Film: War of the Worlds

Ever wonder what an ant goes through under a magnifying glass? These people are about to.

Note: This is about the 2005 adaptation. For the 1953 one, see The War of the Worlds.

A 2005 film directed by Steven Spielberg, written for the screen by David Koepp and Josh Friedman, and starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin and Tim Robbins, narrated by Morgan Freeman and very loosely based on the H. G. Wells book of that name.

Cruise stars as Ray Ferrier, a divorced, estranged father of two kids, Robbie (Chatwin) and Rachel (Fanning), living in a New Jersey suburb. After about twenty minutes or so showing family life with his children, metal Tripods with lasers start rising up from underground and strange red weeds begin to grow in abundance on the Earth's surface. Soon, a war between alien life-forms and humanity breaks out, and Ray has to keep himself and his kids safe. Action ensues between attempted moments of heartwarming.

Not to be confused with two separate War of the Worlds films released the same year (which the crews didn't discover the other two were making movies on the same novel until after they started production or was done so by design to snub it) directly to video which were overshadowed by Spielberg's production. Directed by David Michael Latt and Timothy Hines each (both movies even got sequels). Confusingly, these two films were both named H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.

Tropes:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Harlan Ogilvy shares the name of Ogilvy the astronomer in the book, who isn't around for long but is portrayed as a more sympathetic and amiable character. This is because the character was combined with those of the artillery soldier (who rambles about an underground resistance but is inept and lazy) and the curate (who acts as The Load and goes insane, after which he is killed by the aliens).
  • Adaptation Inspiration: As with all of the movie adaptations of the book, this one updates the setting and time period, and frames it in the tensions of the day. It also draws down the focus to a single family and takes on something of a war documentary feel.
  • Aliens in New Jersey: Done intentionally to avert the whole cliche about New York City being an alien magnet. It also refers to Orson Welles' infamous radio adaptation, set in New Jersey.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Rachel shows signs of this. Early on, she acts unusually mature for a 10-year old, and speaks in a rather emotionless voice. She frequently has panic attacks and comes off as rather needy and dependent, even for her age. It's also stated that she has claustrophobia.
  • Apocalypse How: On the lower end of the scale, but still an example.
  • Ax-Crazy: Ogilvy descends into this, and Ray has to kill him to prevent him from attracting the aliens' attention.
  • Badass Bystander: The soldier who saves Ray's life by grabbing his hand when the tripod is sucking him up and yells at everyone else in the cage to pull with him to bring Ray back down.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The aliens are made three-legged, to tie in with the appearance of their machines.
    • Or, more likely, the aliens built their machines in their own image.
  • Book Ends: The film begins where it zooms out of some microbes being shown, then it ends zooming in those same microbes, the ones that are responsible for the aliens' defeat.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: From Robbie just before he tries to run off with the army guys (first time round); he calls Ray out on the fact that he's probably only taking the kids to Boston so they'll be with their mother...and less of a worry for him. This basically sums up their relationship for most of the movie; neither of the kids pays any attention to what he tells them to do, he knows barely anything about them and he clearly has hardly any real relationship with either of them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Rachel gets a splinter in her finger early in the movie, and she explains to Ray that her body will eventually push it out on its own. At the end of the movie, the aliens are defeated by Earth's own organisms infecting them with diseases.
  • Composite Character: Harlan Ogilvy is the artilleryman combined with the curate. And, for some reason, he is given the name of a third completely unrelated character (the astronomer).
  • Contrived Coincidence: The movie would have you believe that a dockworker from Bayonne would be front and center at every single major incident in an alien invasion of the Earth.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: Ray blindfolds Rachel, claps her hands over her ears, and has her sing her favorite lullaby to herself so she won't see or hear as he kills Ogilvy.
    • Earlier, after a plane crashes into the house where they were staying, Ray directs Rachel to keep her eyes on him as he carries her out.
    • When Rachel sees a river full of dead bodies, Ray covers her eyes and gets her out of there, but only after she sees it.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Robbie starts out as your typical lazy and delinquent teenager, but when aliens invade Earth, he fearlessly (or stupidly, depending on your view) insists on fighting them rather than escaping.
  • Crying Little Kid: Played with when Ray is distracted by an argument with Robbie and doesn't realise that Rachel has wandered off. An elderly couple try to take her with them, assuming her parents are dead. Fortunately Ray realises what's happening and stops them in time.
  • Cute but Cacophonic: Rachel. Also on a meta-level, Dakota Fanning's scream when she sees the alien probe reportedly forced several sound technicians to rip off their headphones.
  • Cyborg: The Tripods are a very unusual example, being machines with living parts (that even need to be fed). This turns out to be a heavy disadvantage, as they get sick right alongside their alien pilots.
  • Deflector Shields: Although without them, the Tripods will go down to hand grenades and LAWs.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Rachel hits this when she's captured in the tripod basket. When Ray finds her, she's just sitting in shock, clearly thinking she's about to die.
  • Deus ex Machina: Even more so than in the novel, since the aliens' vulnerability to terrestrial microbes isn't mentioned until the closing narration.
  • Disney Death: We are led to believe Robbie dies during one of the alien attacks, but hooray, he resurfaces for a happy ending.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The alien invasion has many deliberate similarities to 9/11. The shot of the vaporized victims' clothes floating down recalls the paper falling from the sky after the towers went down, the shot of Ray covered head-to-toe in grey ash after escaping the first Tripod, and there's a pretty deliberate shot of a wall covered by pictures of missing people. When she sees the heat ray, Rachel even asks "Is it the terrorists?"
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The family is reunited at the end, against a backdrop of dead and dying Tripods.
  • EMP: The aliens subject urban areas to a terrifying EMP weapon disguised as a lightning storm. It is designed to wreck our technological society before the Tripod assault: an instrument of total war. It works, but cars can be repaired with the right know-how.
  • Empty Fridge, Empty Life: Divorcee Ray Ferrier's fridge is this.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The mechanic who orders Ray and his family to get out of their stolen car does not notice a Tripod destroying everything and ultimately gets vaporized.
  • Five Rounds Rapid: "No effect!" "Keep firing!" Justified since they're only trying to delay the invaders until the civilians are evacuated.
  • Hell Is That Noise: In-Universe. The loud, foghorn-like cry that the Tripods occasionally give out makes them sound as much like a living creature as a machine (and it's obvious they do have a biological component to them). It's immediately terrifying and a signal that something really bad thing is happening or going to happen if you hear one in the distance. Think of it as a combination Oh Crap! in one convenient package.
    • The arrhythmic, alien whirring sound the Tripods' huge servos make once they go on the move. It sounds like nothing remotely human, and if you're close enough to hear them, nothing good is about to happen.
  • Heroic BSOD: A lot. Ray has a severe one after seeing the attack start, to the point that he collapses on the floor in front of his children, and takes a minute to shake himself out of it.
    • Rachel has a lot of these, such as when she sees the dead bodies in the river and when she's captured in the tripod basket.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The military attempts to defend the civilian refugees, which include Ray and the kids, by throwing everything they've got at the aliens. When that doesn't work, they throw themselves directly at the enemy in a last-ditch effort to buy time and save as many lives as possible.
  • Hollywood Tactics: The military's straight-on charge against the already-proven-to-be-invulnerable-to-conventional-weaponry alien machines in order to save the civilian refugees. Justified in that they know their tactics are useless; they're just buying time for others to get away.
  • Human Resources: The aliens use ground-up human pulp as seed fertilizer/germination agent for their homeworld's fauna (the red weed). Before the movie is over, a good portion of New England is covered in it.
  • Humongous Mecha: The aliens' Tripods are modeled after their own body structure (3 legs, 3 fingers on each leg, wide-plated head), just like any Mecha humans would build would be humanoid.
  • Intrepid Reporter: The journalist Ray speaks to by the crashed plane. Not only is she already so well-informed to be Miss Exposition, but stops to ask Ray if he was on the crashed plane because "It would have been a great story."
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Rachel singing "Hushabye Mountain."
  • Jump Scare: When Rachel wakes up in the basement to find an alien probe right in front of her face.
  • Large Ham: Tim Robbins, usually a pretty understated actor, as Ogilvy.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Robbie's attempts to join the military to fight the aliens tends to come across as this.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Rachel has quite a few snarky lines (it helps that she's played by Dakota Fanning).
  • Lower Deck Episode: Unlike the 1953 movie, it follows the book in centering around an Action Survivor, instead of the military and cutting to other places where the aliens are invading.
  • No Time to Explain: Ray says this to the mechanic who's asking him to get out of the car.
  • Not Using The A Word: The obviously alien invaders are never described as such.
  • The Nudifier: Inverted; the heat ray vaporizes people, but leaves the clothing intact.
  • Magic Pants: The heat ray disintegrates people in an instant, but doesn't work as well on their pants and jackets.note  The heat ray was an explicitly antipersonnel/terror weapon. For structures and armored targets, they use a Wave Motion Gun, which shreds everything in front of it.
  • Oh Crap!: Ray when he realizes there's more than one tripod, and that the first attack wasn't an isolated incident.
    • Ray briefly has this expression when he realizes Ogilvy isn't going to quiet down, and realizes that he's going to have to kill him.
  • Only Sane Man: Ray, especially in his interactions with Robbie.
  • Papa Wolf: Ray pulls a gun on a mob of crazed people after Robbie disappears. He also hurls a grenade at a Tripod that's just captured Rachel.
    • And don't forget he's willing to kill Ogilvy rather than let him endanger Rachel's safety.
  • Pineapple Surprise: Ray somehow managing to pull some pins out of the grenades while he was being sucked into one of the Tripods.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: Ray spits out the pins of a couple of M67 grenades he uses to destroy a Tripod. Of course, this was his only option.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie follows the plot of the novel, only updating the setting from 20th-century England to early 21st-century New Jersey (but one of the screenwriters decided to "take the modern world back to the 1800s" with the EMP frying most technology), and having the protagonist accompanied by his children (the unnamed one from the book only had a wife, which he drops with her relatives).
  • Promotion to Parent: Robbie seems to have become a semi-father-figure to Rachel, since Ray clearly knows nothing about being a father to them both.
  • Reality Ensues: For both the humans AND the invaders. First and foremost, any alien race capable of interstellar travel, coming here to exterminate us before we can have our own Cool Starship, is going to just roll right over us. But, they quickly discover that our planet is actually not suitable for their needs, and they start getting killed by microbes and germs we humans are immune to once the crews start exiting their war machines to explore.
    • Happens again in the span of two minutes towards the end when one Tripod is caught in an urban environment, with its shields down, by infantry packing heavy anti-tank weapons. But while the military is very quick to haul their carcasses away from the tripod the moment one of their missiles delivers the killing blow note ... several civilians who stay and watch the Curb-Stomp Battle find out that where they are standing is where a 100-ton mech is about to fall like a tree, and get smashed because they couldn't run away fast enough.
  • Remake Cameo: Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, who play leading roles in the 1953 film The War of the Worlds, appear as the grandparents of Dakota Fanning's character.
  • Ride The Lightning: The aliens ride lightning into their Tripods which are buried beneath the ground.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Rachel's first reaction to the heat ray is "Is it the terrorists?"
    • Ogilvy's line about how "Occupations never work," a less-than-subtle Take That at the situation in Iraq at the time.
  • Setting Update: From the original novel's late 19th-century England to the early 21st-century New Jersey.
  • Shapeshifting Excludes Clothing: The alien heat ray reduces people to ash, leaving their clothing behind. But not underwear for some reason.
  • Shoot the Dog: Ray has to kill Ogilvy to stop him from attracting the aliens' attention.
  • Shout-Out: The scene where the invaders use a probe to explore the house (and the protagonists subsequently hack it apart after being discovered) mirrors the 1953 version of the movie.
  • Single Tear: Ray when he sings a lullaby to Rachel.
  • Sound-Only Death: This happens to the driver who takes Ray's car. A few seconds after Ray surrenders the car and enters a diner with his family, we hear shots fired and the car passing by the window, with one of them shooting inside with Ray's dropped gun.
    • Ray killing Ogilvy. Rachel sings with her eyes closed so she won't hear the murder sounds.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Major example. Rachel sings a calming lullaby to herself as Ray murders Ogilvy in another room.
  • Spiritual Successor: Though they're very different in theme, Spielberg considers this film to be part of a loose "alien trilogy" with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. All of them detail the very different ways that an encounter with extraterrestrials could turn out, and Spielberg has said that he believes that all three species could very well exist in the same universe.
  • Tanks for Nothing: Tanks are no match for the aliens.
  • The "The" Title Confusion: Unlike the novel and the 1953 film, it dropped the article to be only War of the Worlds.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Rachel has this expression when she's captured and put in the tripod basket.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Robbie has an obsessive interest in going to fight the aliens, despite Ray's repeated attempts to tell him exactly how stupid this is. Even after seeing the explosions occurring from over the hill and the military forces clearly losing the battle, Robbie is insistent he still wants to go.
    • Rachel generally has more sense, but she plays this completely straight when she's so scared by the alien probe that she runs out of the relatively sheltered basement into the open, where she's easily captured.
  • Wave Motion Gun: The Tripods have them and use them against artificial structures and against the military, with devastating results.
  • Wham Line: In-universe, for Rachel: "Get in, Manny, or you're going to die!"