Tom Cruise in a Steven Spielberg film. Before the movie even begins, you know it’s going to be big. And it was big. It was epic. Possibly the greatest visual effects I have ever seen, coupled with fantastic direction and no real plot, “War of the Worlds” is a summer blockbuster of the highest calibre.
Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a night shift dock worker in New Jersey. He comes home from work to find his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) waiting to drop off the children, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin), for the weekend. Things don’t take long to start going wrong, as soon lightning starts pummelling the ground in a freak storm. Ray goes out to investigate, and witnesses an enormous (and I do mean enormous) alien tripod rise out of the ground and promptly obliterate everything in sight. Ray returns home, packs his children up, steals a car, and runs, as you might do.
That’s about the most the story develops for the rest of the movie, as Ray attempts to get his two children back to their mother in Boston, and things go from bad to worse with more tripods appearing, wiping out major cities. The opening is visually astounding however. In one scene, Ray is running down a street as a motorway (or freeway, I think, for you Americans) is tipped over, segment by segment. The cars, lorries and tankers on it are thrown off into a row of houses, which promptly explodes (since its a summer blockbuster).
However, it’s better than your average summer blockbuster. It certainly didn’t leave a foul taste in my mind the way films such as “The Day After Tomorrow” did. There’s something here that sets WotW apart. What could it be?
As I touched on earlier, Spielberg’s direction is, as usual, fantastic. The camera is astounding while not being over the top. Many new films want wide spins and twists to be innovative, and yet Spielberg manages to amaze with his direction without the need for these new techniques. Claustrophobic camera shots, interesting angles, and one fantastic scene on the road where the camera (in one shot) follows Ray’s car, sliding into it for a conversation, and pulling out as cars fly past in the other direction. Technically, its astounding.
As I mentioned, the visual effects are astounding. The Martian Tripod smashing up New Jersey is exhilariting and a visual treat. One worth mentioning is the scene where three tripods climb up onto a hill as a ferry is attempting to escape. They have tremendous presence and their war cry invokes fear. That’s good film-making.
I was actually surprised at how closely Spielberg had stuck to the original book. Most of the main events are here in some form, even if they are heavily altered – the ferry, the Red Weed, the characters (Ogilvy, the Artilleryman and Nathaniel are all rolled into one) and the ending (which has come under fire from other critics. I respect Spielberg for sticking with it.)
In terms of pacing, it wraps up too quickly. I just feel more time should have been spent wrapping it up. It just suddenly seems to end.
I also must give credit to Tom Cruise, who normally I do not like as an actor, he gave a strong, intense performance.
In short: Much better than your average summer blockbuster, weak characters and plot are balanced by tremendous visual effects and film-making.