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'War of the Worlds' Review
June 30, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Did you notice that the pre-publicity for Steven Spielberg's latest movie, "The War of Worlds," didn't deal very much with the story line of the flick?

Instead the public was kept apprised of lead star Tom Cruise's couch-jumping antics, Katie Holmes-related activity and prescription drug disapproval

When you see the film, though, and you look past the surreal panoramic landscape and generally impressive special effects, it becomes clear why the story line wasn't given more emphasis before the movie was released: There isn't much of one.
In this age of remakes, "Worlds" has quite a lineage. Spielberg's version is actually a redo of a 1950s film, which was based on a radio show that utilized an H.G. Wells' sci-fi novel.

The pic is fairly fast-moving with a bit of suspense at the opening. But about halfway into it there's a noticeable lack of depth as well as heart, and it becomes clear why a film-reviewing embargo may have been imposed on it.

Cruise plays the part of Ray Ferrier, a divorced working class guy with a 10-year-old daughter named Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and a teenage son named Robbie (Justin Chatwin).

Apparently, the real Tom Cruise takes aliens quite seriously (he recently told a German newspaper he believes they exist). This factoid may explain how Cruise was able to deliver the right amount of fear with the necessary degree of composure. He definitely displayed his acting chops in the role.

So did Tim Robbins, who plays Ogilvy, an eccentric survivor who loses his family and is holed up in a basement bunker.

In the past, Spielberg has been criticized for presenting too many films with suburbanite settings and themes. In what may have been an attempt at profundity as well as an effort to please critics, he chose a pseudo-gritty urban setting for "Worlds" and presented Cruise's character as a flawed parent. Somehow, though, the dialogue between father and children still rings suburban. Aliens arrive via lighting bolts to pilot previously buried mechanical tripods that come bursting forth to inflict mayhem on the populace. Kinda like interplanetary sleeper cells.

The young daughter (played brilliantly by Fanning) asks, "Are they terrorists?"

Her father assures her that "they're not from around here."

The plot of the story taps into some of the underlying fears that are present in our current world, i.e., enemies attacking urban areas with weapons of mass destruction or the unthinkable scenario of an apocalyptic war.

Reminiscent of Spielberg's depressing "Artificial Intelligence," "Worlds" is dark, cynical and casts humanity in a fairly stark light. It's also quite violent, and the audience with whom I saw it had little viewers in it (albeit not very well parentally guided) that were visibly shaken, which left me wondering exactly who the audience for the movie was supposed to be since it's too scary for kids and definitely not scary enough for adults.

To cap things off, in a seeming salute to the original narrated format, a gratuitous narrator pops in at the end of the flick to provide some hokey explanations. The intrusive voice is out of context but it's not a big deal since the finale is anti-climatic anyway.

My advice is, if you like special effects wait for the DVD, and do take the PG-13 rating seriously.

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Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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