For what its worth, the remake of War of the World is good from the visual point of view; the effects are great. And because it’s a popcorn film, it fills that quota with action galore, very little story and not much else. Oh, sure, we have a small story about a father’s redemption, but beyond that, there is not much more in the way of characterization.
The script follows the structure of the original book, but unlike the 1953 George Pal produced version, this film concentrates on one family fleeing the invasion from outer space (though, the aliens are not from Mars) and not the military. Tom Cruise once again proves to the world that he’s Tom Cruise, Mega Superstar. He’s essentially playing himself, as he does with every other role he does, and for me, this is a distraction. The film tries to give him a emotional arc, but the heavy-handed opening, where they make it so obvious that Ray is a bad dad, the film loses some of that arc because the ending has already been dictated.
Dakota Fanning, however, shines, as she does with most of roles. A female version of Haley Joel Osment, the 11 year-old’s wide eyes shows the terror of what is happening. Her visceral performance is what makes the film work. And while Justin Chatwin is good as the rebellious teenage son Robbie, but he is not essential to the film, and easily could’ve been dropped from the script. This film really is about a father and daughter, anyways. As is, Robbie vanishes half-way through the film and is almost completely forgotten. And Tim Robbins shows up late in the film, as a nut case survivalist and his role is rather pointless. It was as if the writer decided that just having Ray and Rachel by themselves could not hold the segment were the aliens investigate a house (in a scene that is very reminiscent of James Cameron’s The Abyss) together. And Miranda Otto is wasted in limited role as the Mother and ex-wife of Ray.
The film works, despite some flaws. Under the deft direction of Steven Spielberg, the movie runs a roller coaster of action, but it is hampered by some plot holes. I mean, isn’t it convenient that despite all cars that have been effected by the electro magnetic pulse blocking roads, that Ray and his family can still drive on the expressway without running into a jam or bottleneck? Or isn’t beneficial that after spending the night in his ex-wife’s house in Boston, that there is a local TV station van parked near the house (where a plane has crashed) that becomes exposition central? And the dues ex machina ending -while maybe original in the novel and even the 1953 version- does not work here.
The visual effects are impressive, and the new tripod designs of the alien ships is very close to H.G. Wells vision (and they reminded me a lot of The Tripods, a British TV series from the 1990's that featured aliens who live in similar ships). The death ray is cool and a bit frightening, but the aliens themselves look like distant cousins of the ones featured in Independence Day.
Overall, the film is worth seeing. Spielberg is a great director, and knows what he’s doing. The astonishing thing about this production is how quickly it was done. Filming began only last November, and its in theaters only 7 months later. Very impressive. And in a quick, almost unnoticeable scene, we get a quick cameo from Gene Berry and Ann Robinson, the stars of the original film. And despite some questionable scripting and not much in the way of characterization, its still worth a look. Just don’t expect anything original. But, hey, that’s Hollywood these days.