War of the Worlds (2005)
February 6, 2023 11:38 AM - Subscribe

Dockworker Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) struggles to build a positive relationship with his two children, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin). When his ex-wife, Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), drops them off at Ferrier's house, it seems as though it will be just another tension-filled weekend. However, when electromagnetic pulses of lightning strike the area, the strange event turns out to be the beginning of an alien invasion, and Ferrier must now protect his children as they seek refuge.

Also starring Tim Robbins, Rick Gonzalez, Yul Vazquez, Lenny Venito, Lisa Ann Walter, Ann Robinson, Gene Barry, David Alan Basche, Roz Abrams, Camillia Sanes, David Harbour, Miguel Antonio Ferrer, Morgan Freeman, Channing Tatum.

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Josh Friedman, David Koepp. Based on The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Colin Wilson. Cinematography by Janusz Kamiński. Edited by Michael Kahn. Music by John Williams.

75% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on HBO Max and Paramount Plus. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (15 comments total)
The film has its moments: the train on fire stands out. But the invasion makes precious little sense to me. If the aliens (obviously not Martians) visited Earth long ago, before a city was built upon one of their sites, why not just conquer the planet then? Why wait until it's covered by angry ape-descendants?

The further removed from the late 19th-century the War of the Worlds is set, the less value there is in linking it back to Wells's book. A British writer commenting on colonialism accomplished through slightly more advanced technology is interesting. (I'm reminded of Blackadder Goes Forth, and Edmund's observation that military service was more fun when you were using machine guns against natives armed with spears.) An invasion of aliens smart enough to build mechs but too ignorant to consider hostile microbes is silly.
posted by SPrintF at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2023 [4 favorites]

This felt very professionally executed but very hollow. They did not add enough/update enough to the original story for me to feel like I got anything beyond exactly what I figured it would be before seeing a frame of it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:23 PM on February 6, 2023 [4 favorites]

Having rewatched it recently after having completely forgotten everything about it, I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the performances, especially Tom Cruise Tom Cruising and Tim Robbins' disturbed and disturbing survivalist. The aliens were pretty terrifying, the parental protection theme felt authentic, the disaster scenes were frankly pretty epic. I'm glad that I had forgotten about it so that it could be rediscovered.
posted by vverse23 at 1:00 PM on February 6, 2023 [1 favorite]

I was flabbergasted by the son's storyline. He just walks away from his little sister, who needs him, to do...what, exactly? Watch army guys get slaughtered? That was such a strange scene.

The train on fire is the best and scariest part of the film. Deeply eerie.
posted by orrnyereg at 1:24 PM on February 6, 2023 [2 favorites]

the parental protection theme felt authentic

Not saying you're wrong and no kids here so no doubt there are bits of this I don't get. But this movie (among other things) has always made me think that Spielberg must pretty heartily dislike and resent his kids. All they do is scream and yell and tell Dad he's wrong and fuck up what Dad is trying to do and run straight at danger because they're so irredeemably stupid.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:26 PM on February 6, 2023 [5 favorites]

This movies starts with Cruise operating a giant shipping container crane, which he later uses to knock over the alien war machines. Just kidding, his job is never mentioned again. His son is a prick and a drama queen, who manages to engineer his own demise. Just kidding, he shows back up at the end of the movie alive and well, and is suddenly sympathetic somehow. Did I mention, none of the characters are likeable? And the aliens' master plan is to send an invasion force to Earth, then have them hibernate in the crust for a million years until something evolves worth invading. That's a hell of a plan. Well, when the aliens are cute, oversized tree frogs, I guess that's what you get.
posted by jabah at 3:40 PM on February 6, 2023 [8 favorites]

There is a lot about this movie that isn’t great, but oh damn the scene in the basement of Tim Robbins’ house where the alien eye/tentacle is searching around? I still have to leave the room during that scene.
posted by skycrashesdown at 4:08 PM on February 6, 2023 [4 favorites]

If I forget the setup and forget the ending, everything else with the invasion was such an excellent No Good Horrible Day adventure of a deadbeat working class dad and his socially upwardly moved up kids. And all the emotional breakdown of having to deal with something barely understood - a great time was had by a young me at the cinema at the time. I don't know why I enjoyed so much the angle of "remember the utter confusion of the radio drama event? Ok now but BIGGER." the dad didn't contribute to the resolution of the main alien invasion plot, he's just an NPC who somehow found himself headlining a movie in the absolutely wrong genre for him (which goes on to the unearned ending since he's not a blockbuster hero, but he got that ending anyway). When looked that way, of course the alien invasion makes no sense, but they really did commit to him being an absolute normie to the very end having absolutely no clue. (His son is the Main Character, look at his character beats - I bet he was the one, once he joined the army who got flung into all the Expositioning Moments, so arguably the 'happy' ending was his, his dad was just coming in as an extra on cue).

I enjoyed the headfake - Tom Cruise should do more horror, his baseline emotional intensity set at an always imminent breakdown would do well imo. But ultimately the story that I saw and enjoyed existed in tension with the genre expectations it was built on, so it's very much a flawed product.
posted by cendawanita at 8:52 AM on February 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

I did chuckle at the scene where Rachel is having trouble sleeping, so she asks Ray to sing her a lullaby....but he can't think of any, so he ends up singing her "Little Deuce Coupe".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 AM on February 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen this since it came out, so I don't remember too many specific details, but I thought it made a nicely tense horror movie, and was ruined by the happy ending. Should've ended right when Tom Cruise gets sucked up by the alien (that happens, right?). Just show him getting picked up, linger on a shot of the aliens moving along, and cut to credits. Gut punch horror ending. QED.
posted by mrphancy at 9:52 AM on February 7, 2023

I've never seen the movie in one sitting, but I've seen oddly large chunks of it. The scene where the daughter visits a tranquil river and slowly realizes what the dark shapes floating downstream are is quite striking.
posted by tavella at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2023

This is one of those movies that is the absolute definition of cotton candy. It's enjoyable while you're there, but it just goes *poof* once it's done.

Also continues the post 9/11 theme of unseen air crashes.

And yes, the basement scene is unnerving.
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2023 [2 favorites]

All I remember about this one is ILM pioneered some sort of clever rotational rig for the car on the freeway sequence that meant Spielberg could do it all in one shot. Everything else might as well be from the second series of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in my memory.
posted by Molesome at 12:48 PM on February 7, 2023

Quoting myself from Letterboxd here, but... it's actually one of the better Event movies of the era! I was surprised it slid under my radar for so long. The spectacle is grand, the set pieces are kinetic and unique, and it doesn’t let much time pass between its various tense alien encounters. Lots of silly, showy fun camera work, and the initial tripod reveal is a barnburner. Not all that much to recommend the last 30 minutes, but it doesn’t sink the whole ship.

That said, if you want to examine War of the Worlds as a cultural artifact and not just an action romp, you have to use a different lens. The movie wants you to know what it’s doing with all the explicit 9/11 imagery—wants to create a space for you to remember buildings falling and panicked crowds shot on handheld cameras from street level, to remember doomsday preppers, somber long shots of plane wreckage, your kid joining the army on 9/12, the bleak and horrifying realization that the ash you’re covered in is, in part, the remains of another human being. But to what end? The movie is overstuffed with such touchpoints but can’t weave any greater meaning out of them—enlists some of the more awful recent memories stamped in our collective psyche in the year it was made, but can’t figure out anything to say about them, aside from “hey, remember this?

Spielberg is a master of theme and tone, but all I can see here is an America two years after the towers fell, asking itself “what was that all about?” and coming up with no answer at all.
posted by churl at 12:28 PM on February 10, 2023 [3 favorites]

Rewatch; it's on Max at the moment. I want to like this more than I do, but each time I come away from it with a bit of a meh-well feeling.

I think the main problem is: it's very much just a sequence of spectacular set-pieces and/or visually-arresting images without much narrative fabric to stitch them together. Ray doesn't have any agency in the bigger story -- only on events immediately around him -- and this makes the movie feel like it's on rails. Which worked for Spielberg in Jurassic Park, but I don't think works well here.

Ray's observation at the end that the tripod's shield is down makes for a big boom-boom-crash takedown of the last tripod, but is meaningless given that the invaders are all dying anyway; and felt like mostly a way to get the "birds pecking at their flesh" bit into this version.

Maybe the whole protagonist-has-no-larger-agency thing is itself a 9/11 allusion? that this huge momentous thing is happening around you, to you, but you have no understanding of or effect upon it? IDK.

It's not like this isn't a thing in HG Wells' book: it too has a protagonist, a journalist, who is entirely an observer of events; it too is episodic. But I feel like Wells' protagonist has more motivation? He goes to Horsell Common to see the cylinder because he's a journalist reporting on an event; Ray goes down the street to see the lightning strike -- leaving his kids unattended in the house! -- because he's ... curious? No; he goes pretty much purely because the mechanics of the story require it: he's our point-of-view character and we need to see this event.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:15 AM on July 10, 2023 [1 favorite]

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