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Warning! Don't read this review if you don't want the ending spoiled for you.
This new movie version of War of the Worlds is shockingly bad. This is a film directed by Steven Spielberg. I like Steven Spielberg. Even Spielberg doesn't make a great movie every time out but he has directed Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan to name a few. I didn't like A.I. much and The Terminal wasn't great, but War of the Worlds really stinks. I don't think Spielberg has ever made a clunker like this. War of the Worlds, of course, is taken from the classic book by H.G. Wells, famously made into a radio show in 1938 by Orson Wells, and into a classic 50's sci-fi movie starring Gene Barry. The original plot involves an invasion from Mars. The Martians, after landing, wreak havoc with heat rays and walk around inside three-legged contraptions that wouldn't be out of place in Star Wars. The Martians are about to wipe out humanity and take over planet Earth when they all catch a cold or something and die. The Earth's microbes save the day. The 1953 version of War of the Worlds updates the Martian technology so that they fly around in spaceships, firing their heat rays, but the story is the same. In the new 2005 War of the Worlds, the Martians are a bit retro and walk around on tripods again. The human story focuses on a divorced man (Tom Cruise) who hasn't been too much a father to his two kids (Dakota Fanning & Justin Chatwin). He arrives at his ex-wife's (Miranda Otto) house to pick up his kids for the weekend just before the Martians arrive and all hell breaks loose. Cruise then goes on the run to try and save himself and his kids. When things are looking particularly grim, Cruise and his kids hide out with a crazed survivalist (Tim Robbins).
It says a lot about the failure of this film as a taut sci-fi thriller that when the Tim Robbins character first appears about halfway through the movie, the crowd in the theatre giggled. By that point in the movie all attempts to suspend disbelief have failed and I was just hoping that the Martians would get sick and die soon. Neither the Sci-fi nor the human aspects of this story is successful. The setup of the plot that the Martians had somehow been planning their attack "for a million years" is laughable. What are they? Stupid? Why didn't they just walk in and take over the planet when there were no humans? Of course, in a failed attempt to add a John-Carpenter-horror aspect to the film, the Martians are vampires and suck human blood, so maybe they had to wait for humans to evolve. None of it makes the slightest bit of sense. The heat rays are cool though, the way they turn humans to ash, but that's about it. The piece de resistance is when Cruise suddenly becomes Rambo and blows up one of the Martian ships, straining credibility one last time before the Martians mercifully die. But it gets worse. When Cruise and his daughter finally reach their grandparents' house, we find that it's the only undestroyed house in the World and that Cruise's ex-wife and her parents are wearing clean clothes and are seemingly untouched by the Martian Holocaust. Then to top it off, Cruise's son who was apparently killed by the Martians comes running out unscathed. How he got there is anyone's guess since he was so clueless. But to show that he's been through a lot, his pristine mother and grandparents didn't give him a bath and some new clothes. The only great thing about this scene is that the grandparents are played by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, the stars of the 1953 War of the Worlds. I love Gene Barry. The Name of the Game is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Susan Saint James.... Sigh. But as usual I digress.
I don't know what Steven Spielberg was thinking. This movie has a laughable plot, a poor screenplay, so-so acting and the special effects aren't that special. Tom Cruise plays a one dimensional character and he doesn't do it very well. Couldn't they have thought up something a little more interesting for him than a divorced father who has a poor relationship with his kids? And much like she did with Denzel Washington in the dreadful Man on Fire, Dakota Fanning acts rings around Tom Cruise. And why oh why is Miranda Otto in this movie? She played Eowyn in LOTR and was wonderful. She has had a nice movie career in Australia. In War of the Worlds, she is in two scenes and has about 4 lines. Otto needs a new agent. And Tim Robbins. Oh man! He needs a new agent too. He is terrible and unintentionally funny in War of the Worlds. At least I think it was unintentional. Ok, that's enough. Don't bother to see this one. Go and rent Raiders of the Lost Ark.