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War of the Worlds

Dir. Steven Spielberg; writ. H.G. Wells (novel), David Koepp, Josh Friedman; feat. Tom Cruise, Justin Chatwin, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto (PG-13)

Some fans of War of the Worlds are heralding it as the return of "the Spielberg of Jaws" or "the Spielberg of Duel." That's pretty much bunk. In the mid-'70s, Steven Spielberg's thrills were stripped-down and nasty: He could make a plastic shark menacing, and he wasn't afraid to let it eat a cute little kid.

Tim Robbins, Tom Cruise, and Dakota Fanning huddle to escape the attacking aliens in War of the Worlds.

Today's incarnation is the opposite. Worlds, though it depicts some very ugly, primal terrors, is both a high-tech extravaganza and a place in which lovable characters can be counted on to survive the most dire threats. (The film's ridiculous end is its major flaw.)

That said, it's truly surprising just how menacing the filmmaker makes his alien invasion. The film is tense and features some hair-raising imagery (some that recalls 9/11 and the Holocaust, although these references are not maudlin and make perfect sense given the events on screen). The plot, in which a deadbeat dad must protect his two children, is a frenzied flight away from the growing carnage. Despite the PG-13 rating, this is not for kids; it's not the Spielberg of Jaws, but it ain't the Spielberg of E.T., either.

- John DeFore

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