A film review by Jeffrey Graebner
Steven Spielberg’s new adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel War of the Worlds contains many of the conventional elements of the mainstream disaster movie and adds an unusual layer of realism, both in style and characterizations. The result is a genuinely scary film that maintains a very high level of tension and excitement.
The film, which was adapted by screenwriters Josh Friedman and David Koepp (the latter also adapted Jurassic Park and its sequel The Lost World for Spielberg) pretty closely follows the structure of Wells’ novel, but transports the setting from 19th century London to present day New York. The central character of an absentee father (Tom Cruise) trying to escort his children to safety is created for the film, a smart decision as Wells novel was told through the eyes of an undeveloped first-person observer, an approach that wouldn’t likely work as well on film.
Cruise gives a good performance as Ray, a man who initially is not very sympathetic or heroic, but is ultimately forced to find some maturity and parental instincts by the extreme circumstances of the alien invasion. The character is a variation of the charming, cocky, but irresponsible persona that Cruise has frequently portrayed in past films and it is interesting seeing those traits treated more as negatives that need to be overcome instead of strengths, a somewhat natural progression as Cruise has become older and is naturally going to be playing characters with greater responsibilities. Ray is likable, but clearly a lousy parent who has to struggle to gain enough trust from his children to provide any chance that he can keep them safe.