You Need To Watch Spielberg’s Most Underrated Sci-Fi Movie On Netflix ASAP

In 1964, a 17-year-old named Steven Spielberg made a movie called Fireplace. Produced for $500 and filled with actors from Spielberg’s High School production of guys and dolls, Fireplace follows several scientists as they explore mysterious colored lights in the sky that might just be aliens. Elements of Fireplace would eventually appear in Spielberg’s professional work, notably in the 1977s Dating of the Third Kind.

For years, Spielberg has been fascinated by how alien encounters can change people. Growing up in a world shaped by the harsh divisions of the Cold War, the arrival of aliens had the potential to break down social barriers and rekindle long-forgotten passions. In the same way Fireplace, Close Encounters and AND, would show how extraterrestrials could touch the human mind.

In 2005, Spielberg returned to aliens. But this time he was not interested in peace, love and understanding. He wanted war, and he did War of the Worlds, one of the best science fiction films of the decade. There are aliens galore, but the film also keeps a close eye on humanity struggling with violence, and it hits Netflix today for your reconsideration.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a longshoreman from Brooklyn, a star at his job with a boss who begs him for more hours. But back home in Bayonne, New Jersey, the situation is different. Ray’s ex-wife has a new husband who is wealthier than Ray, and the couple’s two children, 10-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin), love the new one much more.

To be fair, Ray isn’t exactly up for father of the year. He appears to barely care for his children, abruptly telling his 10-year-old daughter to order dinner for herself. But the real tensions lie with Robbie, whom Spielberg telegraphs with a visual metaphor. Ray is a Yankees fan, but during a tense game, Robbie rebels by donning a Red Sox hat.

In 20 minutes, Spielberg set up a cold family dynamic. But strange reports from Ukraine describe mysterious flash thunderstorms, which soon find their way to New Jersey. Incredibly, they all hit the exact same spot. Soon, out of the sidewalk, horrible tripods emerge and begin to explode.

Ruthless Tripods can still shock and horrify today. DreamWorks Pictures

There are some inconsistencies in War of the Worlds, but they all serve the movie. The most important concerns the use of electricity. In the beginning, the public is shown again and again that all electricity has stopped: in houses, cars, watches, everywhere.

But then, as the aliens emerge, Spielberg cuts to a man filming them with a working camcorder. Although it’s inconsistent, the idea works so well that it’s easy to forgive. The camcorder drops and the audience watches the attack through their screen, providing a level of suppression that makes it even more horrifying.

The laser blasts themselves look like a reversal of what Spielberg was doing in Close encounters. They are beautiful multicolored lights accompanied by sounds, but here they portend death. When the lasers blast a person, their body simply disappears, leaving only ashes, reminiscent of the aftermath of 9/11.

9/11 is on the horizon War of the Worlds. Although the attacks are never mentioned, the references would have been clear to audiences watching the film at the height of the Bush-era War on Terror. At one point, a confused and frightened Rachel asks if the attacks are from terrorists. All Ray can do is keep going.

Cruise’s struggle to bond with a young Dakota Fanning forms the emotional core of the film.DreamWorks Pictures

The family struggles to become a functional unit. Ray and Robbie are at each other’s throats, particularly over Robbie’s desire to join the military and fight the seemingly indestructible machines. The family undergoes an exodus on foot which, for the modern critic, recalls the forced exodus from Ukraine.

Eventually, Ray has to let Robbie go. He and Rachel find themselves in the care of an unhinged man named Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins), who is obsessed with fighting creatures through tunnels. He begins to lose his mind when the three watch an alien tripod drain a person of their blood, at which point the alien plan becomes clear: they intend to terraform Earth using our own bodies. To be fair to Harlan, that would break a lot of people’s brains.

The end of War feels a little rushed, especially as the characters come together without really knowing how they are getting to where they are. But even if it doesn’t make sense, the emotional rush of watching humanity grow and fight pays off. Whether aliens are good or bad, Spielberg knows how to put on an interstellar spectacle.

War of the Worlds is streaming on Netflix.

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