Review: War of the Worlds (2005)

War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds



Steven Spielberg


Josh Friedman, David Koepp (Novel: H.G. Wells)


116 min.


Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins

MPAA Rating

PG-13 (For frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images)

Buy/Rent Movie



Source Material


The novel War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells was the source for one of radio history’s most important broadcast. A young Orson Welles brought his Mercury players together in an adaptation of the book made to sound like a news program. 67 years later, another adaptation of the classic Victorian novel pits a modern family against the alien horde.

Tom Cruise stars as Ray Ferrier, a union crane operator who has agreed to take his son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) off his ex-wife Mary Ann’s (Miranda Otto) hands for the weekend. Not long after Mary Ann departs with her new boyfriend, an electrical storm draws neighbors from their homes to see a spectacular phenomenon.

They soon discover that this bizarre weather is the precursor to a world-wide invasion of the planet earth by aliens from another world. The audience knows that the invading planet is Mars but the film’s characters don’t have any idea. Ray takes his family on the run escaping into the countryside attempting to find their way back to Mary Ann and hopefully to safety.

The trouble is that everywhere they turn, the large tripod alien crafts begin to menace them anew forcing them to eventually seek shelter in the basement of a militiaman (Tim Robbins) who nearly gets them killed a number of different times.

Steven Spielberg took on a difficult challenge adapting the Wells novel to the screen. The largest failures, however, fall to the screenwriters. Josh Friedman (Chain Reaction”) and David Koepp (Bad Influence ) never seem to realize the difficulty of taking a novel set in the modern past and pulling it into the modern present. They leave a great deal of unanswered questions, silly omissions and gargantuan plot holes.

The blame lays squarely with the script but some problems can be hefted on the director. Spielberg seems to enjoy sanitizing his films. Roughly half of the film is spent trying to avoid gore and the other half relies on it. Meanwhile, Spielberg uses some of his most powerful visuals in War of the Worlds. Two scenes in specific are particularly effective, one of which takes place as Rachel searches for a private place to potty near a rivers edge and the horror she witnesses.

Cruise has rarely been better. His confused father learns a great deal throughout the film. The primary lesson is how he can become the father he’s never been. Fanning, likewise, was terrific. She plays Rachel as a smart, rational child who is suddenly faced with irrational and horrific events that force her to collapse into a primal state.

War of the Worlds is much like Spielberg’s wasted effort A.I. – Artificial Intelligence. He takes great pains with Worlds to tell a frightening and ghastly story. He uses his talents to great effect but eventually, in the last half hour, lets the film succumb to the trappings of a happy ending. And it’s not just a traditional happy ending, it’s a saccharine-sweet, cavity-inducing conclusion.

Review Written

August 4, 2005

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