What do we expect from a disaster movie? We're conditioned to be satisfied as long as it has three elements: a highly improbable, scientifically embarrassing explanation for the cause of the havoc, a slew of unrelated characters experiencing the disaster and, finally, a superficial light show of special effects. When you've got these three things in a script, it's bound to get made.
But most disaster films lack the one special thing that makes any movie stand out: impact. When was the last time you were really scared by a disaster movie? Ice freezes, volcanoes spew ash and hot lava. Once it happens, the results are predictable. Sure, none of us wants to get hit by a giant tidal wave that sweeps away New York City, but "the special effects were great," ends up as the movie's redeeming quality.
If that's what the movie studio set out to do, then fine, mission accomplished. But if we're looking to see more than just some stuff blow up good, and we want to actually feel educated or enlightened, we're disappointed. We aren't truly scared when we watch the volcano erupt and devour the small town, because we know it's just a movie?#34;we've even seen it in another movie.
What is scary, though, is seeing something we've never considered to be possible, and being convinced that it actually could happen. To us. The tagline to War Of The Worlds reads: "They're already here." The truly scary disaster movie is back.
War Of The Worlds is directed by Steven Spielberg, making this his third alien film (after Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.). This one is unique, though. There's one, centralized point of view. We see this incredible alien invasion through the eyes of one man's family.
Tom Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a piss-poor father who's taking care of his two kids (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin) for the weekend. These three characters stick together through the whole movie, and we're with them every step of the way. It's a nice deviation from the standard, large cast that usually peoples this kind of film.
Once we've settled in with the main characters and our expectations of what's going to happen, things become truly frightening. After a seriously cool lightning storm, gigantic death machines erupt out of the ground, piloted by a bunch of death-hungry, savage aliens. No E.T. here. It's straight business for these guys, and they actually seem to like it.
Even though younger kids won't get the "we're under siege," 9/11 references, this film is PG-13 for good reason. People are combusting on screen, multiple times. At one point, I turned toward my friend and saw him covering his mouth in horror. This is a very calm and confident guy who plays competitive baseball at the college level. I wouldn't call him a softie, but he was one for that moment. And he'll never forget it, thanks to me.
It wasn't just the concept of what we were watching that scared us, although that was much of it. The special effects crew does a fantastic job of convincing us that if there ever is a doomsday, it'll be something like this. Watching these aliens stalk through their path of destruction, sucking every last drop of blood out of their victims, is something I now can picture very clearly. Thanks? Yes, very much.