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War of the Worlds - Movie Review

If there's a director who can command any studio to plunge in dollars for his next project, it's Spielberg. He's almost constitutionally incapable of making a movie which the masses would come to dislike. At one point of time, I think after the release of Jurassic Park, five of his movies were in the all-time top 20 grossers. That's simply unbelievable commercial track record. Part of the reason for such a strong ring at the box-office is because of his die-hard optimism. There is not a single Spielberg movie which will make a 10 year old girl walk out of the thatre disappointed. There is so much of life and celebration of life in his movies that it's quite impossible to not note the man's love for the world. This time, however, it's his love for humanity that pulls down the movie. 'War of the Worlds' based on the H.G.Wells classic of the same name written well over a century ago, is a misnomer. Earth is not engaged in a war with another world, it simply tries to run away and save itself. And how well does it save itself?

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), a divorcee, works to make his ends meet. One fine morning, when there's news of strange lightnings striking parts of the world, his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) drops their kids with him for a weekend. Soon, those lightnings strike their town (somewhere in NJ) and giant tripods, as they're called, emerge from the ground and start annihilating humans by vaporizing them. The bulk of the story deals with Ray's efforts to save his daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) from the aliens. This has the premise of a sci-fi and visuals of a horror, but at it's heart it's a human drama, Spielberg's stronghold.

Spielberg brings his personal life into the movie, again. The children are in danger, the parents are divorced, and there's estranged relationship in the family; but instead of hope and message from the sky, it's a malign entity this time. When Ray puts his kids into his truck and tries to take them to their mother, his son says that he's just trying to dump them so that he (Ray) can walk free. Later, when his son wants very badly to join the army in fighting the aliens, Ray desperately tries to dissuade him to save his life. There's a scene where they're the only ones having a vehicle in working condition and the mass simply kill to get hold of that vehicle. The tone and execution is similar to the 'flesh fair' scene in A.I. Had it been Scorsese, he would have excelled in bringing depth to those scenes. Because it's Spielberg he avoids exploring the beast inside the human. He's happy to say that there's beast inside everyone of us but doesn't put spotlight on it.

The segment with Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins) is again a stress on the beast inside the human. We're in dark about the mentally deranged character's fate: did Ray kill Harlan or just harm him enough to not disturb him and his daughter? This segment is unusually long for a sci-fi/adventure movie where there aren't any tripods or action and only very few dialogues are exchanged. I think Spielberg makes a point about humanity using the interaction between Ray and Harlan: 1) when you're driven to the human limits, you'd do anything to protect your kith and kin 2) to some extent everyone's emotionally unstable and angry on the face of problems beyond their control. I was able to identify with both the characters and felt nobody's right or wrong in situations like that.

Tom Cruise is credible as Ray. Dakota Fanning as the daughter is mostly confined to shouting at a high pitch and Justin Chatwin as the son is a typical teenager - rebellious and seeking freedom from parents. The Australian beauty Miranda Otto appears only for a few minutes *heavy breathing* and Tim Robbins is solid as the deranged man trying to kill the aliens. Spielberg is the most technically competent director. He uses graphics to help the story when most of the directors tell the story using graphics. By making the audience stay with the family, he makes us identify with the characters. The crowd reaction scenes show his mastery over film direction. Janusz Kaminski does wonders with his camera. There's a beautiful shot which revolves in and around the moving truck. In fact the scene also captures the brilliance of Spielberg. Visual effects are top notch. There's not much work for John Williams as the foley artists take care of the background sound.

There are moments of 'wow' in the movie, but they're few and far. The movie tries to wrap up everything clean and because the movie builds up very well, the ending let me down. Had it been Kubrick, he'd have crafted a masterpiece out of the climax, which reminds me of A.I. Spielberg, as I mentioned is constitutionally incapable of letting the humans suffer at the end. Did I give away anything?