**/**** Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins
screenplay by Josh Friedman and David Koepp, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
directed by Steven Spielberg
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. A lot like Minority Report, the first 90% of War of the Worlds is among the best movies of the year and the last 10% is among the worst. Spielberg is the only one who can ruin his films and he does it over and over again because he's Peter Pan in a Captain Hook world. There has never been a more gifted visual storyteller than Steven Spielberg; in the five minutes of shorthand that opens his War of the Worlds, he creates three characters we care about, a world that we recognize, and a real hope that this time, this one time, he'll be courageous enough to follow a narrative through to its logical end instead of the one he thinks will least disturb his audience. His audience being one that he underestimates with such stunning regularity that it can be said with confidence at this point that he's not really underestimating anybody--that he knows for whom he's making movies, posterity be damned. War of the Worlds is a work of obvious genius that is about nothing, which is an amazing and disheartening thing to say because so much of the picture is composed of jaw-dropping--I mean it, it's astonishing--Holocaust tableaux mixed with 9/11 imagery.