War of the Worlds is a 2005 science fiction disaster film based on H. G. Wells' original novel starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Josh Friedman and David Koepp. It was released on June 29, 2005. It is one of four film adaptations of the novel, preceded by two straight-to-video versions released in the same year and the original 1953 film version.
War of the Worlds draws elements not only from the H. G. Wells novel, but also the 1938 radio play and the 1953 film. Hence, to place this film in proper historical context as an adaptation requires some knowledge of all three previous incarnations of Wells' story.
As in the original novel, which takes place in and around London, the narrative is told from the point of view of civilians caught up in the conflict. Whereas the novel portrayed the experience of a solitary British journalist late in the 19th century, War of the Worlds is, according to Spielberg, purported to show the war "through the eyes of one American family fighting to survive it". It is set in the early 21st century, and as in the radio play begins in New Jersey. Part of the movie was filmed in the Newark, New Jersey Ironbound District. The scene in which the alien first appears from the hole in the ground was shot on Ferry Street. Rumors of the film's cancellation of filming in Newark was caused by the noisy environment and storefront owners losing business from the closed off set. Main parts of the film was shot in Bayonne, New Jersey, with the Bayonne Bridge being destroyed.
The story opens with Brooklyn dock worker Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) finishing the third shift in the morning. His ex-wife Mary Anne (Miranda Otto) and her new wealthy husband Tim (David Alan Basche) drop off Ray's 10-year-old daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) at Ray's house. They are staying with him in Bayonne, New Jersey, while Tim and Mary Anne visit her parents in Boston for the weekend. Rachel suffers from a panic disorder, and Robbie harbors resentment and outright disrespect towards his father. Later that day, Ray wakes up from a nap to discover that Robbie has stolen his car and left.
Ray sets out to find him, but is immediately distracted by a strange wall cloud. It begins to unleash electromagnetic pulses in the nearby area, disabling all of the working electronic devices in the area, including cars, leaving everyone stranded. Ray finds Robbie, and tells him to take care of Rachel while he goes to investigates the pulses. Travelling past, he advises a mechanic to replace the solenoid of a light blue Plymouth Voyager he is repairing. Ray and many other people find a mysteriously cold hole from which a large Tripod machine emerges and begins to vaporize human beings and buildings in its path. The Tripods also seize some people, imprisoning them in metal cages located where the legs join the main fuselage. Ray manages to escape and returns to his house. After packing food, Ray and his kids abandon their home and steal the only operating vehicle in town, due to his advice of changing the solenoid in the van.
They drive to Tim's large house, and take refuge in the basement for the night. During the night, a tripod destroys a large airliner that crashes into the development, demolishing many of the houses. In the morning, Ray has a brief conversation with a small news team, who show video footage to Ray of the lightning in the previous "storm". In slow-motion, it can be seen what they believe to be a pod, with the aliens "riding" down the lightning into the ground where the Tripod machines were buried. The woman believes the Tripods were buried in the earth since before the rise of humanity. After hearing a nearby Tripod, the news crew escapes, while Ray struggles with Rachel's panic hindering their attempts to flee the area. Eventually, a frustrated Ray tells her to look only at his face and nowhere else in order not to see the carnage from what happened during the night. As the family drives towards Boston, a bathroom stop results in another panic attack in Rachel when she sees bodies floating in a river.
As the family continues toward Boston, they are passed by a convoy from the Army. Robbie begs them to allow him to fight, but is ignored until Ray confronts him. Later, Ray asks him to drive the van in order to sleep a little. In the evening, their van is seized by a mob, the family only escaping because Ray had a small revolver. After losing the pistol, Ray and his children are forced to give up the van, and continue on foot. They reach a Hudson River ferry in Athens, New York, but as three Tripods appear over the horizon, evasion proves futile as a fourth hiding underwater capsizes the ferry. Ray, Robbie, and Rachel escape and swim to safety, while other refugees are captured or killed. They escape as they see the town of Athens being destroyed.
Later, they come across American military forces somewhere in Massachusetts, trying to keep the Tripods back but ultimately fruitless effort as the alien machines are protected by force-fields. Although their weapons are ineffective, the Marines (played by real Marines from 1st Marine Division) delay its advance so the refugees can escape. Robbie attempts to join the battle, and Ray reluctantly lets him go in order to save Rachel from being taken away by a married couple nearby. In the ensuing chaos an enormous firebomb erupts, wiping out many of the Marines. Robbie is separated from Ray and Rachel, and they assume he is dead.
Immediately following the battle, Ray and Rachel are offered shelter in a basement by a man named Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins), who lost his family to the Tripods. The invaders settle close to the house where the trio is hiding and tensions start to emerge between Ogilvy, who wants to strike back at the aliens, and Ray, who is preoccupied with his own safety and that of his daughter. Ray wants to hide until the invaders move off to a different area. Meanwhile the invaders begin spreading a strange "red weed", which appears to be a mysterious plant fertilized with the blood of harvested humans. Ogilvy begins to exhibits signs of mental stress. Later that night, a Tripod probe invades the basement, where the three manage to escape detection. A small contingent of aliens then enters and explore the house, even examining photographs of their human prey while Ray struggles to stop Ogilvy from attacking the aliens, until a siren emitted by the Tripod summons them to return. Ogilvy cracks mentally after witnessing one of the Tripods harvesting blood and tissues from a helpless human victim. Ray, concerned that the commotion Ogilvy is creating might draw the attention of the invaders to himself and his daughter, makes the decision to murder Ogilvy and thereby silence him. The pair then fall asleep but are awakened as another probe enters the basement and sights Rachel. Ray attacks the probe with an axe (as an obvious visual stand-in for the recent murder of Ogilvy) and the probe retreats, while Rachel flees the house.
Ray attempts to find Rachel, but is attacked by a Tripod. As he attempts to find safety in a truck which the tripod tosses upside down, Ray spots his daughter standing on the ground harsh and screaming as the Tripod approaches her. As Ray escapes, the Tripod captures Rachel and begins to ignore him, leading him to harass it with some hand grenades he finds nearby. The shield protects the Tripod, which immediately captures Ray and deposits him in a metal cage with many other refugees and a traumatized Rachel. A closed chute above the cage releases a mechanical arm which periodically grabs a human. It then pulls the human within the body to be violently processed, to which Ray insists on valiantly fighting. When it grabs Ray, the others fight to save him, and after pulling him from within the interior of the Tripod, he reveals that he left two grenades. They detonate inside the Tripod, destroying it and dropping the cage safely to the ground.
After they are freed, Ray and his daughter continue to move towards Boston. It is there that they find that all the "red weed" is dying, along with other Tripods. After observing birds are flying near and landing on one still-living Tripod, he realizes that the shields are no longer active, and advises a group of soldiers. They attack with Javelin missile launchers, successfully toppling a Tripod to the ground, which disgorges a revolting cargo of blood-coloured liquid and the dying alien invaders within. With the threat over, Ray finally brings Rachel to Mary Anne and Tim at her parent's house, where she has been waiting for them. Robbie shows up a few moments afterwards. The movie closes with Mary Anne thanking her ex-husband for saving their family.
- Ray Ferrier: Knowing that the character was to be played by Tom Cruise, writer David Koepp intentionally wrote Ray as the opposite of the type of confident characters Tom has played. The back-story that Koepp designed is that Ray's life has not turned out as he had hoped (often citing Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" as a basis). Ray is divorced with two kids, who do not give him their respect as a father. Ray's self-absorbed personality is challenged when the aliens invade, as he has to put it aside to keep his children safe.
- Robbie Ferrier: Ray's rebellious teenage son. He often scoffs at his father's attempts at parenting, which becomes a problem when Ray tries to take control when fleeing the alien menace, such as often remarking that they should help the Army.
- Rachel Ferrier: Ray's 10-year-old daughter. She is intelligent and independent, but stubborn, claustrophobic and understandably terrified by the events depicted in the film.
- Harlan Ogilvy: Little is known about Ogilvy other than that he had a wife and child who were presumably killed by the invaders, which unhinged Ogilvy's mind. He seems to draw inspiration about life, especially during the alien occupation, from his time as a paramedic. He is eventually murdered by Ray, because Ogilvy might attract the aliens due to his continual ranting about attacking the aliens. Harlan Ogilvy's surname is derived from the astronomer who first saw the Martians coming in their rocket-propelled space capsules in the original novel.
- Mary Ann: Ray's ex-wife and the mother of Robbie and Rachel. She has remarried, to Tim (whose baby she is expecting), and the kids respect Tim more than they do Ray. Mary Ann and Tim leave the kids in Ray's care while they visit her parents in Boston, and much of the movie's plot concerns Ray's attempts to reunite Robbie and Rachel with their mother.
- Tim: Mary Ann's new husband. He is wealthy, and Robbie and Rachel seem to consider him to be their father, not Ray.
- Manny: A mechanic who fixes a van after the electromagnetic pulse strike. Ray tries to convince Manny to escape with him in the van, but Manny is unconvinced of the impending danger. Moments later, Manny is killed by a Heat-Ray.
- Jacqueline: A businesswoman who is with a friend in the cages. She helps save Ray and escapes with everyone when the cage falls and the Tripod is destroyed.
- Invaders: Extraterrestrials who invade Earth. Their physical appearance is trisymmetric, which is reflected in their technology. Beyond those obvious details, little is revealed about the aliens, including their world of origin, and most of the information concerning them in the film is speculative. While Koepp has provided some minor details of their back-story in the script and in interviews, they remain largely enigmatic. Among the details provided in voice-overs included with the DVD release of the film, are that they were intended to be perceived by the viewer as highly intelligent and curious.
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