Spielberg’s take on the classic H.G. Wells novel is an exceptionally grim one, drawing on anxieties both primeval, what might befall our children and those all-too-current of dystopian futures resulting from either war, terrorist attacks on a greater sclate than September 11, runaway climate change etc. etc.
Spielberg knows our buttons and he presses them hard. With Spielberg’s cinematic eye is as sharp as ever and with John Williams pulsing, ominous score to match the aliens’ malicious intent. The result is a disaster film that feels intimate and personal. Yes, the film kind of falls apart in the final reel with its abrupt and unsatisfying deus ex machina ending, but by that point, it’s earned more than enough goodwill to balance out the weaker areas.
The film has incredibly seamless special effects, including a lengthy, single take of Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) and his children speeding along a freeway and the scene when the elegant but terrifying Tripod’s attack a Hudson River ferry. Another scene that stands out in the film is the one in Harlan Ogilvy’s basement.
Ray and his daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) are separated from his son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and hole up in a basement with an emotionally unstable survivalist, Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins). They’re surrounded by an invader encampment and must lay low while alien surveillance probes and the aliens themselves investigate their basement hideout.
The basement scene is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking; when the alien probe begins poking around the basement and Tim Robbins’ character is simultaneously having a nervous breakdown – it is a meticulously crafted bit of insufferable tension.