War of the Worlds

A rip-roaringly terrifying invasion tale.

"When adverse foreigners affright my towns
With dreadful pomp of stout invasion!" Shakespeare's King John

Stephen Spielberg phoned home from The Terminal, connected with his inner genius once more, and gives us an excellent remake of War of the Worlds touched with his signature obsession about family and graced with special effects that simulate the terror of invasion, as only the Iraquis and Afghans could understand.

Making sure we know the bad guys are really bad (The 1953 version made the invaders a bit too cute), Spielberg wastes little time showing the tripodites destroying everything in sight with dock-worker dad Tom Cruise careering through debris like an Olympic runner, 10-year-old daughter Dakota Fanning in tow, crying too much for my taste.

Parallels to America's current vulnerabilities are as abundant as they were in the cold war '50's, yet both red and blue states can claim Spielberg's support, either for listening carefully to Donald Rumsfeld's apocalyptic warnings or Ted Kennedy's rueful lamentations. Both sides can be afraid of the towering three-spindly-legged machines, like George Lucas's lumbering monsters turned into walking squid, spitting rays that just about obliterate anything.

When an appendage slithers through the farmhouse where Dad and daughter hide with a whacked-out Tim Robbins (Not again! Remember him in Mystic River?), its cobra-like surveillance is even more terrifying than the giant machines. The sequence is far too long until the invaders invade the tightly framed space, at which point Spielberg is the equal of any other director who successfully exploits our claustrophobic fears.

I need to spoil a bit by saying we make it through, but not because we are smarter than the invaders. What Wells, Welles, Haskin, and Spielberg, and recently George Romero in Land of the Dead, emphasize is our need to understand invasion can be deadly for all sides. In that case, the blue states triumph.

No matter, this is a rip-roaringly terrifying invasion tale, told by a master filmmaker, who seems to invade every genre with child-like wonder.