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Now in Theaters: Finally, 'War of the Worlds'

Published June 30, 2005

[Photo: Paramount Pictures

Film review
Woe is this 'Worlds'
As Tom Cruise might say: Steven, you haven't done the research. Specifically, on H.G. Wells' allegory. The result: a superficial War.

Finally, it's time to talk about Tom Cruise's movie, rather than his moves on Katie Holmes or his going off on Matt Lauer. That's the good news. The bad news is that War of the Worlds (PG-13) isn't as fascinating as the tabloids.

Never before has Steven Spielberg so obviously settled for going through the motions as a filmmaker. Even his creative signature of placing a broken family - a key element of his youth - at the center of the story doesn't create the emotional pull to which we've become accustomed. The movie is nothing but chase and destroy, which gets tiresome without chasers and destroyers with some degree of personality, or a resolution that satisfies.

Much of the film is Spielberg cribbing from his previous films: the shaky, you-are-there cameras of Saving Private Ryan, tense situations lifted from Jurassic Park and Minority Report, an underwater shadow portending danger a la Jaws, and various looks at the aliens and their invasion craft recalling Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Spielberg apparently also enjoyed M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, with its basement terror and a few seconds when the screen goes pitch black for added suspense. This isn't a movie; it's a cinema scrapbook.

Cruise has little to do except look worried as Ray Ferrier, a deadbeat dad in charge of his children (Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin) while his ex-wife and her new husband are away. That happens to be the same weekend when aliens begin exterminating humans by using enormous tripod "tanks" blasting impressive death rays. The space invaders are so daunting, so completely merciless, that even H.G. Wells couldn't deduce how to beat them.

Their invincible nature creates a few undeniably edgy sequences: The first wave of destruction is impeccable movie destruction, and scenes with Ray and his daughter trapped alongside an unhinged survivor (Tim Robbins) have a nicely claustrophobic feel. Spielberg tosses in a few post-9/11 references to hint at topicality, and maybe what the movie should have been. War of the Worlds doesn't need more creatures, but humans that we consider more than merely collateral damage. C+

A full review appeared on Wednesday's Page 2B, and can be found at

- STEVE PERSALL, Times film critic

[Last modified June 29, 2005, 09:43:07]

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