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3 Stars Movies

What makes Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds unique also sabotages it

Although easily overlooked among the Steven Spielberg and Cruise filmographies, I actually rather enjoy their 2005 War of the Worlds remake.

Unfortunately, what makes it unique also sabotages it:

It’s practically a requirement for the alien invasion genre that the protagonist be the big hero that saves the world. Refreshingly, Cruise’s character here is just a blue-collar guy trying to survive, minute-to-minute. Trying his best, making errors of judgement, and sometimes just wearily trudging along from incident to incident along with crowds of fellow refugees. Compare and contrast with the hyper-competent expert he typically plays: the world’s premiere spy, race car driver, or fighter pilot.

Although I’ll bet Cruise probably performed much of his own stunts as usual here, the film isn’t structured around major set pieces like much of his later work. Instead of watching Cruise actually jump out of an airplane, free climb, or crash a motorcycle, here he’s mostly seen operating shipping cranes and running away from stuff.

[spoilers for a 120 year old novel] The premise of the source material is inherently uncinematic, even if it is quoted directly in the prelude and coda by one of cinema’s greatest voices, Morgan Freeman. It’s just plain strange that no one from the creative, financial, or distribution teams insisted on reworking the material to give humanity (if not Cruise’s character himself) a more active role in defeating the aliens.

It’s also infected with that weird ultra-grainy cinematography in vogue at the time. I blame Ridley Scott for that, most evident in Hannibal and Black Hawk Down.

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