To combat my drooping spirits, I went with a friend to War of the Worlds
--on opening day, no less. At the multiplex down on Third Avenue, there seemed to be shows about every three minutes, so getting in wasn't a problem. What was
a problem was Tom Cruise, no better or worse than ever, but essentially lost without a strong dose of juvenile cockiness. Another problem: Spielberg can't stop repeating himself. A long, freaky, robotic tentacle searches a grimy basement for human prey, much like the mechanical spiders in Minority Report
. Then a pack of CGI aliens does a predatory tour of the same basement, much like the CGI dinosaurs racing around the kitchen in Jurassic Park
. Needless to say the crew at Industrial Light & Magic knocked themselves out on this one, and the visual effects are often mind-blowing. But for a film full of frenetic crowds and communal mayhem, it feels oddly depopulated. There's Cruise, a divorced father who must repair his half-assed relationship with his daughter and son--and there's everybody else, a million-and-one anonymous extras being vaporized by the tripods or drained of their bodily fluids like walking, or fleeing, Slurpees. Surprise: at the end, it's all about healing the familial rift. Spielberg, a virtuoso confectioner of eye candy, has used the family romance to anchor his sleekest conceits (Catch Me If You Can
) and career highlights (E.T.
, not to mention Schindler's List
, where catastrophe also conspired to turn Liam Neeson into a kinder, gentler paterfamilias). At this point, however, the save-the-children motif is beginning to feel reflexive--a soft-centered substitute for the more varied, sometimes nasty emotions that fuel adult behavior the world over. Spielberg will certainly dig deeper. At 59, he's at the top of his game, and even a popcorn spectacular like this one shows off his visual flair and shot-by-shot concision. But maybe next time around, he'll admit that other
alien life form to his universe: the sentient, scheming adult.