This demolition derby of Earth itself offers a story that's so thin it's
The concept: An alien world implanted machines into the earth's core
centuries ago and decide to animate them with an energy ray that emanates
from dark clouds and affects electrical power in cities and communities.
Thus charged, the machines rise from the earth with great power and
destruction and unravel themselves as huge articulated tripods. They proceed
to annihilate people with ray weapons. There is no negotiation or
approachability. Our weapons are useless against the protective shield they
build around themselves.
This affects Ray (Tom Cruise) and his family. Before the aliens arise in his
town, we see him at his work running a tall crane unloading cargo in the
shipyards. He's a happy-go-lucky, call-to-order guy with a minimal apartment
and no food. With a very well paying job like his we wonder why he isn't
doing better. Maybe it's the child support.
Sure enough, his ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) delivers their two kids for
the weekend. Robbie, his older boy (Justin Chatwin) is a snot nose of a
teenager who disrespects Ray every chance he gets, including by calling him
Ray and taking his keys and car without a thought despite the fact he has no
Little Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is not as rebellious, but when there's a
threat of any proportions, she's more inclined to seek the protection and
solace of her brother before her father. Quite intelligent, she finds
screaming at the top of her lungs a preferred method of communication.
So, once we see what brats he has, you begin to feel for the head of the
household -- as inept as he may be as a single father and in any other
respect that's visible.
The appearance of the tripods confuses everyone who, by now, are in a state
of mass panic. Ray's car is nailed by them, so he appropriates an SUV, loads
in the kids who, as usual are demanding things they can't have, and takes off
for Mary Ann's (and her new hubby's) house. When this refuge is ruined, they
take off for Boston where Mom is vacationing at her parents'.
The 3-legged, high-tech marauders multiply to the point that they're
everywhere and the game now is simply running and hoping you won't be shafted
into a haze of pixels. After a last stand protest for independence from
Robbie, Ray scoops Rachel up and is spotted by Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins)
who welcomes him into the relative safety of his basement.
The simplicity of this scenario is that's there's nothing more here than
dysfunctional family members frantically running for their lives for around
100 minutes (of the film's 116). Not only do they not modify their attitudes
by the destruction all around them, but inner growth of some sort stemming
from the threat of their own imminent death is apparently too much to hope
for from a scenario that is artificial and little more than a vehicle for
mechanical and digital effects.
Those, of course, are what sustains interest and, if CGI lights your candle,
you'll enjoy the trip. One digial effect is a straight copy from James
Cameron's "The Abyss" (1989): the worm appendage of the tripods that seems to
have decided that there could be something of interest down in Ogilvy's
cellar. This sequence generates the low key suspense of a cat-and-mouse game
for a few minutes. But Ol' Ogilvy, who's turning mean and mad, is the one to
watch out for.
Golly, is it too much to expect more character development than this from the
director of "Schindler's List"? This one-note effort is fun to watch, like a
Vegas act is fun to watch. It starts with some emotional promise but
simplicity and repetition are as powerful as a raygun in destroying
any real engagement. They should have imitated "Independence Day."
~~ Jules Brenner