H.G. Wells created the aliens-attack formula over a century ago, in the classic "War of the Worlds," and Orson Welles' radio drama caused mass panic. So even if Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" were a good movie, it would have a lot to live up to.
And between the idiotic aliens, lackluster script and the screeching children, it's not a good movie. It's another vehicle for Tom "Last Samurai" Cruise to act like a hero in. Yes, indeed -- between impregnating grinning starlets, enraging half the AMA, and leaping on Oprah's couch, Tom Cruise actually made a movie... a bad one.
The story: Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is not having a good week: His ex-wife (Miranda Otto) has just left the kids with him for the next few days, and the kids hate him. To make matters worse, aliens invade, and Ray and his kids must escape their home and find sanctuary with his ex-in-laws, who live in a safe upper-class suburb. (WHY is it safe? We're never told)
Easier said than done. Alien tripods are savaging the city -- some of them rising out of the earth -- and the populace is (understandably) panicking. Ray and his children struggle to escape, only to have his son get lost in the muddle.
That's pretty much the plot -- and it isn't much. The main bulk of the movie is Cruise and kids hiding from the tripods, running, screaming, hiding, running, and repeating. While Spielberg tries to throw a few loops in the story -- the son going missing, for example -- we don't doubt that everything will turn out okay at the end. For Ray and his family.
Ah yes, Spielberg -- the guy who brought us "E.T.," "Jurassic Park" and "Indiana Jones" makes a misstep in "War of the Worlds." This movie is simply too flimsy for him to salvage. He does manage some truly stunning moments with the tripods, which are excellent displays of CGI. And if they had made up the movie, it would have rocked.
But it isn't. The script is plagued with a hair-raising lack of logic. Very little about this movie actually makes any sense. If the aliens have been planning this for millennia, why did they wait to invade? Why not check what would be dangerous do them? Why didn't anyone detect the buried tripods before? And most important: is it because of Cruise that the movie has a nasty smack of Scientology? (Check references: Xenu, ancient invasions, alien souls, and all the rest of it)
And finally, the acting isn't up to par either. Cruise does his usual bland action-hero shtick, while Justin Chatwin sneers and Dakota Fanning screeches. They do this for the remainder of the film. Tim Robbins and a visibly pregnant Otto do good jobs, but they are on too briefly for their performances to register.
In a movie with no logic and no good acting, the tripods are what are really striking. And yes, they are creepy, scary and weird-looking. By the end of the movie, you may be cheering for them instead.