War of the
Worlds is a great summer sci-fi movie
for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. But beware the last 15
minutes. The ending is as anti-climactic as they come.
As you probably know, War is Steven Spielberg’s
adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic. Another Wells,
Orson, adapted it into a radio play in 1939 that caused
a sensation. Spielberg begins well. Tom Cruise plays Ray
Ferrier, a divorced father, keeping his teenage son and
younger daughter for the weekend in suburban New Jersey.
Things quickly become ominous when lightning begins striking
everywhere. In no time, it is apparent that this is not
just a thunderstorm, when giant tripods appear, zapping
people at will. Ray, with his kids in tow, hijacks the
only car in New Jersey that is working (I didn’t
understand this, but when you’re Tom Cruise ...),
and begins to drive away from the destruction.
Spielberg, aided greatly by his special
effects crew, does an excellent job of creating a chaotic
atmosphere. Everywhere there is absolute devastation.
Nothing is left standing. Ordinary people are utterly
defenseless against the aliens and their weapons. There’s
a great scene of a mass of people attempting to cross
the Hudson River on a ferry, when the aliens strike and
panic ensues. The viewer becomes caught up in the hopeless
predicament of the characters.
In the midst of the special effects, acting
honors go to Tim Robbins. He plays Ogilvy, a man living
in one of the few houses still standing in a rural area
who provides refuge to Ray and his daughter. Ogilvy has
lost his family and is crazed with grief and a desire
to fight back. As he did in Mystic River, Robbins once
again gives an effective performance as an unstable man
who may be dangerous.
There are many themes in War that pervade
Spielberg’s films. He’s dealt with aliens
since Close Encounters and E. T. Scenes of valiant soldiers
bring to mind Saving Private Ryan, and the sense of dread
and panic even conjure up memories of Schindler’s
List. When we finally see the aliens, they actually look
and act like the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. But, most
of all, there is the theme of the fragmented family longing
for wholeness. Spielberg has been exploring the theme
of family, notably in E.T. and recently in Catch Me If
You Can. In War of the Worlds, family is ultimately more
important than the annihilation of the world. It takes
an alien invasion to wake Ray up to his responsibilities
as a father. Deadbeat dads, be warned!
I don’t want to be a spoiler, so
I won’t give the ending away. I’ll just reiterate
that it’s a huge letdown. Perhaps Spielberg is being
faithful to the novel, which I have not read. In any case,
the film just seems to suddenly stop in a most unsatisfactory
The movie opens and closes with narration,
which, I presume, comes directly from the novel. (The
film’s website gave no information about the narration
or narrator who sounded like Morgan Freeman.) I was upset
by the continual and obvious use of non-inclusive language
in this narration. Certainly this is an issue we wrestle
with today in church and society, especially when citing
texts from different eras. But the language contributed
to my disappointment in a film that had did not realize
Tom Condon, O.P.