WAR OF THE WORLDS is an exciting, morally uplifting remake of the novel by H.G. Wells that achieves a high level of tension, but it’s not without its flaws. Tom Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a divorced blue-collar dad in New Jersey. Strange lightning storms break out during a custody visit, but it’s soon apparent from the noise and violence that this is not ordinary lightning. Ray’s town breaks apart, and huge alien machines rise from the ground and begin vaporizing humans. Ray and his two children embark on a cat-and-mouse game of epic proportions, constantly trying to find new places to hide from the aliens.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, WAR OF THE WORLDS is very suspenseful. It makes you really wonder if the characters will really be killed. Regrettably, the pace is repetitive, making the movie feel longer, and the special effects sometimes overpower the storytelling. As in the 1953 movie, the worldview is morally uplifting, with a brief mention of God’s Providence at the end. Ray shows bravery in keeping his children safe, and there is a patriotic message. The alien attacks are frightening, however, and there is too much foul language.
(BB, C, H, PC, PP, LLL, VV, N, A, MM) Strong moral worldview, with some humanist attitudes, in a story about aliens who attempt to take over earth and a family that runs from them, including a brief mention of God and His Providence at the end, as well as some politically correct lines about American xenophobia and rushing off to war, but patriotism is strongly extolled when teenage son leaves family to join the armed forces in a time of crisis, and the armed forces eventually help defeat the enemy; 14 obscenities, many of them ‘sh’ words, and 14 profanities, three of them strong; potentially frightening sci-fi violence includes people being vaporized, buildings falling apart, powerful lightning, many explosions, people being picked up and killed by alien robots, plus corpses floating down a river, a stream of blood on the land, intense mob violence, man shot (off-camera), and man killed with hands (off-camera); no sex; brief upper male nudity; alcohol; no smoking; and, man steals car and murders to save his family, children severely disrespect their divorced father during his custody visits, and mob vandalizes then commandeers a car.
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 happening.
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.
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