Steven Spielberg is the father of the summer blockbuster with Jaws, but since Jurassic Park all the way back in 1993 he’s arguably been lacking another smash. Minority Report did a respectable $132 million domestic, and Sir Steve obviously thought his partnership with Tom Cruise had potential because they’re reunited with this adaption of H G Wells’ 1898 novel, switching the setting from Victorian London to contemporary America. This change causes some plot holes as certain things don’t work so well in the modern world, but more on that later. I should warn you that there are spoilers in here so if you haven’t seen it yet just know that it’s worth seeing and is very entertaining.
By far the highlight of the film was the appearance of the first tripod. It rises from the ground, a truly awesome site, and then proceeds to indiscriminately kill hundreds of people as we follow Cruise’s character, Ray, attempting to escape with his life (occasionally feeling contrived as countless beams hit those around him and just miss). It’s a stunning scene that really shows that this isn’t ET or Close Encounters, and the rest of the film, though very entertaining, never quite manages to match up to it.
Something that I liked was that Spielberg went and subverted Hollywood’s current predilection for flag-waving jingoism. Ray’s son spends much of the film wanting to join the army and fight the invaders (never identified as Martians for some reason, possibly because we’ve been to Mars and found nothing but ice), and eventually passes over a hill after a convoy to join in the firefight. This is where most films would have him become a hero and save the world from tyranny or die a hero’s death, but not here. Fire flashes across the horizon and they’re all dead. Sort of…
The ending was one of the main downers about the film. The plot twist, the same as the book, feels contrived in a world where we’ve seen Independence Day (“I gave it a cold”) and Signs, and just doesn’t seem logical in a world of antibiotics. And why couldn’t they have brought their tripods out of the ground when humans were ape-men who would only throw rocks instead of missiles and nuclear weapons?
Spielberg’s inability to end a film without liberal sprinklings of schmaltz also rears its sad, teary head. Like AI, which was an absolutely wonderful film almost ruined by the dreadful ending (should have ended at the Blue Fairy), War of the Worlds ends with the family reunited, all remarkably unhurt despite living in one of the biggest cities in the Americas. I can live with that, but then the fucking son turns up as well – the same one that ran over the hill into the “napalm” attack. It was unnecessary and I definitely wasn’t the only one who groaned when he appeared.
Nonetheless, go and see it. It’s a good popcorn movie that there’s a lot to like about.