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WAR OF THE WORLDS – Be afraid of the aliens

Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: M15+

RAY Ferrier (Tom Cruise) works on the docks of New York as a container crane operator.

A divorced father of two, he has seen better days.

It is his turn to look after the children for the weekend. They are not happy.

His former wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) has remarried into money and security. The children have become used to it.

Ray is defiantly working class. His daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is affectionate enough, but his son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is aggressively unengaged, even for a teenage boy.

Soon after their mother drops them off, a storm brews in the north.

It is the strangest cloud formation anyone has ever seen.

The wind goes toward, rather than away from, the storm. Then the lightning strikes and the hurricane hits. All hell breaks loose, literally.

As the storm subsides people come out onto the streets and within minutes large mechanical Tripods erupt from the earth.

The aliens begin destroying everything in their path. Ray packs up the kids and heads to Boston, where wife ex-wife was going.

On the way they survive many battles with the rapidly expanding alien army. All human efforts seem futile.

At one stage he takes refuge in a farmhouse basement with Ogilvy (Tim Robbins) who seems friendly, but odd. Soon Ogilvy becomes the scary one.

Ray has to fight on all sides to survive.

After they arrive in Boston, a change appears in the aliens. But who wins? You’ll have to see the film to find out.

Steven Spielberg is an expert film-maker and he doesn’t let us down in this remake of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. This huge scale production has several genuinely frightening moments.

It is not for children or for the fainthearted. For those prone to nightmares, it will provide material for years.

Most of the terror is on the soundtrack, providing metallic screams that thunder through the cinema.

But the horror is not confined to the sound design and there are several scenes that will distress some viewers.

The morality of this film is curious.

At once it is laudable in that the neglectful father, Ray, steps up to the plate (he’s a baseball fan) when he is needed most, and does everything imaginable to protect the lives of his children.

But the conceptualisation of the alien is, again, as a consuming uterus with tentacles that reach down to catch its prey.

From what I saw the alien womb generally seems to prefer men to women in this film. It sucks them dry of blood and life and then disgorges them. The misogyny of this concept is now well documented by film scholar Barbara Creed in her book The Monstrous Feminine.

If life exists beyond our galaxy, and it’s hard to imagine that God’s creativity cannot extend to life somewhere else in the universe, then this film has some strange things about out interplanetary neighbours.

The film adapts the opening of the book and radio play, ‘No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own. That as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observe — and studied.

‘With infinite complacency, men went to and fro around the globe, confident of their empire over this world. Yet, across the gulf of space, intellects vast, and cool, and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes É and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us.’

These are, however, odd aliens. They are smart enough to reach Earth and plant their time capsules all over the place. They are technologically sophisticated enough to activate these capsules at the time of their choosing.

But these aliens have limited vision and no heat-seeking sense.

This film continues the line started in Mel Gibson’s Signs that in any war against aliens a basement is an absolute necessity. It is the safest place on earth. Odd.

Furthermore, why is it that these aliens who have a seemingly insatiable appetite for human blood, start out by nuking every person in sight? Wasn’t the blood of these first victims good enough? I guess it is the nature of aliens to be unpredictable.

Opening over the July 4 weekend in the US means the politics of this film is not incidental.

The aliens have been sleeping underground until the higher command calls them into service to attack.

Nothing the USA, “the greatest power in the world”, as it is rightly called in this film, can do can stop the terror.

H.G. Wells wrote this science fantasy for a different time and place, but the resonances with 21st century sleeper terrorists are obvious, and bleak.

The four central performances in this film are solid, and in parts commanding. We get a sense of fear and desperation from Cruise, Fanning, Chatwin, and Robbins.

But they have to play second fiddle to the computer-generated images and the myriad of terrifying special effects. They steal the show.

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