War of the Worlds

Holy tripods of doom.

Anyone buying a ticket to this movie based on the twin family-fun indicators "Spielberg" and "PG-13" had better re-up their Xanax ahead of time.

This is no Hook, and Spielberg is definitely out of adolescence.

No spoilers here; it would be a gross faux-pas for me to describe for you what the end of the world looks like. You deserve to see it as I did: partially obscured by a hand over my disbelieving eyes.

Spielberg doesn't share my reticence at putting your worst nightmares on display. In fact, he delights in and excels at it.

You should know this before you go to see War of the Worlds this weekend -- and you know you will -- there is no safe seat in the theatre. You will never see your planet and your fellow humans in the same way again.

Take the pathos of war from Empire of the Sun, the human suffering from Schindler's List, and the intensity of the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, extended to two hours. Turn E.T. into a merciless, bloodthirsty alien at the wheel of a killing machine taller than the World Trade Center. Blend Spielberg's determination to make a sci-fi flick "as ultrarealistic as I've ever tried to make a movie in terms of its documentary style."

Add Oscar-worthy music and sound effects, near flawless CGI, and remarkably on-point acting from the three mains (even Mr. Cruise, whom most of us have learned to dislike in recent days) and you have a squirm-in-your-seat, heart-in-your-throat, this-can't-be-happening-to-me War of the Worlds -- the real one on the screen versus the real one outside the theatre doors.

The only other experiential referent I have for War of the Worlds is a physiological one. Namely, the abject certainty of imminent death while plummeting to earth on the Tower of Terror at Disney MGM Studios.

That feeling persisted for about 15 or 20 minutes. This one will make cameos in my nightmares for the next 15 or 20 years.

Once, in a water-cooler conversation, I mentioned to a coworker that Spielberg was among my favorite directors. She did a nose-scrunch, as if I'd just emitted a foul odor, and said, "his movies just make me feel so... so manipulated."

Well, exactly.

I could have spent $5.50 on a Venti Latte instead; but nothing about that would have moved me to sit down at the keyboard and write about it as soon as I got home.

So enjoy, my fellow humans. And remember -- it's only a movie.

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