War of the Worlds
Film review by: Witney Seibold
The good news: Spielberg’s new film – the latest adaptation of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion/destruction book – is from the mold of his earlier ones; it is a rollicking bubblegum summer actioner full of impressive special effects, suitable panic, a big-name movie star (Tom Cruise himself), space aliens, death rays, big explosions, and a happy ending (and I don’t think I’m giving anything away with that). The acting was suitable, especially on the parts of the frustrated children Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin (although Tim Robbins overplayed a bit with his growling basement-dwelling survivalist). The feeling and the structure is pure post-Star Wars 1980s action (In fact, the CGI effects, references to cellular telephones, and worry about “The Terrorists,” are the only things that really betray the film’s era). Even the alien beings, when they appear, are the same spindly monsters we saw in… heck most alien invasion flicks. The film is well-made.
The bad news: Perhaps this throwback is a disadvantage. In a modern world of filmmaking, the old school action flick isn’t quite as engaging anymore. As well-made as it may be, it doesn’t really strike where it intends to; it never gets us to feel fear about an outside threat, nor make us feel for the characters. I didn’t buy Cruise as an exasperated working-class stiff (now if Sean Penn were there… hm…). And from this, we never buy a lot of the humanity that Spielberg attempts. So, without giving too much away, by the time we reached the ending, well, the audience in my theater audibly groaned. The alien machines, by looking exactly as you’d expect them to look, didn’t seem like a large horrid threat, and more like cameo appearances by previous movie monsters. Ditto the alien beings.
So my final word: I’m ambivalent about this film. I admired and appreciated, and was even kept in a good deal of suspense by, the technical merits. It’s well-shot and well-paced (I was particularly terrified by a scene in which a mob attacks our heroes’ car). But I left the theater unsatisfied, as if a coda was never reached. It fulfilled my need for a summer blockbuster. But I think perhaps we need more than just a “summer blockbuster” when we go to certain movies.