War of the Worlds
—About this Film
“No one would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own. That as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed—and studied. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of their empire over this world. Yet, across the gulf of space, intellects vast, and cool, and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes... and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us.”
Okay, anything said by Morgan Freeman just has a way of seeming that much more believable. I have a simple code that I live by: blockbusters have to live up to their hype. The fake hype machine surrounding the release of this movie, the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes (be prepared to be sick of seeing the phrase “TomKat”) manufactured drama is more of a distraction than anything else. This is usually an early sign that there needs to be something besides the strength of the movie to draw (read: distract) an audience.
The last time Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise got together was for the intelligent science-fiction movie Minority Report, a thoughtful meditation on predestination and free will. In War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise (Ray Ferrier) is in cocky maverick role. Spielberg pulls out all the stops creating a sense of dread and does a masterful job of creating a suspense-filled fear of the unknown. He raises the stakes of his shaken glass of water at his T. Rex’s approach in Jurassic Park. It’s the rare occasion when big budgets and special effects actually increase the terror and realism. The walking tripods are simply amazing to watch.
War of the Worlds is a science-fiction movie that tries to be grounded in drama to give it a sense of urgency. It can’t help but draw comparisons to Independence Day, but whereas Independence Day only sought to be breezy fun (without thinking too hard), War of the Worlds’ meticulous craftsmanship invites thought, but cannot withstand that level of scrutiny. What we have are thinly drawn characters present only to service the action. Cruise plays little more than a smirk that occasionally breaks into panic. The slight letdown of the movie comes because at its core, the movie is as vacuous as its protagonist; for all of the cinematic wizardry, we’re there for the BOOM.
Though Spielberg pulls out all of his tricks (including the little kid in danger scenario), we aren’t overwhelmed. There is no sense of... awe like we had with a Jurassic Park. There’s not the substance of a Minority Report. Without spoilers, there are more than a few Independence Day level implausibilities. The secret flaw that does in the aliens smacks of Deus ex Machina, not to mention the rest of the way-too-contrived ending.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12 (King James Version)
The threat of the aliens was there all the time, but no one realized it. Part of the threat was buried underground, the rest lay in the heavens above and beyond us. We just didn't see it or know about it until it was too late fend for ourselves, by ourselves.
In this battle against these forces both within and above, most of us are just trying to make it out alive.
“What is your plan, Ray?” Ogilvy (Tim Robbins)
Like the movie Signs, War of the Worlds is a big story told through the eyes of a single family. This one brings to mind what I always think when watching epic disasters/end of the world movies: does anyone really want to survive? Especially if we have only the possibility of ending up a part of the invading aliens' particularly gruesome brand of terra-forming to look forward to? But part of me wanted to see that bigger story rather than be so focused on a lead character that I cared so little about.
There is no rhyme or reason to why Ray Ferrier does anything. He seems to drift through life, going from scenario to scenario, action sequence to action sequence, without much of a plan beyond getting his butt (and that of his kids) to safety.
Such end-of-the-world scenarios also remind me of how too many people reacted to the possible threat of Y2K. People were hoarding food, stockpiling weapons, preparing to survive even at the expense of their neighbors. If something—an other that “draws up plans against us”—takes away our technology, the comforts of the trappings of civilization, man is reduced to his baser, selfish, instincts.
An every-man-for-himself hysteria.
Instead of just trying to make it out alive and fend for ourselves against threats that we don't realize are there until it's in front of us, what we forget is that we need community to make it through this life. And only by looking out for one another do any of us stand a chance of survival.
War of the Worlds is an exciting thrill ride, a well-above-average popcorn movie. This movie is about what happens when all we have is each other. Or, as Morgan Freeman narrates in conclusion, “Neither do men live nor die in vain.”
—About this Film