The great merit of the film is to narrate the invasion from the point of view of the common citizen, just as Wells did. In the 1953 version, high-ranking political and military officials abound, and even the protagonist is a scientist by profession. Not here. Ray Ferrier is a divorced crane operator who lives in New Jersey and has custody of his two children on the weekends. Precisely when they are at home, a gigantic metal tripod rises from the ground of the neighborhood and begins to disintegrate buildings and people. In the following days, the three of them will live a nightmare trying to survive the invasion, with Ferrier forced to assume his responsibility as a father – something that, we are told, he did not do during their marriage – and to protect his life and that of his children, while around him society is crumbling and panic and despair animalize people until they are reduced to their most primitive instincts; he will find himself carrying out actions inconceivable only a few days ago.
That a Spielberg production is a box office success is not, in general, news: it is surprising, in a way, that this one was also, considering that it was filmed only four years after the attacks of September 11, when the collective shock caused by the fall of the Twin Towers was still too recent, and that is not a pleasant movie to watch. The integrity with which many people reacted to the invasion in the 1953 version is replaced here by a harshness that sometimes surpasses what is narrated in Wells’s book: in it, the protagonist hides for a few days in a basement with a priest maddened, who must finally be knocked unconscious so that he does not attract the Martians with his screams; In the film, the priest becomes a madman with weapons, played by Tim Robbins, and Ray, for the same reason, does not render him senseless, but directly has to kill him, and also do it secretly from his daughter .
Spielberg also takes advantage of many ideas in the book that other versions ignored, such as the prisoners that the aliens collect in giant cages, or the red weed with which they cover the conquered terrain and that is fed, precisely, with the blood of captured humans. The film –like the novel– has, of course, a happy ending: Ray reunites with his entire family, but neither he nor they are the same people they were in the beginning. The lived experience has been too horrible to think that any happiness is final.