I bailed out of my last Tom Cruise pic, so all credit to Steven Spielberg for taming Tommy’s tantrummy tics to human scale , but that’s as far as my enthusiasm goes here. The 50s original retains a certain naive charm & the design elements are elegant & memorable, but nothing there (or here) will ever touch the panic & terror of Orson Welles’ infamous broadcast.* So, what’s the point? As a 9/11 allegory, the story is painfully inadequate & as a scare pic the thrills have been over-masticated. Watching a little dysfunctional family coming together with their distant/divorced dad when crisis hits home seems flimsy recompense for all the slaughter. In particular, Dakota Fanning’s over-rated combo platter of E.T.’s Drew Barrymore 's tough whimsy & Fay Wray 's screams makes one ambiguous about her constant peril. And Spielberg doesn't even attempt to explain the survival journey of Cruise's lost & found teenaged son. A puzzle of a pic. In Welles ' telling, everything in Jersey gets incinerated by the end of Act One. No such luck here.
*Personal WAR OF THE WORLDS story. New Jersey: Hallowe'en 1938: My 11 yr-old mother is having a sleepover with a neighborhood friend and listening to Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy. Suddenly, the friend's mom comes crashing into the house in a panic. She's hysterical but manages to switch the radio dial over to catch the "news" which is (oddly) only being put out by a single station. Yep, the one that normally broadcasts Orson Welles & the Mercury Players in this time slot. Why isn't this news on all the other networks? What news? Why, Martians have invaded New Jersey. It's the end of the world! And then this mom starts sprinkling Holy Water over the door to the house, over the girls (including my non-Catholic mother), over herself and, of course, over the blessed radio. Ten minutes later, someone calls to let her know it was all a prank. That's story-telling!