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War of the Worlds

Year: 2005
Production Co: Amblin
Studio: Paramount
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producer: Tom Cruise/Paula Wagner
Writer: David Koepp/H G Wells
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins, Justin Chatwin
Who are the two most famous Hollywood personalities of all time? Say 'movie star' and people think of Tom Cruise. Think 'movie director' and people think of Steven Spielberg.

Excitement and anticipation spread across the world at the news the two were collaborating. How could the most luminous personality in American entertainment and the most visionary blockbuster director miss? As anyone who stood up at the end of Minority Report knows, the fairytale union was far from a sure bet.

Not that it'll put any pressure on War of the Worlds. Minority Report undoubtedly tripled its money on the first weekend, and War will break the records all over again. After all, it's Paramount's summer movie - that means the one blockbuster they spare no expense on (and with Cruise and Spielberg both on the payroll, that's probably enough for a structural adjustment loan from the IMF).

Which isn't to say Paramount executive manicures aren't being shorn down to the root – your summer holiday event flick is no guarantee of a flush bank account (to say nothing of a good movie), as Universal can attest after their big hope last year, Van Helsing.

Another consideration is the performance of Spielberg himself over the last decade. For the man who invented the blockbuster, he's spent an awful long time doing fluffy romantic comedies and crowd-pleasing dramas (not even the sweeping, epic dramas he's also good at like Saving Private Ryan).

The last time he sat us down and blew us away with a spectacle the likes of which we'd never seen was in Jurassic Park twelve years ago. His vision of War of the Worlds would have come earlier, according to Spielberg himself, but after Independence Day and its progeny, he didn't want to just jump on the 'alien invasion' bandwagon.

It would have been a very hard film for Spielberg not to nail, and he's done so with the sort of visual panache we all expected from the other Bearded One, so his old fans can breathe a sigh of relief.

It's a rip roaring, old-style adventure film straight out of the era of 1950's disaster movies. No soul searching, no political correctness, just ugly, evil aliens and an us-or-them smackdown. It's an unabashed good time, and it almost seems a waste to have Tom Cruise in the middle of it all, when any number of Hollywood personalities could have pulled it off. The appeal for Cruise was undoubtedly the same for the rest of us – to be part of something huge in both scope and sheer entertainment value.

Glimpses of our own Miranda Otto and Tim Robbins in the trailers are deceptive – they have only three scenes between them. This is The Tom Cruise Show all the way, with pint-sized talent Dakota Fanning almost showing him up at every step. He plays everyman divorcee father Ray who gets his kids on the odd weekend. This particular weekend happens to be the one aliens choose to attack Earth, by riding lightning bolts into the ground where they rendezvous with the gigantic tripod attack vehicles that have been buried beneath our feet for millennia.

When one of the forty storey behemoths wakes up in the middle of Ray's hometown, he grabs the kids and starts a death-defying race to deliver them back to their mother while the world goes to hell around them, the tripods striking death and destruction across the globe. It's certainly the ways Wells (and 1953 version director Byron Haskin) imagined it, and – thanks to the vision of a master storyteller and the film technology of today – we get to see it in lurid and thrilling detail.

Screenwriter extraordinaire David Koepp manages to squeeze in Spielberg's requisite fatherhood themes and the soft spots are comfortably filled with the relations between Ray and his estranged children, but both Koepp and Spielberg know you're there for the spectacle of the enormous tripods crashing over the hills towards streams of terrified, fleeing people, the explosive horns that signal their attacks almost shattering the speakers of the theatre.

If that's what you're after, there are few moviemakers who can do it like this and with whom you can share an unapologetic and infectious joy for the medium.

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