Cruise and Aliens have a dust up
Like with so many movies over the last decade I was seriously under whelmed the first time I watched Steven Spielberg's 2005 version of "War of the Worlds". Oh the action and effects were impressive but the storyline left me for the most numb. Since that first time I've watched "War of the Worlds" a few times and each time it has grown on me and not just the special effect driven action but the storyline and the acting although I still feel that "War of the Worlds" was an opportunity to make some special but turned out to be average.
After another heavy shift working as a crane operator on the docks, Ray Ferrier (Tom Crusie - Collateral) returns home to spend the weekend with his estranged children, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin), whilst his ex goes off to Boston with her new partner. Having not been much of a father to his children their relationship is strained but that is the least of Ray's worries as they are hit by what appears to be a freaky storm which is followed by aliens trying to kill of the human race. With his kids in tow Ray flees the mass destruction and tries to make it safely to Boston.
Now I've never seen any of the previous versions of "War of the Worlds" or read the book or heard the Orson Welles radio broadcast so I came in to watching Spielberg's take on "War of the Worlds" with no preconceived ideas as to what to expect. Maybe that is a good thing as I fear that something special about the storyline has been lost in this version. What I mean is that whilst there is this clever idea that giant tripod machines have been buried deep beneath the earths surface for centuries and all of sudden aliens come down to bring them to the surface and start destroying the human race what you actually watch is quite routine.
Now maybe there are some deep metaphors to all this alien destruction, some sort of deeper meaning but what you end up watching is basically an action movie with the central character of Ray and his estranged children on the run from these aliens. As such there is scene after scene of action be it chase sequences, actual battles and a lot of destruction. And to be honest on a visual level all of this action is good, the way people are exterminated into a cloud of dust is stunning especially as Ray ends up covered in human ashes and various big scenes such as the ferry scene or the huge storm like entrance of the aliens is undeniably visually spectacular. But it just seems the depth of the story is lost in favour of these big action sequences.
I did say that the more times I have watched "War of the Worlds" the more it has grown on me and in particular the whole subplot surrounding Ray and his estranged children. There are some really nice moments which occur in this subplot especially as Ray starts by really struggling to deal with either his son or daughter but the devastation brings them closer. And in particular the actual realisation of Ray that he has basically been a crap father is a really nice element. It's nice because it's not a forced realisation it's more subtle but you feel Ray's emotion and pain as he realises his daughter treats her brother more as a protector than she does him.
But that is what is partly annoying is that whilst this sub story is actually well worked the main storyline seems almost generic and not explored to its full potential in favour of big action scene after big action scene.
Of course "War of the Worlds" is a Tom Cruise movie and I am split as to whether I enjoyed his performance as Ray. On one hand Cruise finds the emotion in the subplot about his relationship with his children and manages to restrain the cheesiness when it comes to all the action and various chase sequences. But it feels at times like Cruise is out of place as if he wants to be the hero yet the role doesn't really call for it and those moments of almost heroics feel out of character. It's almost confusing and maybe the way Cruise was asked to play the character leads to this issue but it spoils things.
Aside from Cruise it has to be said that young Dakota Fanning as his daughter Rachel pretty much steals the movie from him. Instead of being this annoying cute kid we have a very realistic kid one who is frightened, who screams in terror, who shakes and has basically panic attacks as the world crumbles around her. It works because it's a very real performance and even though the pre attack scenes try to turn Rachel into this overly smart young child it still feels strangely right.
What this all boils down to is that I am still not a huge fan of "War of the Worlds" and think that Spielberg missed a trick as what could be a clever movie ended up a visual spectacular of action scenes and special effects. There is a nice sub storyline and some nice acting but over all "War of the Worlds" is really just an action movie and not the best one at that.