In terms of my love of film, 2005 was very important. As my hometown friends and I constantly point out during our nostalgic catch-ups, ‘we used to go to the cinema all the time’, making full use of student discount and Orange Wednesdays etc. It kick-started an interest that remains to this day.
It was that year that I broadened my film tastes and fell out of love with the blockbuster, albeit temporarily.
War of the Worlds was a big reason for that. 2005 had some real stinkers – the big screen version of Goblet of Fire made a mockery of my favourite Harry Potter book, King Kong was a long, boring mess, Revenge of the Sith is still defined by that awful ‘Nooo’ moment and I’m still bitter I was outvoted and forced to see Mr and Mrs Smith rather than the wonderful Batman Begins – but War of the Worlds stands out above all as my prime example of a bad film.
It had the ingredients to do so well with Spielberg at the helm and usually-reliable Tom Cruise as leading man, with a decent supporting cast including the pedigree of Tim Robbins and John Williams providing the score.
And it actually got off to a fairly good start with Cruise playing Ray Ferrier, a grounded, working-class divorcee dad from New Jersey looking to connect with his children despite his collapsed marriage and dead-end job.
Spielberg has a good track record with building up iconic sci-fi moments (see Close Encounters, ET) and did so again here with crazy weather patterns providing a perfect air of mystery and suspense around the impending alien attack.
The initial assault was also pretty good – the Tripod attack looked good and rather than Cruise becoming the unlikely all-conquering hero, he did exactly what anyone else would do, which was run away and try to protect his family.
But that’s about it.
As realistic as it is for Ray to constantly be on the run from alien attacks with his young daughter and teenage son (lots more on him later), it gets awful dull as a plot point after a while, with the death and destruction eventually reaching a point of diminishing returns given they just can’t hit Ray or his family.
When the plot eventually does take a turn with Ray and daughter (Dakota Fanning) hiding out with Robbins crazy hermit survivor Ogilvy, we cross into the realms of parody with the Shawshank star doing his best impression of a South Park redneck.
Then, after Ray is captured, Spielberg and Cruise can’t resist turning him superhuman for a brief moment as he brings down a Tripod thanks to a trick with grenades that miraculously does no damage to any of his fellow human captives.
An anti-climactic second half reaches its nadir when the aliens all die from catching the common cold, leaving an audience to wonder whether the ending was worth sitting through the previous two hours (the answer is no).
I won’t criticise the ending any further, as it is based on the source material (by HG Wells, who I actually really like – The Time Machine is a classic) but there are so many other problems with this film.
First up, Fanning. I get a 10-year-old girl would spend an alien invasion screaming her head off, but when dialogue is essentially replaced with that for a good half-an-hour, it just gets annoying.
This is also the film that started the parody of the Morgan Freeman voiceover. Considering his awesomeness, why he chose to associate himself with this film is beyond me, and his reward is those stupid More Than adverts and to be pilloried in the beyond-stupid ‘Scary/Epic/Disaster Movie’ series.
Hearing Morgan Freeman abruptly announce the aliens have died from our germs and then have the film end seems like a joke the Simpsons would have made 10 years earlier during its golden years.
But even that is not the worst of it. No that honour belongs to Justin Chatwin’s teenage prick Robbie.
I am not sure I have ever hated a character more in any film ever. I get it, he’s mopey, angry and resentful because he is a teenager and his parents have split up.
So why the hell does that give him a deathwish??? From the moment the aliens arrive he is obsessed with getting himself blown up without any character development to suggest why, other than being a moody dick.
He finally does this when his father finally relents from his uber-selfish efforts to keep his son alive by allowing him to run into a huge explosion when the army launch a counter attack.
And I mean huge, ‘nothing could survive this, there are dead soldiers everywhere’ explosion.
SO OF COURSE HE’S ALIVE AT THE F****** END!
He even gives his father a huge hug when they reunite at his grandparents’ home in Boston. Because you can be a huge dick to your father during an alien invasion, but it’s only when it’s over that you gain some perspective.
What the hell were the army doing? If a kid who is impervious to harm and can seemingly teleport across 200 miles is out there, let him take on the invasion himself.
I hate everything about this moment and this character, and actor Justin Chatwin deserved to appear in the Dragonball Z film for this.
This was such a missed opportunity, and what the Spielberg/the producers ended up with should have been left on the cutting room floor.
A stain on an otherwise impressive legacy.