War of the Worlds

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Movie info from IMDB
Movie reviews from Metacritic

SPIELBERG, CRUISE, EPIC MOVIE, INCLUDING MORGAN FREEMAN NARRATING (doesn’t get much more epic than that these days… whatever happened to James Earl Jones?).

Yes, the self-proclaimed “blockbuster of the year” has finally been viewed and it was bloody good. Well it could have been utterly amazing, but Tom Cruise – and this is something my wife was the first to say, and she’s a HUGE Cruise fan – just can’t cut the mustard. He’s fine at wide sweeping and overly dramatic acting but give him something challenging, something that concentrates a lot of the camera time on him and more importantly, on him whilst he’s acting scared and needs to show emotion, and he’s hopelessly out of his depth.

A lot of the pre-movie press talked about “de-Cruising” Tom to give him more appeal as an everyday man on the street. That failed because he can’t act his way out of a paper bag. Dakota Fanning, who played his daughter, acts him off the screen, and the minute Tim Robbins appears you suddenly realise just how bad Tom is under this kind of intense scrutiny. Steven Spielberg said the decision to move the action to the basement of a house, focussing the action down there whilst above ground the action goes global, was to increase the tension. Unfortunately he was relying on the silent, “face only” acting of Cruise and is let down.

But I’ll stop going on about the lead actor, as it’s wholly unfair to let one bad egg spoil the entire cake. This movie was great. The effects were excellent, very believable, the tension was slowly ratcheted up very effectively, and in short this was Spielberg at his action movie best. The man knows how to toy with your emotions if you let him have them, he’ll wring you dry given half a chance, but I think he may have overstepped slightly at the end of the movie (I won’t spoil it but it may have been better if someone hadn’t reappeared).

Morgan Freeman opens the movie using the same narration that Richard Burton uses in Jeff Wayne’s classic musical, and the effects are almost the same (Freeman is good but vocally he’s no Burton, but then, who is?) chills slowly creeping up your spine. The storyline is fairly simple, martians take over the world and there’s bugger all we can do to stop them, so the opening scenes are given to creating some attachment to our characters and setting up the additional “failed father” backplot for Mr. Cruise.

But once the action starts it doesn’t stop, a few pauses here and there sure, but mainly it plows on, relentless and for a Spielberg film, remarkably bleakly. There are no grand heroics, no moving speeches, just widespread disbelief and panic. He handles it well, and before you know it the ending is open you, almost too suddenly? Perhaps.

This is one that will be best viewed on the big screen, but I’m curious as to how this will hit the TV screens, it’s hardly ideal fodder for a “family Christmas movie” after all. It’s good to see Spielberg back to the top of his game though, and I just hope that Tom Cruise sticks to making what he’s good (decent) at, simple films where he’s the dashing hero. Tom Cruise is NOT an everyday joe.