H G Wells’ 1898 science fiction classic is updated for the 21st century in this Spielberg-directed box office hit. Like its 1953 predecessor, this film transplants the action from England to the US in the present day and makes some changes to characters and events.
Ray (Tom Cruise), a docker in New York, tries to win the love and respect of his estranged children Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin). The invasion happens while they’re staying with him and they try to escape to Boston, to be reunited with Ray’s ex, their mother (pregnant Miranda Otto). Much of the time is spent hiding or running or staring in horror. But while this is going on, teenaged Robbie is determined to join the fight against the invaders, leading to conflicts with Ray, who has to choose between stopping his son breaking away, or protecting his young daughter from the terrifying tripods.
The film has an advantage that previous versions lacked: excellent and realistic special effects. Extra drama is also added to make watching it feel like an ordeal. There are mega storms preceding the aliens’ arrival, the aliens arrive through lightning bolts into the tripods already buried beneath the earth, planes falling from the sky, power failure, communications blackout. Of course the story is not really about the aliens. It’s about humanity, how far we will go to survive and also our arrogance in assuming we have the ultimate power (because it’s not people that win the war, it’s germs). I was struck by our first image of Ray, high in the air operating a machine at the dock, later mirrored by the aliens in their machines, also controlling their containers – humans being containers of blood, which the aliens use for energy. I thought it was interesting how the words ‘Martian’ and ‘alien’ are never used. The children think the invaders are terrorists… which I suppose is correct!
It may not follow the book closely, but I think it’s a good film in its own right. The casting, John Williams soundtrack, special effects are all great. The film finds new angles on a popular and iconic story.