When worlds collide

Ben Breier

Mediocre plotline clashes with impressive visuals in re-make

Credit: Beth Rankin

When H. G. Wells’ original War of the Worlds was broadcast over the radio for the first time, many people believed that the earth was actually being invaded by aliens and engaged in mass panic.

While Spielberg’s modern-day take on War of the Worlds won’t have you screaming in the aisles, it will provide you with a jolt of suspense that many so-called ‘horror movies’ have failed to do as of late (see Saw, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Grudge).

After seeing how well Minority Report worked out, Spielberg once again selected Tom Cruise for the lead character in Worlds. Cruise’s Ray Ferrier is a divorced New Jersey native, taking care of his children Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin) for the weekend.

The movie doesn’t waste very much time — less than 20 minutes into the movie, a series of bizarre lightning storms bring about an alien invasion.

As the alien tripods rise from underneath the earth, the special effects stand out immediately. The first battle scene involves a tripod wreaking havoc upon New Jersey, vaporizing buildings and humans alike. Ray is caught in the middle and dashes back to his home to avoid certain death. While this is happening, people are torched by laser fire left and right in an incredible display of gore. Those who catch the full-on shot of the beam disintegrate into thin air among a mist of blood, while others are cut in half as their torsos are flung onto the hood of a car.

Human weaponry has no effect on the alien spacecrafts — invisible shields ensure that nothing is able to damage them. Some of these scenes will cause your jaw to drop and your stomach to sink. For example, seeing lurking alien tentacles ripping apart humans by the thousands.

One thing worth mentioning is the lackluster creature design attributed to the aliens. Stereotypical humanoid-based aliens are getting tired, and War of the Worlds doesn’t do very much to avoid the big-eyed, cranially endowed alien stereotype that you often see in movies. Considering how innovative design was for E. T., one would’ve expected Spielberg to come up with something other than typical for the design of the aliens.

When special effects and human exterminations aren’t taking center stage, we’re also seeing some pretty high-quality acting. While Tom Cruise is good in War of the Worlds, Dakota Fanning simply takes the cake. Her childish freak-outs among traumatizing situations are very heartfelt — it’s a shame that Justin Chatwin’s character didn’t possess the same believability. Thankfully, Chatwin takes a hiatus in the middle of the movie so we aren’t privy to his horrible displays of emo-kid bitchiness for a large hunk of the film.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the film is Spielberg’s take on human nature. Early on in the movie, Ray jacks a car, one of the only working cars in the Tri-State area. As he is trying to get his family to Boston to reunite with his ex-wife, his car is mobbed. People maul him and his children just to snag a van. Without giving it away, let’s just say that this scene left me sick to my stomach. It’s a frighteningly accurate portrayal that outlines the desperate animal rage that lies dormant within all humans.

War of the Worlds suffers from some of the same flaws of other action-packed blockbusters. While Spielberg crafted an amazing story with Minority Report, what we have here is a passable story with some huge plot flaws and an incredibly crappy ending.

Too many things go unexplained throughout the course of the movie. How did Ray always know what course of action was correct? How did he predict there would be another alien attack in 60 seconds? We know Spielberg is perfectly able to make something great — and hell, he didn’t even have to try very hard, as this movie was based on an awesome novel. The plot sucks even though the themes and the suspense that it generates remain staggering.

We’re left with a dilemma: Can we ignore the Swiss cheese-like plotline on account of the jaw-dropping visuals and consistent suspense? The answer: sort of. War of the Worlds has one of the most inadequate endings for a film of its caliber, and that’s hard to swallow.

In the end, what we have here is one of summer’s best popcorn flicks. Tension and visuals rise high in War of the Worlds — it’s just a shame that the storyline couldn’t rise with it.

Contact general assignment reporter Ben Breier at [email protected].