War of the Worlds

Cert 12

Everything is in place for Steven Spielberg to lay some shock-and-awe on us with his version of the HG Wells novel fondly remembered from the 1953 film version, where B-movie acting was subordinate to top-of-the range SFX. There are some memorable scenes - none more so than an out-of-control train, flames blazing from every carriage, racing past at top speed.

The only real problem here is that all the other key moments keep on reminding you of past Spielberg triumphs: not his earlier, relatively cuddly aliens but all those malevolent entities from a monster truck (in TV-budget days) to sharks, dinosaurs and Nazis . This is understandable after 30-odd years of laying our worst fears for us, but as you surmise that Dakota Fanning hiding from the aliens' tracking device looks a lot like the kids' breathless avoidance of velociraptors in Jurassic Park, and that the tall tripods beaming light resemble the Nazi watchtowers in Schindler's List, to name just two examples, it's also easy to recall how much more involving and original was the previous Cruise/Spielberg collaboration, the underrated Minority Report.

It kicks off effectively with weird stuff happening in the sky. For the rest of the film, Tom Cruise, in charge his two sulky estranged kids, has to keep it together in the face of psychopathic, barely-seen aliens. Amid a bass-heavy Jawsy John Williams score, it's mainly a race against time and the desperate hope for the flaw that usually saves the human race, like the film Triffids' fatal water allergy or (until recently) the Daleks' strong preference for terrorising us in bungalows.

Chaos and anarchy are well-represented here and there is more than one direct reference to 9/11 as well as just one memorable dialogue exchange between Cruise and his son: "Is it terrorists?" "These came from someplace else." "You mean, like, Europe?"

Overall, it's worth seeing but doesn't pack quite the high-voltage jolt of Wells' 1898 novel, where the invasion starts in Woking, Orson Welles' run-for-the-hills radio broadcast of 1938 or Spielberg's greatest hits.


Rob Mackie

The GuardianTramp

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