Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds is similar to many dreams I've had, of running away, ducking and hiding from vague, barely glimpsed but still terrifying, gargantuan shapes. As an anxiety dream, WotW is a slam-dunk success. As science fiction it fails, just as all of Spielberg's SF since Close Encounters has failed, and as a blockbuster it succeeds. Two out of three ain't bad, and is good enough, in this instance, to justify the ticket price.
But pierce the veil, and WotW is a lot more. It is a universal conflict played out as a domestic drama, and it is also a 9/11 passion play. No famous, familiar landmarks are lovingly destroyed as in Independence Day or The Day After Tomorrow; rather, the action is kept to a tight focus--viewed only through the experiences of the main characters. This gives the film a claustrophic feeling and keeps the anxiety at a fever pitch throughout. There are times when it almost becomes unbearable, and the desire to flee one's seat for the safety of the lobby is seriously entertained. Of course, the competing desire to see how it comes out wins. H.G. Wells is present in this film in spirit. These are his tripods and his moments of destruction. Spielberg, in an attempt to justify the innate instability of the tripods shows us the aliens who drive them, three toed, three fingered, three legged (should have been three-eyed). They have created machines that look like themselves.
Scenes of people running from explosions and collapsing buildings, of dust covering Tom Cruise, of the impotent anger felt in the wake of a surprise attack, all bring to mind the zeitgeist of 9/11. This is intentional, and one is not surprised to see SF return to the state it was in in 1953, when the George Pal WotW was released, a state of national anxiety caused by an outside threat.
The alien's motivations seem pointless--what do they want? Why didn't they plan their invasion better--have they never encountered a microorganism? But that itself, plays well into the whole 9/11 theme--and the nonsensical motivations of the terrorists and their ill-conceived and pointless attack.