Review of War of the Worlds (film)
Having heard some good buzz about this movie, my wife wanted to go see it, so off we went to the Route 4 cinemas in Paramus. My apologies to anyone else at the 3pm showing; I was the one on the left hand aisle with the noisy cough all through the movie.
The main thing is that this isn't really a blockbuster science fiction movie, it is a blockbuster horror/disaster/suspense movie. The story isn't much interested in the why or wherefores of the bad guy invaders, but on the feeling of menace they pose to the little family at the center (and the menace that the invasion indirectly brings through its effect on other people). The story doesn't really depend upon the settings that much, just so long as there was a separation between the children and their mother to be bridged against steep odds.
Even though I'm not much of a film buff really, I kept seeing scenes in this movie which reminded me of other movies, both the greater and the lesser: Koyaanisqatsi, A.I., ET, Signs, Eyes Wide Shut, Jersey Girl, even The Poseidon Adventure. From what I know about Steven Spielberg, I guess that there are probably many more that I missed. Even more important were the allusions going directly back to the 9/11 terror attacks. And for me, the one big special effects seen shown in the trailers where an entire overhead highway overpass comes down reminded me of nothing so much as the news footage of the freeway that came down in the Loma Prieta earthquake. These associations broaden and make the experience more visceral the same way that echoes and allusions do in literature.
Dakota Fanning turns in the best performance here, one that is entirely believable and serves as the emotional center of the story. It's always surprising to reflect that in these kinds of special effects-heavy films, much of the most suspenseful times, the actors have to react and emote into thin air, which she also carries of with ease. Somehow, when she and Tom Cruise are on screen, there is something like real chemistry there. There is no other way that they could carry off a scene where they are sleeping on a basement cot without seeming creepy, times being what they are.
I thought the score by John Williams was unusually unobtrusive for him. There were times during the showing I attended when the sound effects were cranking and the dialogue was hard to make out. I would like to rent the DVD when it comes out so I can see the subtitles to catch what I missed.