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War of the Worlds

Starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto and Tim Robbins
Screenplay by Josh Friedman and David Koepp
Based on a novel by by H. G. Wells
Directed by Steven Spielberg

IN SHORT: Buy as much popcorn as you can afford. [Rated PG-13 for Frightening Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Disturbing Images. 116 minutes]

As always, we make no comparison to Source Material, whether the original book or the Orson Welles Mercury Theater radio adaptation or the 1953 George Pal movie. We do appreciate director Spielberg's nod to the earlier film. You'll know when you see it if you're old enough.

Until a final scene that, for us, cuts the legs out of a pretty good popcorn movie, Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds is, well, a pretty good popcorn movie. It is heavy on destruction and panic and all the huge emotional stuff that would rightfully come along with an unstoppable attack upon these united States, and all the special effects are top notch. So, given that we never spill the endings, we'll move on, having made our dissatisfaction clear. That leaves the first seven eighths of War of the Worlds which, as we said above, the basis of a pretty good popcorn movie.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a dockworker who runs a huge machine that unloads cargo containers in the port of Newark, New Jersey. He is divorced and, as the film begins, is looking forward to his weekend with the kids. Son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is about sixteen, meaning old enough to want to drive but not having a license. Those outside America won't get the baseball joke hidden in the early scenes, but it speaks volumes about the father-son relationship. Daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is ten or so. Ray's ex Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) and new hubbie Tim (David Alan Basche) are quite well off and some of the economic differences, let alone the usual parent-teen stuff - are beginning to show.

The first night, after suffering through a dinner ordered out by the kidlets, the whole family is enthralled by a spectacular lightning storm, which is accompanied by black skies in the fading twilight. Cranky's being poetic because it isn't much longer until War of the Worlds becomes a 'run away or die' movie (which, of course, is what we all want to see. Right? Right.) The storm is unique because the lightning strikes are all hitting the same spot on a local street, a behavior repeated elsewhere in the area. Even worse, everything electrical, and all of the automobiles, have dropped dead.

Ray, and the usual crowd of onlookers, check out the local damage only to be tossed aside when some kind of massive machine cracks the surface and shoots light beams which blow targeted humans to smithereens. Ray and Co. flee to the Mary Ann's house in his van (and how his van happens to work when nothing else does is properly explained). Finding an empty house, and with a panicking Rachel on his hands, Ray sets out for the next logical destination, Mary Ann's parent's house in Boston. That trek will threaten to tear the family apart -- Robbie is gung ho to take up arms against the invaders. Ray is just as determined not to see his son blown up from the inside out -- and bring 'em all into a safe haven run by a survivalist (Tim Robbins) that may not be as safe as it appears.

That's all we need to report. John Williams' score is amazingly spare. The surround sound work is seat rattling (which Cranky's wretched back appreciated. Seriously.) and save our disappointment with the final scene, War of the Worlds is a generally agreeable and entertaining popcorn flick. We know this because we were fist deep in our bag o' corn for most of the film . . . and should've bought a bigger bag <g>

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to War of the Worlds, he would have paid . . .


It may be that, with Spielberg's name on it, we expected more than a plain enjoyable movie. Given the amount of films we see that don't even merit your ticket dollars, this is still a recommended film.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.