I never really cared for disaster movies, but I really enjoyed this one. Basically, what makes it work for me is that, rather than just follow the overall event as it impacts the populace at large, or report on it in a detached, news-like style (as in the radio play version), it instead follows one singular family and their experiences during the alien invasion.
Yes, the movie has its dumb elements. The way the dad character is able to somehow get a car running immediately after all other cars on Earth were shorted by an alien electrical attack is too convenient, and there's an "outrun the earthquake" sequence early on that's just too Hollywood to be in the least bit exciting.
But, flawed as it is, I like the idea behind this film a lot. You meet the family and get to know them and their problems - a divorce, a strained father/son relationship - and then see how the disaster affects them
specifically, as they try to not only survive it, but also deal with their family problems along the way. You see them argue with each other while trying to keep their head up in the midst of danger, you see the dad get stressed out (the scene where he throws the peanut butter sandwich at the window being a perfect illustration), and there's even the scene where the teenage son tries to run off and join a military convoy he sees passing by, wanting desperately to be able to do something. You see the terror, the stress, and the potential breakdown of a family, all either caused by or exacerbated by, the alien invasion and the impact it's having on human life.
This movie is Slice Of Life
crossed with Disaster Movie
, and to me, it works.
You could certainly argue that the main characters are hardly "active" characters, in the sense that they don't affect the plot. They don't fight the aliens. We don't even see any fighting against the aliens. The heroes aren't able to provide any support at all. But that's not what this story is about. It's a story of survival, and a family.
For all the criticisms leveled against it, and the plausibility of some of the more action-oriented events, I think that the 2005 War of the Worlds
movie has the right idea on how to tell a good story.