Slug: war-of-the-worlds-extermination Date: 2005-07-01 Title: “War of the Worlds: Extermination” layout: post

Jodi and I went to see Spielberg's new movie, War of the Worlds last night. I wasn't sure what to expect, and had tried to stay away from spoiler sites (which are generally a guilty pleasure of mine). I read the original novel by H. G. Wells in an anthology I got as a kid, and also had heard the Orson Welles 'Mercury Theater on the Air' broadcast on cassette tape as a teen. Speilberg's vision borrows from both, and exudes the hopelessness and desperation that Orson Welles' interpretation captured so brilliantly.

This is not a summer blockbuster movie, though it's running in June and probably cost a gazillian bucks. This is an intense, visceral film, shot almost exclusively from street level. There are few, if any, of the wide, panning "money shots" that populate your typical "Independence Day"-type blockbuster.

The film follows deadbeat dad Ray Ferrier (Cruise) and his two kids as they make their way from New York to Boston during an alien invasion, and because of the intimate POV the audience almost never sees anything the main characters do not experience. Several times we see the military heading off to do battle with the alien tripods, but the action that typically fills our view and overwhelms the audience instead happens off screen. In Spielberg's vision, we instead experience the terror of the unknown - the frozen grip of the knowledge that "just over that hill" indescribably horrible things are happening, and there's nothing we can do about it. There are several scenes that rival the basement scenes in Signs - horror and dread at the inexplicable lights, sounds and violence taking place outside.

The film is not without its weaknesses, including the ending. We do get to see the aliens, which in a small way diminishes the "cold, unsympathetic, vast intelligences" described in the introduction to both novel and movie. But nevertheless I was glued to my seat the whole film, and was pleasantly surprised at the character arc given to Cruise, as well as what he does with it. The highlight of the film has to be the performance from Dakota Fanning ("Taken", "Man On Fire") as Ferrier's daughter Rachel. She is a scarily amazing actress - flawlessly portraying the innocent but mature-beyond-her-years child, then the confusion, denial, terror – even the vacancy of a mind overwhelmed.

All in all, I would completely recommend the movie, with the warning that this is an intense, and intensely personal, film. Enjoy, but take the PG13 rating seriously - it's not a kids movie.