Published Dec 01, 2005A dam has broken inside Steven Spielberg. The Oedipal block that kept him returning again and again to father/son symbiosis and limited chase-and-return action scenarios has exploded spectacularly as War of the Worlds boldly redraws his iconography for our dark new age.
"Aw-shucks" dreamers who yearn for the mother ship will be cruelly disappointed to find that the E.T.s are pitiless destroyers that reduce all authority to ash and vapour. Not only is no Indiana Jones coming to save the children, but the only hero in sight is a divorced father (Tom Cruise) who can't relate to his children. He's the same irresponsible schlep as Roy Neary in Close Encounters, but aliens will punish instead of reward him this time, making him the first Spielberg protagonist who is child and man at the same time.
The film also tops the limitations of some of his so-called "serious" movies: its genuinely picaresque rendering of a wasted society full of desperate people who will not survive makes for a better war movie than Saving Private Ryan and, incredibly, a more precise evocation of the Holocaust than Schindler's List. And though it wobbles when it tries to name-check 9/11, a scene where father and son battle over whether to go to the front nails the post-towers "what the hell do we do?" feeling like no other movie I've seen.
The acting is blah, the craft is standard and the wuss-out ending is entirely too predictable, but despite it all Spielberg lucks into image after chilling image that makes his film the pop miracle of the year. And he does it all without Stanley freakin' Kubrick looking over his shoulder. (Dreamworks/Paramount)