Do you ever come across that one movie where you hear bad reviews from countless different places, but you still want to watch it anyway? This scenario has happened to me a couple times, but the most recent example was Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds. I've heard this film is boring, stupid, lazy, clumsy, messy and downright terrible. I'm here to tell you that I had an amazing time with this movie. Sure, some moments can be a little cheesy and there are some inconsistencies in terms of the aliens and their 'plan' but this is still an excellent, exciting, entertaining and terrifying movie.
At the center of this alien invasion is Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise). If you know me at all, you will know that Tom Cruise is one of my favorite actors of all time. Here, he plays just an average joe crane operator who has to take care of his kids for the weekend while his ex-wife is away. I'm not going to lie, it's kind of weird to see Tom Cruise play a character who has given up on life and being a father instead of someone who is a master at their craft. Just look at some of his other roles. Jerry Maguire is a big-time sports agent. Ethan Hunt is a badass IMF agent. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is an ace fighter pilot. Ray Ferrier, and immature crane worker who is just your average every day working man whose kids hate him. Not his typical acting role. However, while I thought his acting was suspect at the beginning of the movie (you know, when he wasn't running and the white balance was all over the place) he really brings it in this movie once the invasion begins. One scene in particular when he is trying to put his daughter to sleep after a long day full of alien destruction, his daughter asks him to sing her a lullaby. Unfortunately, he doesn't know any of the songs she requests causing him to nearly break down realizing how bad of a father he is. Great stuff Mr. Cruise.
And while Tom Cruise is great, Dakota Fanning stole the show. She gave one of the best child acting performances I have ever seen. Her screaming, crying, happy moments, and nearly every line of dialogue she delivers are perfect. I didn't see a child acting or memorizing lines, I saw a child terrified beyond capacity that aliens are invading the earth.
Speaking of which, I found all the alien invasion scenes really well done and downright terrifying. So well done that I thought of something on my way home from my friend's place where we watched the movie. Independence Day, another alien invasion movie I recently watched, showcases the alien invasion and the destruction of major cities from wide, stable shots to show the spectacle of the ships and the destruction. It also jumps between different cities around the worlds. Here, it is shown all from the ground level where our heroes watch in shock. There are no quick cuts to aliens around the world, we see them as our heroes are witnessing them which feels more real. Most of the shots are handheld as the alien ships are held at a distance. I was thinking of a reason why they decided to film it that way as opposed to the typical Hollywood format of wide shots to fit in as much destruction as possible. Now what I'm proposing isn't fact, just me merely theorizing: not only does it feel more realistic, but I believe it was because of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. A large number of people witnessed that catastrophe from the streets of New York City where chaos and confusion endured because of the horror going on at the towers. There is a documentary showcasing the events of 9/11 all from people's camcorders or home video cameras that happened to be there at the time and it is downright terrifying. Large numbers of people running and screaming as the horrifying event takes place in the distance are everywhere in this movie and I honestly think that the horrible events of 9/11 played into Steven Spielberg's choice to film the invasion scenes like this.
From there, it's a game of cat and mouse between our heroes and the alien invaders. They get to location A, something goes wrong, they get to location B, something goes wrong, and so on and so forth. Now some people take issue with this story model, but I was entertained the whole way through so it didn't bother me. In fact, none of the 'flaws' of the movie really bothered at all. Yes, I know it doesn't make much sense that the aliens planted ships underground a million years ago only for them to come back down in the form of lightning bolts to start blasting humans with lasers, but then decide to start harvesting them for their blood. Yes, I know the aliens themselves look kind of silly. Yes, I know one of the scenes of Tom Cruise and company hiding from the aliens is a direct rip-off of the scene from Jurassic Park (and yes I know Spielberg directed that too). Yes, I know that a character just decides to leave the group for no apparent reason (Okay, that one bothered me a little). And yes, I know that the way that the aliens are defeated seems very cheap (I even thought that as a kid listening to the radio play). However, Steven Spielberg has made a movie full of spectacle and intensity that had me on the edge of my seat. Cliche to say, I know, but I can't deny how I felt watching this movie. I'd say if you're not too picky about little plot details like the ones I listed above, then I'd say War of the Worlds is a ride you should get on.