July 3, 2005 [War of the Worlds]

For a minute there when the son in War of the Worlds freaks out and wants to go after the giant unstoppable aliens, I thought he'd lost his mind--or that his character had been reshaped to fit a plot-point.  But then I saw it, that look in his face, that urge to put his hands on the cause of all the misery in the world and wage war on it and feel it snap in his grip.  His sister screams at him as though she were falling a long way--little knowing how much farther she had to go--and for a while he stays.  Spielberg asks the entire planet to be the Twin Towers, then dares it not to run wild-eyed up the hill to face the certain death of justice.

Who is working as hard as Spielberg to energize movie frames while holding fast to Old Hollywood?  He even revisits the menacing rise of William Cameron Menzies' Invaders from Mars, where the underground aliens also wait to suck in Mom and Dad and all--but this time there's no overheated Space Cadet kid's dream for us to climb out of.  No, this time it's all real, no matter that we know how it's going to end.
War of the Worlds is a lot like Minority Report--and both are pretty shaky as SF but as uncaring as Ray Bradbury over the damage done--because Spielberg is more interested in watching Tom Cruise running so recklessly he outpaces the camera and asking us to catch up and try to keep up--and to peer through the lens with the director--in War of the Worlds broken windshields and mirrors and windows, ragged distorted apertures through which we see what's coming at us and what's gaining--like the fine joke of the sideview mirror in Jurassic Park telling us something we already know: objects are always closer than they appear, at least when Spielberg is going full tilt.

He's reached a point where all we need to do is watch--he's doing all the heavy lifting, and our job is simply to gasp as needed. Like Hitchcock, Spielberg just keeps making emotion-manufacturing machines--and we can complain about it all we like, but the warranty's still good and as long as you don't tamper with the factory specs it'll run smooth as pistons and relays, invisible weapons of mass destruction pushing you over the edge.

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