Review: War of the Worlds [2005] (Close Encounters of the Turd Kind…)

war of th worlds poster(SPOILERS AHEAD)

It’s hard to believe this film is ten years old. I rewatched it, merely to see if my opinions had changed. At the cinema, I hated it! And my rewatch proved that I still hated it. Just think, this was before Tom Cruise was known for his sci fi films. Of course, he had done Minority Report before this film. But it is in the past couple of years that Cruise has become synonymous with quality sci fi films. Oblivion was a brilliant (if slightly uneven) mesh of 70s and 80s sci fi ideas. Edge of Tomorrow was one of the best films of 2014. So, as Cruise started off with some terrible sci fi films and has recently been involvd with some of the best, Spielberg has been on the opposite route.

Now, of all of Stephen Spielberg films, I despise this one the most. For This was truly the end of Spielberg’s relationship with science fiction. Spielberg is responsible for some of the great science fiction films: Close Encounters and E.T. being among his best. Yet, the dawn of the millennium came, and he directed such tripe as A.I. and Minority Report. A.I. was an unrelenting borefest, with no redeeming features at all. Kubrick probably vomited in his grave. And the end…did it end? Or am I still watching it now? Minority Report was marginally better. All I can remember is the colours blue and gray muddled with unrealistically bleached out environments.

There were small signs of promise in Minority Report, yet these were essentially dashed in War of the Worlds. After that, Spielberg should haven given up on science fiction. Just like Ridley Scott should have given up on sci fi…I would never want to watch Prometheus ever again…

Death to all humans!

The original War of the Worlds is a classic example of a Cold War B-Movie, with all the political implications that come along with that. It successfully meshes H. G. Wells’ novel with the political atmosphere of the moment (i.e. Us (or US, if you like!) and ‘them’, the Soviets). The aliens were killing machines, only to be brought down by something plain and ordinary; human bacteria. Obviously, this was a symbol for pure and simple human spirit; there’s always hope.

Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, however, tried to squeeze in themes of terrorism that didn’t fit well with the content. The poor script, ordinary destruction scenes, and illogical reunion at the end all added up to a dire science fiction film. It ended the same as the original; with bacteria (or Morgan Freeman’s voiceover?) finally killing the aliens. But the bacterial resolution didn’t fit with this version of War of the Worlds. Thanks to the obscene CGI and obscene destruction, this climax was perfectly anti-climatic; the ‘hope’ at the end felt false and contrived.

I assume that the reunion, like the silly ‘happy ending’ of Minority Report, was Spielberg’s soul grasping for the hope of Spielberg’s 1970s/1980s science fiction. Close Encounters and E.T. were all about embracing the Other; the Other posed no threat. However, in War of the Worlds, the aliens are inhuman monsters, simply intent on destruction. It was Cold War politics reborn with 9/11 trauma tacked on. Spielberg’s message now is: ‘be afraid of everything.’

Funnily enough, it was released in the same year as one of Spielberg’s best, Munich. What explains the quality difference? I am not sure. Maybe Munich was closer to Spielberg’s heart than a sci fi film. But Steve, if you look back to your own great science fiction films for inspiration. Base them on hope, not fear. We’ve had enough of bleak, dystopian, grainy science fiction. We want the hope of the 1980s back.

VERDICT: 3/10. Watch the original! Or better yet, read the book!

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