July 02, 2005

MOVIES: War of the Worlds (Steven Spielberg, 2005)

The publicity surrounding the recent eccentricities of Tom Cruise may be hurting War of the Worlds at the box office -- early reports suggest that it's not doing as well as hoped this weekend -- but once you get past all of those things, it turns out to be a darned good movie.

Spielberg wisely keeps the aliens offscreen for long stretches, and the movie is often more about suspense than about Blowin' Stuff Up Good, though there's certainly plenty of that, too. The first action sequence is especially good (though it's marred by an awful continuity error: How exactly is that camcorder working?).

Cruise does a nice job here, and his awkward relationship with his kids feels natural and real. Dakota Fanning, as Cruise's daughter, is terrific; let's hope she makes it through puberty with her talent intact, as so many child stars have failed to do. (Yes, Elijah Wood, I'm talking to you.) Casting the outspoken peace activist Tim Robbins as a shotgun-toting survivalist isn't by itself as funny as Spielberg seems to think, but Robbins brings a solid comic touch to the role that takes it beyond just a piece of jokey casting.

The movie falls a bit flat in the last 20 minutes, when Cruise takes on the alien invaders most directly, and the ending is just as anticlimactic as it was when H.G. Wells wrote it, but hooray for Spielberg for keeping it, when he must surely have been under pressure from the studio to create an ending with a bit more pizzazz.

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