Now Streaming: War Of The Worlds (2005) - Reviewed

The insignificance of humankind has long been a central component of cosmic horror; pioneered by legendary authors such as H.P. Lovecraft. Steven Spielberg's adaptation of H. G. Wells' cautionary science fiction classic is harrowing examination of the casualties of an extraterrestrial invasion. While other films explore the military and scientific responses to a galactic incursion, Spielberg's intense understanding of the source material keeps the focus on the small, often forgettable lives on the ground, delivering a potent, but unremittingly bleak journey into the heart of victimization and the dark corners of the soul that are exposed when hope has truly vanished. 

An alien invasion leaves humanity crippled. As the fate of Earth hangs in the balance, a dockworker struggles to protect his children and reunite them with their mother. Spielberg's absolutely brutal presentation is War of the Worlds' greatest asset. The story, and other incarnations of the novel have all grasped the theme of hopelessness well enough, however Spielberg goes beyond basic terror into a realm of existential dread that impacts the viewer both visually and internally in virtually every frame. Josh Friedman and David's Koepp’s script is trimmed down to the basics whenever possible and full of powerful exchanges when required. There is a sequence where Tom Cruise is driving a van, trying to escape the carnage while having a manic conversation with his children that brims with Mamet-esque underpinnings. It is sequences such as this that are perfectly tucked in between the screams and terrible silences that remind the audience of their own mortality.

Tom Cruise gives one of his better performances as a father forced to make life or death decisions on a continual basis. Cruise's genuine ability to communicate the unfortunate toll of such devastation is outstanding. Tim Robbins steals the spotlight as a paranoid survivor with who Cruise and Dakota Fanning (playing his daughter) seek shelter, setting up the film's heart stopping climax. The implications of the story, both in the actions of its human character and in the unspeakable methods of the invaders are astounding. Cruise moves through the initial segment covered in the ashes of the dead while alien vegetation is nourished with harvested human blood, and these serve as bold, yet familiar reminders of the horrors of human history. 

Janusz Kaminski's grainy cinematography has a ghostly quality that swirls through every sequence. In the first act, the reality that is about to be destroyed seems primed for extinction with the colors of health and promise appearing tired and strained. Once the tripods arrive, with their nightmarish battle cries made possible by Oscar nominated sound mixing, the colors of life abruptly drain from focus, mimicking the aliens' assault with ominous sterility. The importance of sound design cannot be overstated. When coupled with Pablo Helman's visual effects (also nominated) and creative lighting compositions, War of the Worlds becomes more than a science fiction survival story; it transforms into a living nightmare. The best example of this is a basement sequence during the initial invasion. Spielberg's direction is masterful, evoking the deep shadows and dangerous angles of German Expressionism to increase the tension level to almost unbearable levels. 

Cahiers du Cinema named War of the Worlds in their top ten films of the 2000's list. What initially appears as a forgettable, Tom Cruise, apocalyptic vehicle is quickly revealed to be a pulse pounding, thought provoking story about the end of all things and what it would actually look like through the eyes of normal, everyday people. Many have criticized the end as being too uplifting; however, when taken as a part of the whole, the ending comes as a desperately needed form of respite from the unrelenting darkness that precedes it. Available now for digital streaming, War of the Worlds is an amazing, one of kind film, and a perfect addition to Spielberg's filmography.

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-Kyle Jonathan