Making the Grades
Steven Spielberg is once again drawn to aliens. Not the shy, candy-munching extraterrestrial kind, but shiploads of aggressive space invaders intent on exterminating the human race.
In this updated adaptation of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, the well-known director signs Tom Cruise to play a divorced, deadbeat father who has reluctantly agreed to take his kids for the weekend. Ray Ferrier's (Cruise) bachelor pad is as disheveled as his life. With a dismantled car engine on the kitchen table and a fridge stocked with outdated condiments, his home is anything but family friendly. Although his children are resigned to the visit, they aren't ready to warm up to their disengaged dad, who leaves the two of them to fend for themselves while he sleeps.
Late that afternoon, Ray wakes as a curious storm blows in. Spawning violent lightening strikes, the squall unleashes a squadron of three-legged war ships from deep below the earth's surface. In a matter of minutes, the planet is under attack from intruders who incinerate everything in their path. After watching several New Yorkers vaporize before his eyes, he grabs Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and runs out of the city for safety.
However in the midst of the assault, safety is an illusion.
The trespassers trash and burn the countryside leaving it littered with refugees seeking asylum. Ray's plan is to get the kids back to their mother (Miranda Otto). He is used to watching out for himself and taking on the role of protective parent is a stretch for him. Guarded in his emotions, he doesn't trust or care for anyone, including the doomsday-ready farmer (Tim Robbins) who offers them a haven in his basement bunker.
Expensive and extraordinary sets along with impressive performances by the young actors make this film a visual wonder. But the violence factor has been pushed to the limits of the PG-13 rating. Crumbling buildings, extensive wreckage and hordes of dead bodies are left in the wake of the assailants.
Alas, the human targets don't offer much resistance. Instead of cooperating in the face of catastrophe, it's a fight for self-preservation. Chaos breaks out among a crowd when a car is commandeered at gunpoint and the driver is killed. Another man is murdered in order to keep him quiet as the aliens approach. Unfortunately, Ray's motivation for safeguarding his children is also questionable. Never sure if he's truly converted to his role as a father, it's hard to believe in his good intentions, even in the face of impending trouble.
Originally published in 1898, Wells' story of creatures from outer space has become a classic of the sci-fi genre, one that seems applicable to the fears of every generation. But given the unfriendly nature of these aliens and the less-than-satisfying conclusion, this may be one war families won't want to engage in.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about War of the Worlds (2005).
How do the crowds react when the aliens appear? Why to they seem to be drawn to the center of a disaster? How does that affect the efforts of the police to maintain control?
Ray is portrayed as a self-centered father with little time for his children. Does his character change during the course of the story? What are his motivations for protecting his children?
Starring as the children’s grandparents in this film, Gene Berry and Ann Robinson played the main characters in the 1950’s version of The War of the Worlds.