Movie Poster
War of the Worlds
Steven Spielberg
Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, Ann Robinson, Morgan Freeman
116 min.


War of the Worlds is bad in exactly the same way that every other Steven Spielberg movie is bad. But it is also good in the way that they sometimes end up when they don't bother trying to be. That is to say, War of the Worlds is meticulously generic, emotionally manipulative and pathologically incapable of subtlety. It is also, however, compellingly suspenseful and reasonably entertaining. It's like a less ridiculous version of Signs. Actually it seems very much like Spielberg read all the "The New Spielberg" articles about M. Night Shyamalan around the time Signs came out, and decided to give him what for. Spielberg is definitely a step above your average hack director. This does not make him good. This makes him a slightly above-average hack. Do not confuse the two.

Remaining are as few elements of the original story as could be kept in order to still use the title. Added are an asinine story about a repentant deadbeat dad trying to reconnect with his children, lots of ridiculous situations in which there is exactly enough room through the rubble for Tom Cruise to drive his minivan and two bookending narrations done, incongruously, by Morgan Freeman.

Tom Cruise is surprisingly effective as the main character who ought to have been named Clayton Forrester. Dakota Fanning plays the shrill harpy-child like she knows what it's like. Justin Chatwin plays the son with the same chip that is on every other teenage movie character's shoulder. Tim Robbins intentionally haggards himself up, as though he weren't haggard enough to begin with. And he's got a bad accent. And none of them have any motivations. And we, across the plane of action, an audience vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded these characters with placated eyes, and slowly and surely decided we didn't really know why any of them did any of the things they did.

Herbert George Wells' novel of the same name represents a high-water mark for intelligent battles-with-aliens science fiction. Orson Wells' famed radio show of the same name represents a high-water mark for effective adaptations of literary works. This film represents a modestly entertaining summer effects-extravaganza.

At least its not Saving Private Ryan.

Pat Jackson