E.T. The Extreme Terrorist

So what’s your favorite “end of the world” movie? Every summer, films of the sort are released and yet, there’s not one definitive for the genre. These big-budget flicks are less thought of as classics, more known as blockbusters or money-makers. In addition, their dependency on special effects shortens their lasting impact. It’s inevitable that they’ll be outdone by future fares since special effects only improve with time.

Uh-oh. Here comes the special effects.

In terms of durability, it really comes down to the way the familiar story is told. So let’s bring out the aliens or the formidable forces of nature. Cue the screaming mob, running for their lives. “War of the Worlds” – how jump-on-the-couch worthy is this Spielberg film? Let’s attack.

International superstar Tom Cruise travels across the economic spectrum to play Ray Ferrier – a blue-collar cargo worker from New Jersey. On the morning we meet him, the divorced father has weekend custody of his two kids: 10-year old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and her detached teen brother Robbie (Justin Chatwin). Ray is hardly the greatest of dads, but fret not, when it’s a matter of survival, Mr. Mission Impossible is the fittest.

The horror begins with strange lightning storms, which causes all electronic devices to malfunction. When Ray investigates the neighborhood, a giant mechanical tripod rises from a lightning-struck spot and starts aiming its deadly rays on humans. (And yes, just about everyone surrounding Ray gets vaporized). Ray grabs his kids, steals the only functioning vehicle in the area, and drives towards Boston to reunite his kids with their mother.

For a global-scale event, the film restricts itself in Ray’s point of view. I prefer this, than the mixed bag offering of a large ensemble. The movie compensates its lack of characters with relentless amounts of ominous thrills. There are only few instances where the movie drags. While it hardly shows originality, “War of the Worlds” is ambitious in combining effective elements from past successful films. It aims to be relentless as “Aliens,” as intimate as “Signs,” as destructive as “Independence Day,” as panic-drenched as “Titanic,” as paranoid as “28 Days Later,” and as monstrously savage as “Jurassic Park.” With Spielberg’s masterful direction, he easily distracted me from the film’s flaws, which I only realized when I read some reviews. Am I dimwit then for not noticing? Hmmm… I hope not. But hey, is searching for faults really the smart way to watch a movie?

What a surprise. Even highly intelligent aliens hate Dakota Fanning.

An afterthought: I think Spielberg is popular and talented enough to have an unknown cast. Why does he keep casting well-known stars? Expensive doesn’t always mean the best. While it is entertaining to see Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning as tortured targets, they bring Hollywood baggage that diminishes the believability of the film. Let’s face it – Tom Cruise hardly disappears in a role (“Collateral” and “Born on the Fourth of July” are his best efforts) and we get it, Dakota Fanning is a kid wonder, but she’s so ubiquitous. What’s wrong with other child actresses? And this brings us to the lesson learned by the invading aliens. Spielberg, Cruise, and Fanning, take note: superior mentality can be a downfall.

Grade: A-

Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Miranda Otto, and Tim Robbins
Screenplay by
Josh Friedman and David Koepp
Based on the novel by
H.G. Wells
Directed by
Steven Spielberg
Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images