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Return to 2006 Films

Index of 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Big Bad Swim
Brokeback Mountain
Cinderella Man
The Departed
The DaVinci Code
Eron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room

Good Night and
Good Luck

Half Nelson
History of Violence
Hotel Rwanda
Little Miss Sunshine
Journey from the Fall
March of the Penguins
Million Dollar Baby
Prairie Home Companion
Star Wars III:
Revenge of the Sith

Thank You for Smoking
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Sea Inside
United 93
War of the Worlds
Walk the Line
World Trade Center

War of the Worlds
A Review by Tom Condon, OP
(St. Martin Province)


After a few go-rounds giving benevolent aliens their due ('E.T.,' 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'), Steven Spielberg tackles a story where the extraterrestrials most definitely do not come in peace. In this retelling of the H.G. Wells classic, Spielberg joins forces with Tom Cruise to depict the harrowing struggle for the survival of humankind through the eyes of one family. Ray Ferrier (Cruise) is a working-class divorced dad living in New Jersey. He's estranged from his family, he's self-centered, and his life is in utter shambles. When his small-town existence is shaken violently by the arrival of Martians bent on sending Earth into oblivion, he must come to the defense of his children, overcoming an even more potent enemy -- the demons that lurk within.

War of the Worlds is a great summer sci-fi movie for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. But beware the last 15 minutes. The ending is as anti-climactic as they come.

As you probably know, War is Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic. Another Wells, Orson, adapted it into a radio play in 1939 that caused a sensation. Spielberg begins well. Tom Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a divorced father, keeping his teenage son and younger daughter for the weekend in suburban New Jersey. Things quickly become ominous when lightning begins striking everywhere. In no time, it is apparent that this is not just a thunderstorm, when giant tripods appear, zapping people at will. Ray, with his kids in tow, hijacks the only car in New Jersey that is working (I didn’t understand this, but when you’re Tom Cruise ...), and begins to drive away from the destruction.

Spielberg, aided greatly by his special effects crew, does an excellent job of creating a chaotic atmosphere. Everywhere there is absolute devastation. Nothing is left standing. Ordinary people are utterly defenseless against the aliens and their weapons. There’s a great scene of a mass of people attempting to cross the Hudson River on a ferry, when the aliens strike and panic ensues. The viewer becomes caught up in the hopeless predicament of the characters.

In the midst of the special effects, acting honors go to Tim Robbins. He plays Ogilvy, a man living in one of the few houses still standing in a rural area who provides refuge to Ray and his daughter. Ogilvy has lost his family and is crazed with grief and a desire to fight back. As he did in Mystic River, Robbins once again gives an effective performance as an unstable man who may be dangerous.

There are many themes in War that pervade Spielberg’s films. He’s dealt with aliens since Close Encounters and E. T. Scenes of valiant soldiers bring to mind Saving Private Ryan, and the sense of dread and panic even conjure up memories of Schindler’s List. When we finally see the aliens, they actually look and act like the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. But, most of all, there is the theme of the fragmented family longing for wholeness. Spielberg has been exploring the theme of family, notably in E.T. and recently in Catch Me If You Can. In War of the Worlds, family is ultimately more important than the annihilation of the world. It takes an alien invasion to wake Ray up to his responsibilities as a father. Deadbeat dads, be warned!

I don’t want to be a spoiler, so I won’t give the ending away. I’ll just reiterate that it’s a huge letdown. Perhaps Spielberg is being faithful to the novel, which I have not read. In any case, the film just seems to suddenly stop in a most unsatisfactory way.

The movie opens and closes with narration, which, I presume, comes directly from the novel. (The film’s website gave no information about the narration or narrator who sounded like Morgan Freeman.) I was upset by the continual and obvious use of non-inclusive language in this narration. Certainly this is an issue we wrestle with today in church and society, especially when citing texts from different eras. But the language contributed to my disappointment in a film that had did not realize its potential.

Tom Condon, O.P.


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