Movie Review – “War of the Worlds (2005)”

We didn’t post a discussion forum because we knew one of us would have a review up this weekend. Here it is.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier

Dakota Fanning as Rachel Ferrier

Justin Chatwin as Robbi Ferrier

Tim Robbins as Ogilvy

Written by Josh Friedman and David Koepp, based on the H. G. Wells novel.

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Complete information is available from the IMDB.

Premise

Alien tripods attack the Earth, and one man desperately tries to get his family to safety. (Well, many do, but only one gets a significant amount of screen time.)

High Point

Some of the images are absolutely incredible. Truly awe-inspiring. A close runner-up would be the integrity shown in preserving the novel’s ending. It’s just far more plausible than, say, writing a computer virus on a Macintosh laptop that happens to cripple just the alien force fields, with no impact on say, flight, life support, or any other system that could shut them down immediately.

Low Point

The jarring tone shift when Ogilvy is introduced. The suspense/action film suddenly becomes a suspense/thriller film.

The Scores

How original can this really be? This is not the first adaptation of this story, and it’s far from the first alien invasion movie. It’s not even the first time they moved it to the United States. However, compared to the 1953 version, it’s considerably more true to the spirit of the novel, if not the letter. I give it 2 out of 6.

The effects are amazing. There is a complete integration of CGI with physical effects. Amazing job. I give it 6 out of 6.

The story is thin. There’s a little more here than there was to the original novel, since the lead character has a family with him, but there’s not much more. This is not a plot-driven movie by any means. (The functioning camcorder shows how much attention was paid to story details.) I give it 3 out of 6.

The acting is great. Dakota Fanning is a great actress, regardless of age. Tom Cruise came across as sane, and from what I’ve seen lately, that implies incredible acting talent. I give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response is great. There’s a slight derailment when the tone shift happens near the end, but it’s still got a very powerful build-up. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production was great in most respects. The continuity editing had more issues than most films, but the problems all appeared in scenes with heavy use of child actors, so that might be a result of piecing together a large number of takes. I noticed no other problems in the production. The sound design was absolutely fantastic, and the pacing, cinematography, and mise-en-scene were extremely well done. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, this is a fun summer movie. The more I think back on it, the more I think it’s an updated Jurassic Park. It’s an incredible summer film that should be viewed on the big screen, but repeated viewings at home won’t have the same impact unless you have a very impressive home system. Check it out in a well equipped theater now. If you have kids, get a baby sitter: there are some moments that will be genuinely scary for the young. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, War of the Worlds receives 31 out of 42.

20 replies on “Movie Review – “War of the Worlds (2005)””

  1. y42 says:

    Love those tripods!
    The effects, the visuals, the tense moments are all done perfectly. The death rays are incredibly cool.

    I didn’t like the aliens themselves though, they were too independance day-ish, and by no means anywhere near to how Wells had envisioned them. That, and the camcorder issue you mentioned, would be my low points.

    Although, for the cams, I figure that since they’re filming all this, it was inconceivale to them that cams should fail. That’s unpossible! : )

  2. Damien says:

    I rate it 5/5, but….
    I give it a high 5/5 because it is simply so spectacular and holds true to what I remember of the original story. My main low-point is that it isn’t a movie with a high rewatchability, my wife early on said it was something she wanted on DVD, but by the end never wanted to see it again, some parts are just too harrowing to experience a second time.

    Damien

  3. chad says:

    Not So Great
    I give it a 6 out of 10. If I’d known beforehand what it would be like, I’d have waited for the DVD release and gotten it from the library.

    The rest of my post has blacked-out, mild spoilers.

    Too many inconsistencies like the camcorder. What? The machines decided Boston didn’t need to be levelled, or that it could wait until later? The starter/solenoid were the only parts of the car affected–what about the computer and other electronics? Anything that can wipe out the solenoid and every other bit of electrical equipment will affect more than just the starter. When they were in the cage on the bottom of the tripod, why did everyone try to rescue Cruise’s character but not the one who was taken prior to him?

    The basement scene was way too long, and it really interrupted the flow of the movie. Boring! Also, you would think the ultra-high-tech aliens would use something other than visible light (infrared sensors anyone?) to detect the humans. In addition, I don’t buy the mental breakdown of Tim Robbins’ character at the end of the scene.

    The imagery was great, especially some of the panoramic scenes with the tripods wreaking destruction. The scene after they cross the river comes to mind. If it wasn’t for this, the movie would rank several points lower in my opinion.

    The ending was too "Hollywood." There was no reason for the son to be alive, and the fact that the house in Boston was (1) still standing and (2) contained the entire family was just flat implausible.

    The underlying theme, that of a man growing up and becoming a real father to his children, worked pretty well. Cruise’s character developed over the course of the movie, making better decisions and being of more support to his kids. I, however, don’t typically go to a summer blockbuster for its "message."

    I appreciate how they were true to the book when it came to the ending. I had really expected them to change it and was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t.

    • zonk3r says:

      Re: Not So Great
      I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I also thought that they should have changed up the plot a little with the aliens being shot down through the lightning. I haven’t read the book so forgive me if my idea is significantly different from it.

      I would have said that the alien tripods weren’t there all along but instead the lightning was used to ‘transmit’ the ships and aliens in them to earth. Remember matter and energy are equal. How about saying that the aliens have a technology that allows them to transmit huge amounts of energy over great distances and then convert the energy back into matter at its destination point. This is far more plausible that stating that you have zillions of alien tripods planted in the ground for millions of years and have gone completely undetected by all of the mining, tunneling and drilling operations that have occured since human civilization…

      I also didn’t like that there was really little to no explanation for the red weeds, why they were sucking blood from some and vaporizing others, why the son “had to see this”, among other things.

      I thought it was also kind of stupid to have the ending with the son the way they did instead of having him show up at the end. I would have had him go off with the soldiers and then have the kid notice something important and suggest it to the soldiers, like for instance the birds on one of the tripods, or somesuch. But I digress…

      • y42 says:

        Re: Not So Great

        zillions of alien tripods planted in the ground for millions of years and have gone completely undetected by all of the mining, tunneling and drilling operations that have occured since human civilization…

        Yeah, that was lame.

        In the book, they assemble them from parts they brought with them in their rockets.

        • yodapez18 says:

          Re: Not So Great
          you guys are really generous to this film. i thought the efects were amazing and the style was great but the characters drove me nuts. Every time the girl said or did anything I wanted to see a giant metal leg stomp on her, she is the epitomy of annoying children. That isn’t her fault, I think its more the character taht Tom cruise portrayed, I guess it is neccesary to hve the out of control kids in order to show what a dead beat he was, still the whole situation was infuriating, I would really think that given a massive crisis like that kids would instinctively look to the adult, as opposed to questioning every move. I’m also not sure how Tom cruises caharacter was figuring everything out, he didnt really come across as that bright or observant.
          The camera that worked pissed me off, sicne they went through all of the trouble of setting the scene with the “Electro magnetic pulse” explanations on the enws and the descriptions of how solar flares worked etc.
          I also want to know why the news lady introduces her deaf friend, who makes a point of not hearing anything, and then ten seconds later shouts “hey did you hear that?”
          no, dd you???
          I dont think it would ahve taken us taht long to realize you could carry a bomb into the belly of the beast, especially not after we’ve seen so many sci fi invasion flicks where aliens do just that. they made a reference to the japanese taking one out, maybe through a kamikaze attack.
          Why would they drop machines into the earth millions of years before they used them? Were they WAITING for something? saying “Well who can understand the alien mind” will only get you so far

          • HIM says:

            Re: Not So Great

            Why would they drop machines into the earth millions of years before they used them? Were they WAITING for something? saying “Well who can understand the alien mind” will only get you so far

            (some spoilers)given the intentions of the aliens its possible that they were waiting for the population on earth to reach a certain point, right now the population is over 6 billion the largest number of people in history, its possible this is the amount of people that they needed and have been waiting for

      • TwistyHat says:

        Re: Not So Great

        I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I also thought that they should have changed up the plot a little with the aliens being shot down through the lightning. I haven’t read the book so forgive me if my idea is significantly different from it.

        That stupidity was the all spielbergs :) In the book they arrive by spaceship and start having fun.

  4. TwistyHat says:

    Well…
    Boring, unimaginative and silly.

    There that was my review and it was much shorter *g*

    And not that I need to defend anything, but

    If it was an EMP that knocked stuff out, it is entirely possible the camcorder wasn’t affected if it wasn’t turned one when it happened.

    And if these machines were scatter about long before countries exsisted, who is to say any of them were close to Boston? They were working their way across the world, and hadn’t really reached it yet. If the story had taken place during months then it would be odd, but as it is – naa, there are greater idiocies – even some from the book – advanced aliens land on a distance world… and they don’t scan for stuff that could kill them? What is this- the crew of Enterprise? *g*

    • TwistyHat says:

      Re: Well…
      Oops, forgot to click tags – can’t edit – too bad *g*

    • chad says:

      Re: Well…

      If it was an EMP that knocked stuff out, it is entirely possible the camcorder wasn’t affected if it wasn’t turned one when it happened.

      It’s my understanding that the EMP *creates* electric current in the circuitry. The current is way too much for typical integrated circuits, so they fry. It does not matter whether or not the device is turned on, as the power comes from the EMP itself. But whatever happened in the movie was most likely NOT an EMP as we know it. The standard EMP will not fry solenoids, and an EMP, no matter how strong, will not stop mechanical watches (although his watch may not have been purely mechanical).

      • TwistyHat says:

        Re: Well…

        It’s my understanding that the EMP *creates* electric current in the circuitry. The current is way too much for typical integrated circuits, so they fry. It does not matter whether or not the device is turned on, as the power comes from the EMP itself.

        I’m no expert, but I’ve read that it does matter if they are switched on or not – a lot of stuff will survive if it isn’t turned on at the time. The burst is also very very short, its on the order of nano seconds.

        • nitefallz says:

          Re: Well…

          It’s my understanding that the EMP *creates* electric current in the circuitry. The current is way too much for typical integrated circuits, so they fry. It does not matter whether or not the device is turned on, as the power comes from the EMP itself.

          I’m no expert, but I’ve read that it does matter if they are switched on or not – a lot of stuff will survive if it isn’t turned on at the time. The burst is also very very short, its on the order of nano seconds.

          Hasn’t anyone seen the Matrix? :)

        • chad says:

          Re: Well…

          I’m no expert, but I’ve read that it does matter if they are switched on or not – a lot of stuff will survive if it isn’t turned on at the time.

          Did some research. If it is turned off, that helps some, but does not necessarily prevent the EMP from frying the circuitry. So you’re right.

      • GrimSean says:

        Re: Well…

        The standard EMP will not fry solenoids, and an EMP, no matter how strong, will not stop mechanical watches (although his watch may not have been purely mechanical).

        Regardless, Omega watches should be able to stand up to more than that. I know if I shelled out $1400+ on a watch I would expect it to be shielded.

        Seriously, I cannot have been the only person annoyed by that scene – the watch was so out of place on that character it was an obvious piece of product placement (even more so than the Ford sign in his front room!). The attention to detail in this movie was nonexistent. Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun, but some things really bothered me – like digging through the crappy supplies they brought with them to find something to eat while standing in a kitchen with working power. Weak.

    • jules says:

      Re: Well…

      there are greater idiocies – even some from the book – advanced aliens land on a distance world… and they don’t scan for stuff that could kill them?

      This is explained in the book to my satisfaction:

      At any rate, in all the bodies of the Martians that were examined after the war, no bacteria except those already known as terrestrial species were found. That they did not bury any of their dead, and the reckless slaughter they perpetrated, point also to an entire ignorance of the putrefactive process. But probable as this seems, it is by no means a proven conclusion.

      They were ignorant of the existence of bacteria (possibly because they had eliminated any bacteria-equivalents entirely from their own world and had forgotten long ago that they existed), which makes such a mistake a possible (or even probable) one.

  5. shifting says:

    Buried Ships
    Everyone seems to be getting very hung up on the whole “The ships were buried for millions of years” idea, but it seems to me we only have Ogilvy’s word for this. Since he’s
    1)not privy to any special information, and
    2)a little nuts
    3)seems obsessed with hiding things underground
    I don’t think we really have any idea HOW the ships were buried or how they got there.

    • GrimSean says:

      Re: Buried Ships

      Everyone seems to be getting very hung up on the whole “The ships were buried for millions of years” idea, but it seems to me we only have Ogilvy’s word for this. Since he’s
      1)not privy to any special information, and
      2)a little nuts
      3)seems obsessed with hiding things underground
      I don’t think we really have any idea HOW the ships were buried or how they got there.

      I personally assumed that it was some sort of self-assembly job, like nanotech or matter conversion. When the reporter showed Cruise the slowed-down picture of the lightning, I figured that capsule created the tripod out of what was already down there, really, really quickly. There’s no way the Americans would have missed something like that for so long.

  6. joe__gee says:

    Camcorders, tripods, etcetera :)
    I just saw the movie, enjoyed it thoroughly. Like the fellow below who gave this five out of five, I can say this stayed true to my memories of the book and the previous movie.

    First the camcorder. One way of shielding against an EMP is by using a passive device called a Faraday cage. Although many civilian devices are unshielded against EMP (cell phones, watches, etc.), you might be surprised by the equipment that *is* shielded (commercial grade electronics.) My quibble would be with the journalists’ van functioning, not with the functioning equipment that was stored inside what is essentially a large Faraday cage.

    As for buried tripods, if they were buried deep enough, five hundred feet or so, I could see them completely evading detection. Modern seismic imaging is performed in a lot of places, but one doesn’t usually get to set off low-yield explosive charges in major population centers, just to image minerals of a site that will most likely never be mined.

    I enjoyed this movie. I was surprised by its darkness. To me, comparing and contrasting this sci-fi flick with “Revenge of the Sith” leads one very quickly to the conclusion of who is the better director … Spielberg rarely hits Jar-Jar-esque fouls, and I didn’t see many merchandizing opportunities in this film. Tripods that suck the guts out of humans? Great fun for the kids, see what they can do to hamsters …

    As for the demise of these aliens, the movie *is* true to the book in this respect.

    Another fun compare and contrast exercize. Compare this to M. Knight Shylaman’s invasion movie. Crop circle road signs? Water?!?!?! This movie is practically an instant classic when compared to Shylaman’s film (the name of which I have a hard time remembering because I disliked it so much.) :)

    -Joe G.

  7. hck says:

    Very enjoyable
    I am a big radio theater fan. So for me I was thinking of the book but mostly of the radio play Orsen Wells did in the 30’s. That scared the crap out of me and I was listening to a record. The naration at the begining is used in the radio play as well, and it sounded so right with Morgan Freeman. Almost word for word. As for EMP, I don’t think the lighting would give out the same power as say a nuke would have. Also I never thought that it was intended to. If they wanted to EMP the planet first, no power would have been on at the mother’s house. So the needed shielding could have been much less. And we saw the area of effect was not all earth. Also the Tripods may not have been buried. We saw something go into the earth with the lighting. Why not all of it. I think that people were just guessing because that’s what they saw. I found most of the human interaction very believeable.

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