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Vince Reports in on War of the Worlds

Published July 3, 2005 in Movie Reviews
By Vince Palomarez | Images property of Paramount
War of the Worlds Robbins, Cruise, and Fanning in War of the Worlds
Cruise. Spielberg. Two people I could care less about due to their recent work. For a long time Tom Cruise could do no wrong in my mind. He had a string of films in the late 80's and mid 90's that made me a huge fan. The guy had a great screen presence and was able to draw you in with every film. Once the year 2000 came around things started to change for the worse. He started making a few bad movies (Mission Impossible 2, Minority Report, The Last Samurai) and his fans began to wonder if he was losing his touch. This put Cruise in panic mode and caused him to take his personality to a more annoying level. The Tom Cruise that we all used to love somehow took that "likeableness" and shoved it down our throats to the point where it looked like he was acting 24/7 trying to make sure we all knew he was such a great guy. The ending result is a man that is a shell of his former self. He is desperately trying to give his image a boost by showing up with Katie Holmes and making a fool of himself on the talk show circuit; looking like a complete psycho. His constant self promotion has totally turned me off from anything he does.

War of the Worlds

Spielberg on the other hand is a different story. I grew up worshiping him. He was my inspiration (and probably millions of others) to pursue film in school. Every film he made was like taking a roller coaster ride of amazement. For 2 hours he would take you to whatever world he created and made you feel like you were right there in the action. The guy could do no wrong and just like T.C. when 2000 came around everything just went to hell. Maybe it was just because he had accomplished everything a filmmaker could possibly do or the money got to him, but after 2000 all his films had lost their magic. Sure they still maintained that great visual style and big budget feel that was his trademark, but the magic that sucked me in to his films was nonexistent.

I remember going to see their first collaboration together, Minority Report, and hoping to God the two would never decide to work together again. In the film Cruise seemed more like a madman, obsessed about the death of his characters son, than a coping father who couldn't get over the mistake he made. Spielberg just seemed like he was going through the motions and even though he provided great action and visuals, the film just seemed so cold and unemotional. But like Mick Jagger said, "You can't always get what you want" and a few years later the news came out that Cruise and Spielberg were teaming up again to retell H.G. Wells Sci-Fi novel War of the Worlds, which tells the tale of the earth being invaded by aliens.

War of the Worlds Dakota Fanning shines in War of the Worlds
Instead of adapting the screenplay straight from the book similar to Orson Wells's infamous radio broadcast back in the late 30's, the two decided to take a different approach. This time around the point of view wouldn't be from the news broadcasts but from the eyes of Ray Ferrier, a divorced dock worker who gets custody of his less than enthusiastic children (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin) for the weekend. Ray would rather be his children's friends than their father and the kids show their resentment for it very early on. Things start to take off when weird lightning storms result in huge tripod like machines popping up out of the ground and incinerating everything in their path. The rest of War of the Worlds centers on Ray and his family fleeing from the aliens trying to escape death at every possible moment with the hopes of reaching the children's mother (Miranda Otto); all the while reestablishing his bond with his children.

So has my faith been reaffirmed in the two after seeing War of the Worlds? Well…..yes and no.

War of the Worlds Taking shelter with a creepo isn't always a good idea.
It takes War of the Worlds a little bit to get going, but once all the background (what little there is) is all taken care of the film blasts off and never looks back. From the moment the aliens begin their invasion till the very end, the film never takes a break. This fast, tense pace has never been a weakness of Spielberg, but what makes it different from Minority Report and A.I. is that you get the sense that Spielberg is having fun again. He seems to have dusted off the rust from making a string of emotionless films and found that fire that made him one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

I think the biggest compliment I can say about War of the Worlds is that while watching it all I could think of was Jurassic Park. It has that same type of suspense and "holy crap" moments that makes you want to grab your seat hoping that the characters will be able to escape alive; even though you know they will. One scene in particular involving Cruise and Co. trying to escape an alien monitoring system will remind a lot of people of the raptor hunt in Jurassic park. Some people may complain why can't he be original, but I think it was necessary. Spielberg was so busy trying to create something new that he forgot what it was that made him so beloved by film fans everywhere. Is this film as good as Jurassic Park? No, not at all, but it has a great mixture of new and old elements that will be a great starting point for Spielberg to recapture that magic that was lost.

One old element in particular that makes War of the Worlds a good film compared to Spielberg's previous films is that he goes back to letting the story and visuals carry the story instead of letting the actors. Spielberg may have discovered what was wrong with him, but Tom Cruise is still without a clue. I think the guy has been portraying a character in the public eye for so long that he truly believes he has to act that way 24/7. Tom Cruise plays the same "Tom Cruise" character that he's been playing in his past few films and all of his promotional appearances. That is not something I want to see and I think Spielberg was very aware of this because aside from the beginning, all Cruise does for the rest of the film is flee from the aliens and act confused and angry which is something he excels at. The rest of the cast are serviceable in their roles and shine in the moments when they are needed (Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins in particular shine in their roles).

While War of the Worlds excels in its pacing and visual effects, the story is a tad weak and there are a few plot holes that will leave you scratching your head. With all blockbusters, the main character always seems to get lucky when needed and this film doesn't stray from that. Everything seems so convenient for the main characters and while the presence of the aliens may be trouble for them they seem to escape their situations quite easy. It's not a big knock on the film, but does kind of scratch at the back of your head when watching.

The second collaboration between Cruise and Spielberg is ten times better than their previous one and while Cruise stays at his same annoying level, Spielberg seems to be on the right track to regaining the magic he once had in films like Raiders of the Lost Arc, E.T., Jaws and Jurassic Park (if you've noticed I haven't mentioned anything about Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List due to the fact that I see them in a different category than his other films). While a weak plot and working with Tom Cruise may hurt some filmmakers, it doesn't affect Spielberg at all. He hides as many flaws as he can and delivers a great thrill ride that will keep views glued to their seat until the very end. War of the Worlds is a great reawakening for Spielberg and I am glad to be the first to say... Welcome back!


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Vince Palomarez
Sources: Images property of Paramount

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