WAR OF THE WORLDS
(12A) 116 min
Don’t expect War of the Wells (H.G’s original 1898 novel) or Welles (Orson’s infamous 1938 radio broadcast). Hollywood superpowers Spielberg and Cruise have updated the classic tale of alien attack on Earth to modern-day East Coast U.S and launch their own hi-tech saturation bombardment on global multiplexes. Resistance is futile.
It’s also, perhaps surprisingly, unwarranted. Deliberately opposing the overblown pyrotechnics of Independence Day, the entire invasion is seen through one family, divorced blue-collar dockworker Ray Ferrier (Cruise) and his two estranged kids. The reduction in perspective is refreshing. No obliterated monuments, military heroics or Will Smith punching-out-the-alien wisecracks here: simply the blind panic of ordinary people trying to avoid utter annihilation.
The first hour, from the lightning storms triggering the release of giant tripods long buried underground (sleeper cells?), to a terrifying attack on a crowded ferry, is absolute white-knuckle stuff. The tripods, with their foghorn siren call-to-arms and relentless, implacable waves of destruction are truly nightmarish. If Spielberg’s past close encounters with benevolent aliens seem worlds away, his habitual technical mastery hasn’t deserted him.
Inevitably, given the constant cowering in basements, things flag somewhat in the second half and the ending’s an ill-judged mesh of Wells’ abruptness and old-fashioned Hollywood schmaltz. But it’s not enough to erase the earlier craft and invention. The 9/11 parallels in particular are deftly handled and if this War is never less than a $150 million f/x epic, it’s still the only summer blockbuster that effectively proposes Tom Cruise as an insurgent suicide bomber.
* * * * (four stars)