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Movie Review ***

‘War of the Worlds’ Thrills and Chills

By Yong-yi Zhu

War of the Worlds

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Screenplay written by Josh Friedman and David Koepp

Based on the book by H.G. Wells

Starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, and Justin Chatwin

Rated PG-13

The master of grandeur, Steven Spielberg, has produced yet another science fiction masterpiece — War of the Worlds is the edge-of-your-seat summer thriller that we’ve been awaiting. Spielberg has a history with out-of-this-world aliens, and although it may not live up to the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) or E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), War of the Worlds is still entertaining and action-packed.

The movie is about a divorced father, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), left with his teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and his ten-year-old daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) for the week when aliens suddenly start coming out of the ground and killing everything in sight. We see the struggle to survive as well as the terror humanity must face.

Of course, we cannot talk about the movie without discussing the merits of its adaptation from H.G. Wells’ novel. Sure, the setting is no longer England and time has been fast-forwarded into the 21st century, but the overall effect and feel of the book is well-replicated. Wells sought to instill fear into those that listened to the radio broadcasts; Spielberg generates the same level of intensity with the special effects and fast pace of the movie. In fact, the movie is essentially a modernized version of the book running at hyperspeed.

Even though the modernization causes holes in the plot, War of the Worlds makes up for them by sucking you in and drawing you close to the drama produced by Cruise and Fanning. Spielberg, of course, adds his own flare by altering a significant portion of the plot. The characters are completely different, and many of their adventures are drastically changed. He does preserve most of the important scenes in the book, though, especially the ones that help develop Cruise’s character.

Be forewarned that those watching the movie without previous knowledge of the plot may become confused. The overall plot is not well explained, and the second half of the movie is even vaguer than the first. Outside of knowing that Cruise and Fanning are running from the martians that have come to Earth to destroy it, much of the rest of the movie is ambiguous. In that, Spielberg stays true to Wells’ novel; Wells never intended the readers to know where he was going, just that they were on a journey.

For those who love the technically advanced, this movie is for you. The special effects certainly are not the crisp and clean kind found in the Star Wars movies, but they stick true to Spielberg’s other films, like Jurassic Park (1993, 1997) and Indiana Jones (1981, 1984, 1989). The aliens are big, very big. They are menacing from afar, but up close, the details are tremendous. The only thing more amazing than the aliens themselves is the trail of destruction that they leave behind. Whether their Heat-Ray or their tentacles, everything looks real and feels alive. The camera work in the movie is also fantastic. Some of the most creative shots zoom in and out without awkwardness while providing a more complete view of everything that’s happening. The music and sound flow well with the movie, keeping you entirely engaged with the mayhem occurring around the main characters.

But the best part of the movie is not the huge aliens that destroy mankind, nor the presence of the big-name actor Tom Cruise, but his small co-star Dakota Fanning. Her performance in the movie is absolutely chilling at times; the close-up shots of her make you want to jump out of your seat, and she alone makes the movie an absolute thrill ride. Every time you calm down enough to sit back, she rattles you once again with her screams, scared looks, and overall demeanor. Fanning has really matured since I Am Sam (2001), and she has the presence of a great movie star.

Tom Cruise is merely a second-class citizen to Fanning’s brilliance. His character is mechanical, and at times, instead of the suffering citizen running from danger, he reminds you of the suave gentleman from Top Gun (1986). But he has his moments, especially when paternalistically protective of his daughter, Fanning.

Overall, the movie is entertaining as both an action movie and a thriller, and it’s definitely worth a trip to the theater.