11 years on and it's still alarming just how fucking dark Steven Spielberg's 2005 War Of The Worlds is, it's almost malicious in how it totally destroys all notions of fun summer popcorn entertainment that one expects, instead delivering a distressingly bleak, even mournful movie that taps deep into the anxieties of the post 9/11 landscape. This isn't Independence Day, the first alien attack is the stuff of nightmares, sudden and brutal, it evokes those videos we saw of the World Trade Center collapsing very uncomfortably, the feel of normality suddenly being ripped out from under you, leaving you dazed and shell shocked, Tom Cruise's Ray coming back home in a zombie state, covered in the dust of vaporized people is queasy and raw, much like the attack itself. Said scene is one of the most stunningly orchestrated pieces of cinema this century, a triumph of almost casually masterful direction by Spielberg, an astonishing mixture of miniature and computer generated affects work by ILM , John Williams powerful score and some terrifying sound design all add together to create one of the finest sequences in the directors incredible career, it's actually intimidating in it's craft and power. The first hour of this movie is fairly astonishing really, filled with moments of breathtakingly dark majesty like the thrillingly orchestrated Hudson Ferry scene, or that un-fucking believable shot where the bridge over Rays house is viciously blown to shit, sending cars and trucks raining down onto the neighborhood, or the breathe snatching moment where little Rachel (Dakota Fanning, scarily real as a frightened kid) comes across a serene, sun dappled stream, only for dozens and dozens of dead bodies to suddenly come floating into view and destroy her mind forever. Another scene that has to be noted is the seemingly single 360 shot in and out of the car as Ray frantically drives his family away from the devastation, moving in and out of the car it's an impressive bit of techinacl brilliance meets storytelling skill, capturing the paniced terror of the moment, a small masterpiece of cinematic brio. Like i said, this first hour or so is home to some of the finest filmmaking ever seen from the worlds finest filmmaker, it's big and bold yet surprisingly stripped down and lean, it feels like a gritty low budget film that has huge mega budget effects set pieces in it, few directors know how to use a big budget properly and here Spielberg's genius is to shoot the whole story from the ground level, we see everything the Ferrier family see, which isnt a hell of a lot to get a full picture of everything thats going on, just like it would be if one was trying to survive a thing such as this, the Berg uses his spectacle for real effect not cheap dazzle, take the scene on the hill, on the other side a huge battle is taking place and he keeps us just on the opposite side, grounded, we never see the battle, the sheer balls of denying the audience the money shot, of holding back rather than Michael Baying the shirt out of it, is admirable as hell, this complete confidence in pacing and visual storytelling permeates the first half of the film. Then we come to what, if i were a detective and had to pin it down to something, may well be the part where all the endless, endlessly aggravating and incessantly moronic negativity towards the film possibly (highly likely in fact) stems from, the second half. We do admittedly get traded one film for another, and if truth be told, we get a great movie traded for a really good one, the point where the separation occurs is when Tim Robbins turns up with his big crazy eyes and the film promptly changes tone. I enjoy Robbins in this film actually, but his cartoonish, extra thick slice of ham of a performance is a bit alarming and a total contrast to the convincingly gritty, grounded, almost documentary feel of the film until then. With his hilariously loony mannerisms (nothing says edgy nutjob like the intensely concentrated sharpening of a shovel) and overblown jersey accent (NOT MY BLUUUUD!!!!!) he is something of an unfortunate distraction, and the pace and tone of the film change with our extended sojourn in Robbins characters basement. The film stops in it's tracks a bit and grounds us, whereas before the pace was full pelt and relentless. The movie also becomes more like a traditional summer rollercoaster ride, with our heroe's trapped in the basement as a big eye tentacle and then the aliens themselves try to seek them out in a series of tense but traditional pop corn suspense scenes, but the fact is that these scenes are hugely effective, and thrilling. We may loose that breathlessness but instead we get a great chamber piece of a suspenser. It's here were we get one of the films most stark, ballsy, bleak scenes, in which Ray has to kill a man so that he and his daughter might have a chance, the scene, which lingers on a blind folded Rachel, covering her ears and singing "Hush-A-Bye Mountain" to drown out the sounds of her dad committing murder, is chilling as hell, and brilliant. Speaking of Ray, Tom Cruise is terrific here, he gives one of his most ego-less roles ever, Ray is a fascinating protagonist, he's a dick, a rubbish and selfish deadbeat dad, and he is never really heroic, not truly, he dose terrible things to keep his family alive, and frankly they dont seem that out of reason, this is one of the only alien invasion/disaster movies films to have the balls to show how ugly and selfish in their self preservation people would actually get if aliens decimated the earth (the car attack scene is amazing in how honestly and pessimistically it presents violent human desperation and panic). The last moments of the film is the only part i find in any way unsatisfying, first we get the bizarre sight of what compleatly (and embarrassingly) a giant puckering anus on the underside of the tripod that captures Ray and Rachel, the protruding worm like thing only makes the visual that much more uncomfortable to look at to the point where one wonders how much of this was purposeful (it's like Spielberg briefly transforms into David Cronenberg!) and then we get a very faithful translation of the books coda, the weakness of which is the books fault for sure, but the film should never have used it. Having the aliens just drop dead is like a non-climax, at the same time it could only have ended this way, rather than the typical "America saves the planet" shit again, that pessimism, that if they hadn't have forgotten their shots then we would simply be fucked, is fitting for this film but unsatisfying all the same. I have however changed my mind about the very ending, as i've heard it perfectly put elsewhere, it's very much like the ending of The Searchers, bittersweet as hell, it's not the cop-out many (myself included) have accused it of being, it's actually a delicately downbeat ending. I have to say as well that Morgan Freeman's pleasantly dulcet tones aside, the book-ending narration straight from the book feels way out of place in the movie. But these are all quibbles, alot of them for sure but they do nothing to truly damage what remains not the big special effects driven blockbuster movie many where expecting, but instead one of the most potent and probably the defining horror movie of our terror afflicted and always uncertain 21st century. Flawed masterpiece.