Tom Cruise has done a lot of running for his life in the movies. He's running again in Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, and he's never had such good reason to do so. Spielberg's vision of H.G. Wells's otherworldly invaders is terrifying indeed.

Unleashing some of the most convincing special effects and some of the most upsetting displays of destruction and urban chaos ever filmed, War of the Worlds excels in its technical execution. ILM serves up visual wonders that make Revenge of the Sith look dated already, raising the bar so high for scenes of devastation that it's unlikely to be surpassed—even when Peter Jackson's King Kong wreaks havoc in New York later this year.

It's one of Tom Cruise's best performances as an irresponsible father and divorcé e who annoys his rebellious teenage son (newcomer Justin Chatwin) and his unusually mature young daughter (Dakota Fanning) on days when they're in his care. Fanning's performance is so strong that she deserves an Oscar nomination. Spielberg proves he's still the greatest American director of children.

The most surprising thing is that Spielberg goes deep into horror territory; the violence is as troubling as anything in Aliens. The camera doesn't flinch when fleeing citizens are incinerated by alien death rays; and wait until you see what they do to the people they don't incinerate. This film will give nightmares to grownups, and it could be deeply distressing for children. War of the Worlds is 117 minutes of unrelenting bloodshed, terror, destruction, and chaos, at times as fierce as Saving Private Ryan.

Spielberg avoids many of his common mistakes—there are no goofy sidekicks or sermonizing asides. And it's refreshing to see a film that admits human endeavor ...

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