director Steven Spielberg
Back in 2005, I was duly impressed by Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds when I saw it in the theater. At that time, my kids were very young, 4 and 1, respectively, so it was definitely not something I enjoyed with them. Also, I was unfamiliar with the seminal Byron Haskin/George Pal 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, which in retrospect, was a severe oversight. Since that time, over seven years, Spielberg’s film continued to loom in my consciousness and beyond that, I’d gone on to enjoy the 1953 version of the film with the kids, as well as Tim Burton’s quite funny lampoon of the films and the genre in Mars Attacks! (1996). Now, with some perspective, and kids that are now 11 and 8, I thought it would be a good time to watch the Spielberg version anew.
The film holds up very well so far. In the seven years that have passed, Dakota Fanning is no longer a child, but otherwise, the film, visual effects and general impact, are as fresh and contemporary as if the film was released today. Felix was impressed with the special effects.
What resonates about a film, especially when you’ve seen as many as I have in the ensuing seven years, is a random crapshoot of impressions, entirely unique to any individual. It’s continued to strike and amaze me how many images and sequences of this film have stayed so fresh in my mind. The images of the family home below the bridge in New Jersey, where the initial drama starts, strangely had stuck with me, as had the initial emergence of the tripods from the city streets in their neighborhood. The tripods themselves, massively looming across the countryside are remarkably eerie and stunning. And my favorite sequence from the first viewing, the cramped cowering from the probing “eye” of the creatures while the heroes hide in the basement is another amazing set piece.
The film was certainly a post-9/11 film. Set in New York, with the images of ash-covered people, vaporized humans, empty clothing floating from the sky, bodies teeming in a river, and the mass postings of flyers for missing loved ones, played off very fresh wounds and images from the definitive event of 2001. The annihilation of humans by the aliens, though, is steeped in Holocaust-like terms, and the tone and shock value of the imagery is as much haunted by WWII and the brutal Final Solution as anything purely of the present. The images are transcendent, frightening and visceral, truly nightmarish.
Clara found much of the film scary. And it is. It’s an excellent film of its genre, carrying potent impacts visually, viscerally, emotionally.
I’ll never be a Tom Cruise fan, but he’s used fairly well here. Fanning, I think is very good, but Clara didn’t like her. She thought she whined too much and was annoying. Felix liked the film quite well. I’ll admit that it was probably a bit intense for Clara. It is PG-13, and rather than for any specifics of blood-letting or cursing or sex of violence, the film is just very intense and powerful. And it’s about the annihilation of the human race.
The ending, more or less intact from H.G. Wells, is still the odd anticlimax. It’s still oddly poignant, if increasingly challenging from a scientific perspective. Shouldn’t the aliens have known the risk of tiny organisms with all of their superior science and technology and planning?
Still, one of the best sci-fi films, one of the best alien invasion films out there.