Whether your nightmares are haunted by aliens, Scientologists, Dakota Fanning, or cinematic hackery, there's something for everyone to fear in War of the Worlds. It's been a while since I have actively disliked a film as much as this one. It wasn't even so much that it was completely unsatisfying (intellectually, narratively, emotionally, even popcornily) . . . it's that Spielberg's authorial voice comes off as casually fascist in the most grimly repulsive pop nihilistic sense imaginable. The utter cynicism in the way he films crowd scenes makes me nearly sick to my stomach. The unwashed masses—variously whimpering and animalistic—are helpless, selfish, and in need of the superior guile, cunning, and guidance of Ubermensch Ray Ferrier. (Ugh, yes, that's Operating Thetan Cruise's actual character name: Ferrier. As in, containing the Latin root for "iron.") Sure, he's a hapless schmuck of a father, but, by God, he does what needs to be done, from figuring out how to fix a minivan that was previously thought inoperable after being fried by the aliens' electromagnetic force fields to blindfolding his sensitive, innocent daughter before killing a man in cold blood to chucking a hand grenade up into a giant alien-robot vagina (well, you tell me what that orifice was supposed to be!) in self-defense. I mean, we're supposed to go along with this as some sort of allegory for 9/11, right? (Even though, in the world of the film, there is a definite awareness of and a handful of references to terrorist attacks, which puts it all a bit on the nose, as if we wouldn't have figured out the parallels ourselves.) Well, wasn't one of the minor miracles to come out of that tragedy the widespread cooperation and general bravery of so many innocent bystanders (not to mention, of course, the NYPD and -FD) in Lower Manhattan? It's amazing how often Spielberg gets labeled as "fuzzy" or "soft" when his loathing of humanity in general is so thinly veiled.
I'm willing to give him credit for the sheer visceral kicks of the first 30 or 45 minutes—primarily the scene where Tommy Tom-Tom runs into town and witnesses the first alien tripod bust up through the street and start vaporizing people. The sense of dread and uncertainty and confusion and pure fight-or-flight instinct was palpable and definitely put you, as a viewer, in the scene in the first person. But all this "making pop poetry out of our fears" bullshit is strictly wishful thinking, a feeble attempt to unite our collective memories of Spielberg's past glories with his own inflated sense of importance as a cultural critic of the highest order. Give me Stephanie Zacharek's searing critical indictment or Signs on DVD over this crap any day of the week.
Let's see. Things for me not to be pissed off and bitter about? Long weekends, Coronas on the beach with friends at dusk, Malkmus's Face the Truth, Sufjan's Illinois, Hairstyles of the Damned, Firefly on DVD, and Mac's description of Carrie Brownstein (after attending a Sleater-Kinney concert in the ATL) as a sex popsicle.