Magazine article The Christian Century

War-Weary

Magazine article The Christian Century

War-Weary

Article excerpt

STEVEN SPIELBERG'S War of the Worlds churns up an emulsion of suspense and horror that engulfs you with the gray relentlessness of a low-grade fever. This is not the kind of thrilling, soaring adventure Spielberg created in Jaws or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; it's a cheerless piece of visceral manipulation. As you watch the extraterrestrial invaders erupting out of the guts of the New Jersey streets, stalking their victims and obliterating them with heat rays, or snatching them off the ground with metallic tentacles and depositing them in nets, sucking them one by one into feeding tubes, the experience can't exactly be called pleasure. You feel encased by the movie. I can't remember the last time I felt so relieved to see a picture end.

H. G. Wells's 1898 novel about Martians seeking to take over the earth is stirring and compact, and so ingenious at the level of basic narrative that it seems adaptation-proof. Orson Welles updated and Americanized it in his notorious 1938 radio broadcast, which used news bulletins to give the story an up-to-the-minute feel. The gripping 1953 movie, with its glorious special effects--now lovingly preserved on DVD--is set in and around Los Angeles, and it preserves Wells's dark vision by having the attack of the Martians bring out the worst in the terrorized urban dwellers. (In one sequence a truck full of chemicals that might have furnished the scientists with weapons to defeat the assailants is looted by street gangs.)

Spielberg and screenwriters Josh Friedman and David Koepp ground their version in the struggles of a working-class dad (Tom Cruise) to rescue his kids--a sullen, resentful teenage boy (Justin Chatwin) and a sharp-witted and highly sensitive ten-year-old girl (Dakota Fanning). He has been more or less estranged from his children by divorce and his own selfishness. The setting provided by production designer Rick Carter and Spielberg's favorite cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, is a grim, ashen, 9/11-inspired landscape that Cruise's Ray Ferrier and his children have to negotiate like refugees in increasing peril. For most of the picture, the urban Northeast appears metallic and anemic, only in the late scenes acquiring the crimson-soaked look of a deserted battlefield. …

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