Director Steven Spielberg turns H.G. Wells’ classic tale of a Martian invasion into a commentary on today’s collective fear in a post-9/11 world and manages to produce his most frightening film yet. This loose adaptation focuses on an average working-class guy, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), who has lost his wife to another man and successfully alienated his two children, teenage rebel Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and angst-ridden 10-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning). These family troubles fade, of course, when aliens start dropping out of the clear blue sky and begin the wholesale slaughter of our species and civilization.
Spielberg spares no expense in chronicling the chaos: Entire neighborhoods are reduced to rubble; the countryside is torn asunder while the skies are filled with fire as the alien tripods march across the planet, leaving nothing alive in their wake. Spielberg uses computer-generated-effects modestly, integrating them into scenes that sport massive sets and locations littered with real buildings that have been given a bombed-out appearance. The price tag on this film, an estimated $200 million, is high, but there’s no question that every penny is on the screen.
Although the horrors Spielberg shows are disturbing, it’s the movie’s subtext that proves most effective and has the most lasting effect. It’s no coincidence that the threat, though alien, is from an unnamed location or that the enemy’s victims are vaporized and turned to ash. The parallels between the disaster on display here and that of 9/11 are purposeful, as is the point that it’s not just our physical world that is altered by attacks like these but our spiritual and moral worlds as well. As society breaks down and its laws become obsolete, Ray and Rachel are forced to come to terms with a new world order, and it affects how they behave toward others in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine.
War of the Worlds suffers from an anticlimactic ending, which is compounded by Spielberg’s cloying brand of sentimentality. The bittersweet conclusion he presents is difficult to swallow and isn’t consistent with the scenes of massive destruction that precede it. Despite that, this is modern epic filmmaking at its finest, a spectacular piece of cinema that delivers equal thrills and chills as it warns against complacency and arrogance, reminding us to be ever vigilant of enemies from both within and without.
Also in theaters this week. . .
Land of the Dead [R] Zombies have taken over Earth with the exception of a small walled community that sustained the initial attack. But, as the zombies begin to evolve, how long can the humans keep the living dead out? Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East
Rebound [PG] After a public meltdown, a top college basketball coach (Martin Lawrence) is demoted to the junior varsity team. Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East