In many ways, the movie reaches its peak with its chilling portraiture of mass panic, from the astonishing road hog exposition sequence (Cruise‘s terrified dad trying not to explain to his kids what’s going on as he weaves in and out of stalled traffic and to and from the camera) to the image of a crowd tearing into an SUV’s shattered windows with bloodied hands.
â€”Michael Atkinson, Village Voice
True, it has a ham-fisted script, a bewildering objective for its hero (it involves getting from New Jersey to Boston), and an ending thatâ€”given the level of tensionâ€”isn’t cathartic enough. But this is a blockbuster that transcends summer blockbusters. In all the ways that matter, it’s pure.
â€”David Edelstein, Slate
The thing is, we never believe the tripods and their invasion are practical.
â€”Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
What’s driving us (and, it seems, several of the above critics) nuts, besides Roger Ebert’s odd recent insistence on discussing practicalities (see his "Land of the Dead" review â€” has the man forgotten what summer films are like?), is that no one can explain the reasoning behind Spielberg’s apparently very heavy-handed and frequent references to 9/11. It all seems to hover on the verge of being a statement â€” after all, as several reviews point out, this film is better read as a brutal counterpoint to Spielberg’s 1977 "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," with its aliens as figures of magic, mystery and music, than in relation to the 1953 "WotW." Nearly thirty years after Spielberg told us "We are not alone," we’re given tripods emerging from beneath the pavement where they’ve been lying dormant, a fight and flee narrative, and near silence as a backdrop.
So we’re at a different place, culturally, than we were back then, and what Spielberg thinks we want is darkness and massive destruction. Fine. But, as Stephanie Zacharek puts it:
At one point the camera scans a wall covered with fliers of missing loved ones (presumably humans who have been abducted or just plain disintegrated by the marauding aliens), as direct a reference to post-9/11 New York City as you could make. I can’t possibly divine what Spielberg intends by that shot. Are we meant to nod solemnly, jolted by the recognition that this alleged bit of summer fun has a real-life parallel?
And Michael Atkinson asks:
Is it exploitation of our experience, or is Spielberg forming a statement? At the very least, the presumption, pace Roland Emmerich, seems to be that we have, after a four-year rest cure, regained our consumer’s appetite for destruction. You may have.
Spielberg’s a smart cookie, and he know that just dropping references does not make for any greater meaning. So what is this to be read as except laziness? Or pretension?
We’re feeling a bit put off by the whole thing at the moment.