Aliens. Tom Cruise. Steven Spielberg. No, I’m not talking about “the Church” or Indy 4. I’m talking about the box-office hit and critically acclaimed remake of War of the Worlds. Despite its success it was rejected by many movie-goers for common reasons: either Tom Cruise’s personal life or the characters in the movie, i.e. the kids. So, let the invasion begin.
The Plot in a Nutshell (spoilers!)
Ray (Cruise) is a hardworking divorcee who’s left with his estranged teenage son, Robbie, and infant daughter, Rachel, for the weekend. Despite personal strain, they flee from an alien invasion that’s devastating everything around them. Ray does everything he can to protect them until Robbie runs off to try to help defend against the attack. After Ray and Rachel fend for themselves, Ray destroys one of the alien tripods as the rest of the invasion fails when the aliens die from our atmosphere. Ray gets Rachel to her mother’s house and finds Robbie alive and well.
Some people criticize the idea of the aliens dying from our atmosphere as being a weak ending. For those I would say read H.G. Welles’ book or see the original 1953 classic; both end the same way. It’s a very realistic ending and the story isn’t about the military actions against the invasion, it’s about the civilians who try to survive it.
As for the kids, I would make one significant change: no daughter. Rachel yells and cries throughout the entire movie and is only there for Ray to constantly save. She’s a damsel in distress every step of the way without any personal growth or purpose. Rachel and Ray have no personal strain nor conflict so the relationship lacks drama.
Robbie’s relationship with Ray is a classic Spielberg trope: daddy issues. These two are constantly at each other’s throats which affects their survival and choices. However it’s never explained why Robbie is so determined to join the military and fight the aliens. Also it sends the wrong message when Ray finally lets him go and stays with the daughter. It looks like he’s given up on his naive son and has chosen a favorite. Plus, as everyone agrees, it’s too implausible that Robbie survives in the end.
I would have Robbie dropped off at Ray’s house for the weekend because he’s been getting in trouble at school; fights, bad grades, etc. Ray’s wife tells Ray he should give Robbie more attention and teach him to grow up. After they’re unable to bond, they escape from the invasion only to struggle with each other even more.
Robbie keeps trying to run away to fight the aliens because, as a bullied kid, he’s always fighting. Since he always thought Ray abandoned him, and without a strong father figure in his life, Robbie has resented Ray. All the fights he’s been getting into have really been about getting out his aggression toward his dad. That’s when Ray finally tells him that he didn’t abandoned him, Robbie’s mother left him for another and wealthier man. Ray knew he couldn’t provide for his family and he understood why Robbie’s mother left him, so he distanced himself in hopes that his kids would be taken care of, even though it killed him inside. He admits it was a mistake.
The two come to an understanding but are not completely bonded. After they continue to deal with tripod attacks and insane survivors, they’re eventually separated in the chaos as Robbie tries to help others. Ray, completely devastated, is trapped alone in an abandoned farm house with the crazed survivor, Harlan. They try to survive each other and the aliens that stalk them outside. Eventually, Ray is left with no choice but to kill Harlan for his own survival.
Ray is eventually awakened in the night by an alien probe and fights it. Emotionally distraught, he grabs a grenade strap from an abandoned military vehicle and approaches a tripod alone, unconcerned with his own life. He’s abducted and finds Robbie in the tripod’s cage. They quickly reconnect but then Ray is grabbed again by the tripod for harvesting. As he’s being pulled in, Robbie tries to pull him back down. Everyone in the cage helps and when Ray is pulled back, he reveals he’s thrown the grenades into the tripod. The tripod explodes and everyone escapes. After all the tripods crash as the aliens die from our atmosphere, Ray and Robbie reach safety and finally bond.
In this version we have a stronger focus on the two protagonists as they struggle with each other, themselves, and the situation around them. The original version focuses more on Ray’s relationship with his daughter despite the fact that those two aren’t at odds with each other. It detracts from Ray’s relationship with Robbie, which is undeveloped and unexplained. Without Rachel, the story can be more about fatherhood and coming of age. Robbie would be seen as a complete opposite of Ray; Robbie helps everyone around him while Ray is more focused on survival which explains why he distanced himself from his own son. In this version Ray would finally mature in his own right and Robbie would finally forgive and understand his father. They each save each other in multiple ways.
Thank you all for reading and I look forward to re-imagining another movie with you next week.