Before there was Spielberg, before there was Cruise, there was H.G. Wells: the man who created War Of the Worlds. It was 1898 when Wells wrote the novel and it took years before it broadcast over the radio in ’39 by Orson Wells. Later still, it was made into a movie in 1953. Now, in 2005, we get our own Steven Spielberg version of the film. If anyone could take on such a well-known story as this it would be the man that not only created E.T., but also gave us Jaws, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind , need we continue. It’s Spielberg and War Of the Worlds, brace yourself.
As we begin the story there’s…did you hear that? The Morgan Meter is sounding. Now, we know there’s a good flick ahead; Morgan Freeman voices the opening narration. After the Morgan intro (which is taken from Wells’ book), Tom Cruise opens his heart and plays a cocky, self-absorbed, loser-father of two, who gets his kids for a court ordered weekend as the story sets up. His children, played by Dakota Fanning and some guy, really don’t care for their dad too much either, negative tension abounds. Soon we’re thrust into action as a “lightning storm” comes into town. Cruise leaves Fanning crouched down under the kitchen table as he tries to learn what’s going on with the lightning. As you can imagine, it’s something alien, i.e. large, destructive, and machine like. Everyone runs for their lives, comes back out to watch in fear, and again runs and hides. Eventually, however, we get right to the meat and potatoes of the matter and Cruise, as well as everyone else, just runs. A sensible strategy, that’s why it’s called the fight or flight response. Finally Hollywood (Spielberg) chose to create a story around the more likely of the two when faced with scary aliens.
Frankly, for all the other action pictures that come out of the movie machine where nothing happens but over-choreographed fight sequences and gunfire, it’s admirable to see Cruise running for safety. His character has an instinctual, albeit delayed, need to protect his children more than a desire to saturate the screen with testosterone. The fact that most of the film is spent scrambling to flee from danger makes the story that much more believable and true to life, especially when the CGI is done as well as it is here.
While some of the scenes are a little too quaint and full of the well-isn’t-that-nice-and-tidy effect, the film rests securely on a foundation of story. War Of the Worlds shouldn’t be judged solely as an action or science fiction film when at the root of the story the film focuses on the building of a relationship between a deadbeat dad and his two kids. Most of this change in relationships comes through good direction from Spielberg when it comes to the unspoken actions of the characters. These small details make a huge difference and they tell you their bonds are changing. For example, in the beginning of the film, when suspicious and scary things are happening, Cruise often leaves Fanning alone in a room while he goes to check on something, or is telling her to be quiet even when she’s scared rather than calming her. As time goes by, in a later scene Fanning is in Cruise’s lap and at the sound of danger, quickly lunges into her brother’s arms for safety and comfort. Finally, by the end of the film, we get to see Cruise carrying her and being extremely conscious of not leaving her alone and protecting her before worrying about himself.
The changes that take place within the characters are just as important as what the characters do with the situations they’re in, thus War Of the Worlds stands out as a far superior film than any other “alien” movie to date. Even if you’re not a Tom Cruise fan, this is a DVD to own. Cruise gives us a performance that is touching, shows character transform, and a strength that never comes to those who choose to blow everything up in hopes of saving only themselves. Even though he’s pushing sixty, War Of the Worlds is another great Spielberg film. He hasn’t lost his touch.
For War Of the Worlds two different editions of DVDs have been released. The one I reviewed was the single disc edition containing just the movie and one extra. For those more financially endowed when it comes to your DVD budget, there’s the pricier two-disc version chock full of special features, galleries, interviews, and all the juicy stuff we want to see.
The one extra on the single disc edition, “Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens,” is also on the two-disc version. This one extra is definitely worth watching and if it is any indicator as to how good the two disc set is then it’s probably also worth the cash it takes to get it. “Designing the Enemy” has rough drawings of the aliens and tripods, a look at some of the other aspects of the film, and interviews with the designers, as well as the great grandson of H.G. Wells.
The bigger version includes “Revisiting the Invasion: Introduction with Steven Spielberg,” “Featurette: The H. G. Wells Legacy,” “Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds,” “Characters: The Family Unit,” four “Production Diaries: East Coast – Beginning, and Exile, West Coast – Destruction, and War.” Also carried on the second disc is “Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens,” “Scoring War of the Worlds,” “We Are Not Alone,” “Production Notes,” and “Galleries.”
One feature missing from both forms of the film is an audio commentary. Of all the extras for any movie, the audio commentary is the must. Even when it’s done badly, at least you can pick up some information that enhances the movie the next time you watch it or gives you a sneak peak into a mistake made during filming or a tale of finding the location or actor. But War Of the Worlds is not the only film Spielberg has neglected commentary wise. Good old Steven has never recorded a commentary for any of his films.
Having no commentary on any film is bad, but this is by far the most disappointing lack of a feature because of what Spielberg and Cruise have done for film. There probably isn’t a person alive that doesn’t know who they are or have seen something they’ve had their hands in. And here we are, left without a voice to guide us and tell us how it is that men such as these have come to be so successful in telling stories in the form of a movie. We should be so lucky.