War of the Worlds (2005)


Steven Spielberg remakes H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s easily his best movie in many, many years. Through the eyes of a single father (Tom Cruise) and his two children (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin), we experience the apocalypse — the end of the world — as towering alien tripods climb out of the Earth and begin destroying humanity en masse. When I have nightmares (which are rare), this is what they are about. This movie fills me with genuine dread and terror, and there simply aren’t many films that have ever done that.

Scenes from this movie will haunt me forever: People burst into ash, their clothing left spiraling on the breeze. A little girl watches corpses float down a bloody river. The tripods, with their spindly legs and ominous two-note call, send a shiver down my spine. The mob scene outside the diner and the ferry boat attack are both fantastic.

What I love most of all is that there is no escape, no solution, no way out of the nightmare. Even twenty minutes from the end of the movie, no one has a clue how to beat the aliens. The only way to maintain that impervious threat is to keep the original ending from the source material. Yes, something simple, something out of the blue, something darn near silly, saves the day. But as abrupt and unsatisfying as that ending is for a lot of people, I would argue it is better than the formulaic plot we’d have had otherwise: halfway through the movie, a solution would have been discovered, and the threat would have instantly dissipated. This may be the only time where deus ex machina doesn’t bother me.

Maybe the imagery and viscera simply fall in line with my own dreams and fears, but I dig this flick. Most people would probably tell you Independence Day is a better summer movie.  If they do, ask them which is scarier.

With Tim Robbins and Miranda Otto.

Oscar Nominations: Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing

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