Review of “War of the Worlds” (2005)

trailer from YouTube

Svengoolie showed The Ghost and Mr. Chicken this week. We gave it a pass. Regular readers of this blog (both of you) may be surprised that there is a movie too cheesy for me. Truth is, I saw it a couple of years ago and didn’t see the need to watch it again. Ever.


Divorced dockworker from Bayonne, New Jersey, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), heads home from work to find his ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) has been waiting half an hour to drop off their kids. He’ll have them for the weekend while pregnant Mary Ann and her present husband, Tim (David Alan Basche), visit Mary Ann’s parents in Boston.

Sixteen-ish Robbie (Justin Chatwin) doesn’t want to be there. Ten-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) loves daddy, but she’s tired. To escape the tensions, Ray takes a nap. When he wakes, he finds unlicensed Robbie has taken his prized Mustang for a spin, and Rachel, following his curt suggestion to order out, eating something from a health food store he finds inedible.

Outside, a weird, ominous storm cloud is forming. The neighbors have noticed, too. Wild lightning strikes the ground. Rachel gets nervous, but Ray says, “That’s pretty cool, huh?”

They have to flee inside. After trying nearly every switch in the house, Ray concludes the power is off. All the cars have stopped, and all electronics have failed. His cell phone is dead. Ray tells Rachel to stay put and goes to look for Robbie. Robbie is on his way home; he left the Mustang where it died. His father tells him to look after his little sister and walks to the city center.

A crowd has gathered around a hole in the middle of an intersection, with police telling everyone to get back. Ray touches a piece of the pavement. It’s cold. With much noise and shaking of the ground, a giant three-legged machine emerges from the hole and emits a sound something like a cross between a trumpeting elephant and foghorn. It releases heat rays that incinerate anyone unlucky enough to be caught by them. People scatter. The machine marches on.

Ray runs home. He packs up his kids and runs to an auto mechanic friend (Lenny Venito) whom he’d earlier advised to replace a solenoid on a minivan. He steals the minivan, trying to convince the friend to join them. When the mechanic refuses, Ray leaves, watching as the man is incinerated.

He’s going to find the kids’ mom and safety and spend the rest of the movie escaping death and destruction by the skin of his teeth.


The opening scenes feature adapted quotes from H. G. Wells’ novel, giving the movie the same sense of foreboding the book opens with (in part):

“No one would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water…”

It also ends with an altered quote from Wells.

Nice touches.

Overall, on the one hand, the special effects are spectacular. They must have blown a couple of minds in the theater. I imagine the seat beneath you buzzed a bit when the Martian machines thudded down the streets of hapless Bayonne.

On the other, average-Joe Ray seems singled out to escape over and over the certain death so many citizens experienced. Some of it is blind luck. Ray and his children have just squeezed onto a ferry that launches, leaving thousands on the bank vulnerable to attack by multiple machines. Joke’s on them. A machine emerges from the river, capsizing the ferry. Ray and his children survive when so many don’t.

On the other hand, some of it is—as much as I hate invoking this cliché—a bit of Gary Stu, that is, a (male) character who is flawless* and has more knowledge and capabilities than he should. For example, when the mechanic can’t get a van to start, Ray, who is not a mechanic, tells him to change out the solenoid. Lo and behold. It starts. This is the van that Ray later drives off in.

Out of all the people around—including the military, whose job it is to watch these things—only Ray notices birds landing on the Martian machines and understands the implication that their force fields are down, leaving them vulnerable to weapons.

The movie is violent, as expected. The violence is, at times, graphic. Hard to make a movie based on this book without violence.

There are some insider jokes, as well. When Martians enter a basement where Ray, the kids, and a loaner named Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins) are hiding, one of them plays with a bicycle wheel. In Wells’ book, the Martians have not developed the wheel.

The movie won three Academy Awards having to do with sound and special effects in 2006.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. I can’t say this one scared me as much as the 1953 version. I was much younger when I saw the earlier one for the first time. The scene where the alien revealed itself and vaporized the three men as they called, “We’re friends!” got to me as a kid.

Yet, for all the excitement, danger, and stunning special effects, I didn’t care for the 2005 version as much as I wanted to. It’s far from a bad movie. I was hoping, I guess, for a little more depth in the storytelling and a little less, for lack of a better word, melodrama.

This is one you have to pay to see, alas.

*Originally “Mary Sue,” a character from parody Star Trek fanfiction, who is flawless and capable of everything, knows everything and often dies at the end.

Title: War of the Worlds (2005)

Directed by
Steven Spielberg

Writing Credits (WGA)

Josh Friedman..(screenplay) and
David Koepp…(screenplay)
H.G. Wells…(novel)

Cast (in credits order)
Tom Cruise…Ray Ferrier
Dakota Fanning…Rachel Ferrier
Miranda Otto…Mary Ann
Justin Chatwin…Robbie
Tim Robbins…Harlan Ogilvy

Released: 2005
Length: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Rated: PG-13

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

10 thoughts on “Review of “War of the Worlds” (2005)

  1. I’ve never seen the old version or new version of this movie, but I have listened to the original radio broadcast. I loved The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, but I saw it when I was about ten. I probably wouldn’t like it at all now!

    1. I think I first saw it Ghost and Mr. Chicken when I was eight or nine. I LOVED it. It was such a disappointment when I saw it a couple years ago.

      The 1953 version used to be on the Saturday afternoon movies all the time. the place where they nuked the aliens was not far from where my dearly beloved grew up.
      I’ve heard parts of the original radio broadcast, too.

      My dearly beloved just finished the book, so we had to watch the movie.

      Thanks for your note!

  2. I preferred the original as well. I don’t know why they bothered to remake it. I always thought “Mary Sue” was when you wrote yourself in as one of the characters. Learn something new every day.

    1. I think it can mean that as well because it’s a lot of wish fulfillment.

      You’re not the first person to wonder why they remade it. I thought it might be better because the special effects would be improved. Nah. Still gotta tell me a story.

    1. I hate to give the impression that it was bad movie. It wasn’t. I just could have—should have—been better. At the same time, I don’t blame you for missing it.

  3. I have a personal connection to this movie: My filmmaking friend (the guy who gave me my first screenwriting gigs), actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez, has a small role in “War of the Worlds.” (He plays “Boston Soldier #1.) I think it’s a decent movie; it tries to be more like Wells’ book without being a literal adaptation of it. For that, it would have been necessary to set the film in 1890s Britain as an alternative history rather than straight-on science fiction.

    What works for me:
    1. Not redoing 1953’s “The War of the Worlds” with better effects
    2. Not identifying the aliens as Martians
    3. The tripods (that’s from the book)
    4. The use of an Everyman character and his family, rather than the usual alien-invasion tropes of heads of state, scientists, and military honchos
    5. The special effects: Industrial Light & Magic worked on this and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
    6. The score. It’s John Freakin’ Williams
    7. Dakota Fanning

    What doesn’t work for me:
    1. The lead actor, Tom Cruise
    2. As much as I love, love, love Steven Spielberg as a director, it seems that whenever he directs two films back-to-back (a “fun” one for summer release, a “serious” one for December/awards season), the fun one sometimes gets less of his heart and soul. Plus, since he’s friends with Cruise, and because the lead actor probably had some input into the Gary Stu bits of the film…yeah, that sort of makes this movie a bit…not good
    3. Ray is not likable

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