DVD Review: ‘War of the Worlds’

War of the Worlds is a counterpoint to Independence Day.  Both films have aliens coming down to earth.  Both have aliens destroying humanity.  And both films have humans winning out in the end.  (Oops!  Did I just spoil two movies that  have been out forever?  My bad.)  Where War of the Worlds differs in its scope. Independence Day is this big ensemble piece with storylines all over the place.  War of the Worlds focuses on one family’s encounter with the Big Bad Aliens.

You’d think that the combo of Steven Spielberg as director and Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise would result in an awesome movie–after all, it worked really, really well in 2002’s Minority Report.  But you’d be mistaken.  There are a lot of genuinely eerie (and some downright unnerving) moments in War of the Worlds, but for some reason, the parts (Spielberg, Cruise, scary stuff) don’t make a good whole.

What’s it about? Ray Ferrier (Cruise) is a working-class (weekend) dad whose kids don’t like or know him (and vice versa).  Weird stuff happens close to Ray’s house (wind blowing, lightning striking), so naturally he decides to see what’s going on in the neighborhood.  It turns out aliens have been buried underneath the ground for who knows how long, waiting for the right moment to attack us.  (The lightning was the signal for them to start vaporising!)

Mass pandemonium erupts.  Ray’s teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) wants to fight the aliens (although he has no weapon and, as far as we know, no military training).  His daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning, the Child Actress), wants to go home to Boston and be with Mom (Miranda Otto).  A brief stop in Tim Robbins’ cellar doesn’t make things any better (and is one of the film’s more chilling sequences).

Real Spoiler Alert! So the aliens die because on a microbial level they can’t handle earth’s atmosphere…or water…or infatuation with Brangelina.  Which, in some ways, is refreshing–there’s no Tom Cruise saving the day–but on the other hand, you’re left a little underwhelmed.  Really?  Microbes save the day?  That’s it?

What’s good about it? When the aliens kick our trash, it’s pretty intense.

What’s bad about it? Tom Cruise is miscast.  I don’t for a second believe he’s a working-class guy.  He’s TOM CRUISE.  He can play spies, lawyers, politicians, or any professional who clears at least $100K annually.  But he can’t play regular people.  Bruce Willis or Hugh Jackman would have been a far greater choice.

Perfect for: catching it on TNT when you’re doing your ironing.

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