The War of the Worlds

Released: August 26, 1953
Budget: $2 million
US Box Office: NA
Global Box Office: NA

Director: Byron Haskin
Cast: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite, Sandro Giglio, Lewis Martin

Synopsis: A California professor fights to save humanity when comets filled with violent Martians start falling.
Best Quote: "If you took all the energy expelled in just one square-dance, we could send that meteor back to where it came from!"

Review: 2.5 stars

Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds is a little like a runner going out too hard in a mid-distance race: it fires off the blocks fast on a wave of energy and bravado, but its own enthusiasm isn't enough to keep it going as it stumbles to a mediocre finish. While it does not always live up to its own lofty ambitions, Spielberg's foray into disaster films is a visual spectacle that is definitely worth a rent.

While ultimately feelings for this movie may be mixed, there is no denying that War of the Worlds has one hell of a first hour. The movie wastes no time in introducing Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), a blue-collar New Yorker in charge of his two estranged kids for the weekend. Just in case we didn't get the hint that things aren't alright on the home front, Spielberg lays it on thick by putting Ray's son in a Red Sox cap. This domestic tension works well as the calm before the storm that we know is coming. When the aliens do arrive, it really is a beautiful piece of disaster filmmaking. Not one to be pigeonholed into a single disaster type, Spielberg employs lighting, windstorms, earthquakes, and crazy alien weaponry to make quick work of Brooklyn. What stayed with me long after the movie was over was how seamless the action all was. By avoiding quick cuts and prepackaged explosions, the special effects are engaging and believable.

For all I can say about how pretty this movie is, top notch CG isn't enough to carry it for all 116 minutes. Like any film with an adapted screenplay, War of the Worlds struggles to feel fresh while being faithful to its source material. An opening voiceover is a nice shout out to Orson Welles' radio adaptation, but the lack of any parallel storylines puts a little too much pressure on the underdeveloped main characters. Movies about threats to mankind are well suited for an ensemble cast, but here we just follow the same 2-3 characters throughout (though Tim Robbins makes an amazing guest appearance). When the movie finally comes around to its disappointing conclusion, we haven't met enough people to really find ourselves cheering for humanity like in feel-good disaster flicks such as Independence Day. The result is a movie which is a blast to watch, but which is quickly forgotten once the credits finish rolling.