Just got back from War of the Worlds...a rather spectacular film (in the spectacle sense). The specials effects were expectantly amazing and the story was quite poignant. During the film, I couldn't help but feel that many of the images (the aliens, their vehicles) were derivative and many of the fundamental, motivational questions (why are the aliens invading? where are they from? why did we never notice large vehicles underground?--Ebert's review covers many of these questions) go unanswered . But on the drive home, I came to the conclusion that these choices might be deliberate, thus adding to the brilliance of the film.
Unlike so many other alien invasion disaster films that follow the story of those directly battling the aliens (Independence Day), this film centers on a single father and his two children as they flee from the aliens. From that perspective, we would not know why the aliens attacked, etc. As a result, it enables us to focus on the intimate, human side of the tragedy (I could not help but think of that "What would you do" song about 9-11, Marcus, you'll like that connection. As you would imagine, there some clear allusions to 9-11, such as the initial incomprehension by individuals who experienced the event).
I have a lot more thoughts on the film, but what struck me most was how this film comports with Spielberg's other alien films. Spielberg promised to never do a film with aliens as the bad guys. Some rather compelling readings of Spielberg's opus suggest that his alien films, in fact most of his films, ruminate on relationships with estranged parents (most notably a father-figure; Spielberg himself was raised only by his mother), where the alien functions as a surrogate paternal figure (ET is the obvious example). War of the Worlds, however, reverses these roles. Before the aliens attack, the mother leaves the kids with the deadbeat dad so she and her new husband can visit her parents in Boston. When the aliens attack, they flee and head to Boston. I find it interesting that the mother is both absent during the moment of unprecedented tragedy, yet is the object of the narrative drive. So many of Spielberg's diagetic choices seemingly feminize the aliens. Although this is typical of many aliens-as-bad guys (or gals), given the larger narrative context, I think Spielberg has really presented a surprisingly complex film that challenges a simple feminist read (but why is it that all bad aliens are wet and slimy and good ones dry?)
Rambled on too long. Good film, go see, will talk more then.