I am not a Steven Spielberg fan. He has an uncanny ability to put together sequences, but for well over two decades now he has almost always shown an inability to keep an interesting story going consistently during the length of an entire film. That said, War of the Worlds
, is arguably his best film since the first Raiders
sequel (excepting Schindler's List which stands so far outside of his other work thematically).
It is not perfect and I have a big misgiving. When the blackout occurred a few years ago I was stuck in downtown Ann Arbor with my three year-old daughter. We got on the bus we normally took to get to our car where a bus driver informed us, "They've taken out the whole east coast." I remember the feelings of dread and terror I felt until we finished the walk to our car and I heard the real news (turns out the "They" the bus driver meant was Enron). The first thing the aliens do in this film is knock out all the electricity. This all hit too close to home and I was unsettled and stayed that way for the rest of the film. This was partly because of the memories it triggered in me and partly because of Spielberg's exquisite craft. This is first-rate filmmaking. And I'm not talking about special effects (although those are truly state-of-the-art they are so good that you quickly ignore them and accept that the aliens are really there), I'm talking about editing, framing, and cinematography. I'm not sure I'm ready for the war on terror to be used as a backdrop for an escapist summer thrill ride - but based on some of the thuddingly obvious subtext I think Spielberg is taking this film pretty seriously.
Spielberg's biggest topic, the one he is too afraid to address directly, is divorce. The opening fifteen minutes of this film get closer to dealing directly with the fallout of divorce than anything else he has done. It will be a major loss if a talent as outsized as this is not applied to material along the lines of Shoot the Moon
before it shuffles off this mortal coil.
This is not a pleasant filmgoing experience, there are almost no moments of levity. This film intends to put you through the wringer and it does it. Is that art? Not so much, but it is craftsmanship of the highest order. To put it quickly and simply, War of the Worlds
is the first time Spielberg has come close to matching the power of Jaws