War of the Worlds movie poster
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War of the Worlds movie poster

War of the Worlds Movie Review

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I don't know what it is about sci-fi when Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise get together, but it works. The two A-list players last teamed up for the critically successful "Minority Report" - which was not especially financially successful - and they're looking to set things right with "War of the Worlds," roughly based on the H.G. Wells classic.

"War of the Worlds" follows a loser of a father around, played convincingly by Cruise, who has to save his children when monstrous aliens with deadly ray guns and biological weapons attack Earth with the intent to destroy every living human being on the planet. Dakota Fanning costars as his wise but easily-scared daughter.

Though the movie is directed by Spielberg and works well to go beyond the typical action film, "War of the Worlds" is essentially a popcorn flick, albeit with Spielberg-quality standards. The movie really has very little plot - it follows Cruise and Fanning around as they try to survive one incident after the next - and since the two characters aren't soldiers, they simply are bystanders in the war. That is all well and good as "War of the Worlds" basically plays out like "Signs" meets "Independence Day." We get the claustrophobic creepiness of the M. Night Shylaman film while getting utter devastation and special effects a la "ID4." The end result is an entertaining film that doesn't quite know how to finish things.

First off, the acting is top notch. Fanning is a bit annoying at times in the movie, but then again she is supposed to be; she plays the hysterical, frightened child so well, yet at the same time brings wisdom to what otherwise would have been a very simple character. More importantly, Cruise delivers one of his best performances to date. I had been doubtful about him playing a low-class dock worker, but he pulls the role off with ease and delivers a convincing and tense performance that drives the film.

The special effects are pretty good, too, though they didn't blow me away the way I was hoping for. My only real gripe was with fire; anytime there was fire, it didn't look real. The alien machines looked pretty real and the destruction was pretty well done, but some effects didn't quite look finished.

But basically, the movie isn't completely consistent. It's entertaining from beginning to end, but there are long sequences where you are literally sitting at the edge of your seat, and then long sequences where stuff is happening but the suspense isn't there. The first half an hour of the attack is absolutely awesome, but some later scenes aren't nearly so much. Perhaps it's because we know neither Cruise or Fanning are going to die...

My other complaint is with the realism of how people act in the film. If aliens were attacking, I'd be running nonstop. Here, every single stupid idiot stops to look. Then something bad happens and they run. Then they stop to look again. And why does Cruise try to lead his family onto the ferry that is doomed to be attacked? Wouldn't you try to stay away from bright lights and lots of people as much as you could? Frankly, the characters do a lot of stupid things that didn't agree with my sense of reality.

Nevertheless, Spielberg rarely messes a film up very much and "War of the Worlds" is sure to entertain the pants out of anyone willing to have a little fun. Sure, the movie's ending sucks and is greatly anti-climatic, but so was the case with "Signs" and I still liked that one. "War of the Worlds" could have been better, but as summer blockbusters go it is definitely worth the money.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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