Steven Spielberg’s version of “War of the Worlds” is what I would call a personal disaster film. Unlike the mediocre “Independence Day,” in which Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich felt obliged to give us shots of major landmarks being destroyed, Spielberg sticks only with what his protagonist, Ray Ferrier, sees during the story. We never see the big picture in the form of a presidential address or even endless expository news broadcasts; instead, Spielberg stays with the travails of a man simply trying to keep his family together in the midst of horrific circumstances.
Spielberg and screenwriters Josh Friedman and David Koepp also do a nice job of addressing the little details: the birds that follow the trail of death; the calm horror of bodies floating down a river; the desperation of refugees fleeing the approach of the tripods. Again, that’s all in keeping with the idea that their protagonist isn’t searching for a way to destroy the tripods, or carrying the secret that will kill the aliens, if only he can find someone who will listen to him. Instead, Ray is just trying to protect his kids amid senseless destruction that he knows may very well kill them in the end. Like any parent, though, he’s going to do whatever he can to keep them safe, both physically and emotionally.
And, yeah, Tom Cruise is a freak, but he’s not a bad actor, and he brings a fine everyman quality to Ray, a blue collar worker just trying to do the best he can. Every decision Ray makes comes from that idea of preserving the family unit. Even when he’s faced with the choice between his two children, he goes with the option that he knows will keep one of them with him, rather than the decision that could very well leave him without either of them. We can debate the decisions he makes, of course, which I’m sure Spielberg expected as he made this film.
Dreamworks sent me the single-disc version of this film, which comes with one bonus item, a featurette called “Designing the Enemy.” It’s a standard look at the work that went into creating the aliens in the film. It’s certainly something you’ve likely seen before, if you’ve watched enough documentary materials for science-fiction films, but it’s still an enjoyable 14 minutes.
There’s also a two-disc DVD set that comes with a lot more behind-the-scenes stuff, including a look at H.G. Wells’ life that sounds intriguing. In keeping with Spielberg’s previous films, there’s no commentary on this DVD.