long since
given up on trusting him. During a tumultuous visit from his preteen
daughter and teenage son, strange lightning storms break out across
the globe. Ray takes his daughter Rachel to the backyard to watch.
Quickly, however, it’s apparent from the noise and violence
of the bolts that this is not ordinary lightning. The power goes
out, and Ray goes into the town center to find out what’s
No electricity works, not even cars or wristwatches. The streets
are crowded with stranded drivers and panicked neighbors. As a
crowd gathers around a deep hole in the ground that was left by
the lightning, the earth begins to quake and split. Fault lines
spread, and buildings begin to burst apart. The street is littered
with glass and brick. People run for cover as a church steeple
falls off its perch. While everything is falling to pieces, an
enormous machine emerges from the ground and begins to vaporize
every human it sees. Ray makes it back to his house, gets his
children together, and figures out an escape route.
Ray and his two children take flight in a stolen minivan, constantly
finding new hiding places before being unearthed by the alien
invaders. As they meet other survivors, they learn that most of
the world has been destroyed, and their hope grows dimmer. With
his children’s lives on the line, Ray has no choice but
to keep running. Can he escape the alien grasp forever? Will the
aliens colonize earth?
War of the Worlds runs its cat-and-mouse game very smoothly,
with just enough suspense to make you wonder if the characters
will really be killed. There are lots of intense sound and light
effects to keep the audience scared, along with Ray and Rachel.
The visual effects are, unsurprisingly, excellent, and seamless
alongside the actors.
That Ray and his children constantly face new attacks can wear
down the audience and make the movie feel much longer than it
is, a problem that many of Spielberg’s recent movies have
faced. (War is just under two hours but feels like at
least two-and-a-half.) Another common Spielberg problem is that
the movie takes itself too seriously. Some lines indicate a possible
political message about American xenophobia and rushing off to
war. If those messages were intentional, then they were aborted
during production, because the ending vindicates the armed services
and is almost laughably upbeat.
Additionally, the movie has some major trouble sustaining the
audience’s suspension of disbelief. Aliens sometimes chase
Tom Cruise’s character, for instance, then after a jump
in the plot, he magically runs to safety. Late in the movie, a
plot contrivance has the aliens extract blood from humans, but
it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t jive with what the movie
says about how the aliens live. The world created in this movie
fails to be consistent, so it becomes obvious that the blood detail
was inserted only for the sensational imagery that came with it
(although the original Wells novel may have contained something
about the aliens cannibalizing humans). Spielberg, very plainly,
chose interesting special effects over solid storytelling.
The characters are in the fight of their lives, facing death
around every corner, but they make no mention of God unless it’s
to curse. Thus, the movie has humanist elements, but it doesn’t
really attack religious faith or belief in God. Overall, therefore,
the movie has a strong moral worldview showing that Ray cares
deeply about his children. Ray never stops putting himself in
danger to save them. Also, Ray’s son wants to join with
the armed forces to resist the alien attacks, and Ray eventually
allows him, even though the fight seems hopeless. This gesture
shows the worthiness and bravery of military fighters. Finally,
as in the 1953 movie, there is a narrator at the beginning and
the end. As in the 1953 movie, which borrows a short passage from
Wells’s book, the narrator at the end briefly discusses
“God in His wisdom.” Some may feel the passage about
God’s Providence is tacked on here, but it didn’t
feel that way in the 1953 movie, which is one of our Top 20 American
movies of all time.
War of the Worlds is exciting, well made, and morally
uplifting, but children could be frightened by the intense extraterrestrial
attacks, not to mention some of the slimy alien imagery. Most
teenagers will not be influenced by it, however. There is an additional
caution due to the excessive foul language.
Please address your comments to:
Brad Grey, Chairman
Gail Berman, President
Motion Picture Group
A Paramount Communications Company
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3197
Phone: (323) 956-5000
New York, NY 10036
Phone: (212) 258-6000
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