Steven Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation of “War of the Worlds” goes for a modern setting while still building off the paranoia and dread felt in the well-known 1897 novel by H.G. Wells.
The movie again pairs Spielberg with Tom Cruise after the two worked together on “Minority Report” in 2002. Part of why this film works so well, besides its faithfulness to the spirit and thematic elements of the novel, is the dynamic between Cruise’s character and his two children, whom he’s protecting and trying to get to safety during the alien attack. They have an estranged relationship, but they rekindle their bond on their road to safety.
Speaking of the aliens, the designs for both the tripod machines and the actual aliens themselves are the greatest I’ve seen in a sci-fi film since the xenomorphs from Ridley Scott’s “Alien” films. The tripods I find to be an especially interesting design from their movements to the sounds they make and their deadly methods.
I also love the tone and atmosphere of the film. From frame one all the way to the end, it’s the perfect mix of dread, misery, hopelessness and, at the end, hope. It’s one of the very few instances where I feel an adaptation truly brought the book to life, which I’ve only ever got before from “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter” and “Of Mice and Men.”
John Williams’ musical score is very well done and, once again, helps represent the paranoia. Some of my favorite pieces of his were incorporated into some of my favorite scenes in the film, like the ferry scene and the scene at the intersection.
A great scene that always gives me goosebumps is the one with Tim Robbins’ character, Harlan Ogilvy, comparing the attack to a war between men and maggots — the hopelessness of the whole debacle, how the aliens are just going to keep coming, and how, at the end of the day, the aliens are there to exterminate the human race. It’s a chilling character study that helps drive home the seriousness of the situation.
Another thing Spielberg did, that he’s honestly great at doing in all his films, is conveying honest emotions with the characters and the actors portraying them. The performances are so great that it never felt like acting, and I mean that in the best way.
I really felt like I was watching real events and that bad things were happening to real people. It’s haunting to watch.
To wrap it up, I love this adaptation of “War of the Worlds.” It’s emotionally effective, it gets the tone right, the casting was wonderful. I’d even argue it’s the best adaptation of the book. It deftly mixes a modern setting with the tones, themes and character motivations of the classic novel.
I’m going to give this movie an A-plus.