Kevin Maher at the London Times calls the film "the first true post-9/11 disaster movie." According to him, we are all afficted by the Nero Complex:
It was diagnosed in the 1950s by the French film theorist AndrÃ© Bazin, and it describes the vicarious pleasures experienced by popular cinemagoers who, like the bloodthirsty emperor, delight in the spectacular destruction of cities, towns and various conspicuous landmarks.
Maher argues that the modern blockbuster had become a spectable of mass destruction (see 1996’s "Independence Day" and "Twister," 1998’s "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact") and was then blamed for 9/11 ("The movies set the pattern, and these people (terrorists) copied the movies," announced Robert Altman). And so, nearly four years after, we’re still trying to reconcile our desire to see cities burn and buildings crumble for entertainment with the inescapable images of those things actually happening still very much in the public consciousness.
For Maher, then, the nods to 9/11 are a sign of Spielberg’s concession to the fact that the age of cheering at wanton destruction is over:
Here, repeatedly, the Nero Complex money-shots occur off-camera. A 747 crash; the big climactic confrontation between the US military and the aliens; the very demise of the aliens themselves are all alluded to, rather than revealed.
And itâ€™s not because Spielberg doesnâ€™t want to show it, or doesnâ€™t have the technical means to do so. No, the real lesson of "War of the Worlds" is that Spielberg doesnâ€™t show it simply because he canâ€™t.
In his review for the LA Weekly, Scott Foundas has a different, and particularly weird (if interesting) interpretation:
From the moment of the filmâ€™s first alien attack…"War of
the Worlds" announces itself as a reverse inventory of 20th- and
21st-century atrocities, beginning with 9/11 (blinding clouds of debris
filling the streets of New York and airplanes falling from the sky) and
winding its way back through the L.A. riots (a truly terrifying scene
in which Cruise is pulled from his car and beaten by an enraged mob),
the corpse-strewn rivers of Rwanda, the battlefields and deportation
trains of WWII, and even (in a perilous drawbridge scene) the sinking
of the Titanic, with its eternal reminder of manâ€™s hubristic folly.
We haven’t seen the film (and still dunno if we want to, frankly) but reading these is infinitely more intruiging than any of the ads Paramount has churned out.