War of the Worlds (2005)
Early on in War of the Worlds, when we're getting to know the not too harmonic family of the lead actors Cruise/Fanning/Chatwin, Steven Spielberg shows his immaculate talent for portraying human drama and undercurrents of suspense. Tom Cruise is at his absolute best as a superb build-up makes War of the Worlds reminiscent of Spielberg's sci/fi masterpiece Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The unchanneled paranoia, the underlying warmth in the characters' frustration, the dark yet remarkably inspirational crisis that lies ahead. Unfortunately, an hour or so later, there's nothing left to remind us of the aforementioned Close Encounters. All that is left is a substandard disaster movie which is poorly directed, curiously focused and visually uncreative.
The film looks exceptionally good early on, with masterful special effects, but it all dries up towards the end as detail is substituted by blurry, oversized sets. War of the Worlds is an altogether depressing film with few ups and constantly new downs, but that hadn't necessarily become a problem had Spielberg kept us more interested and engaged. The director said he wanted to focus on people rather than on the scale of the disaster, which is wise enough, but this film isolates its protagonists from everything else. Spielberg has lost control by the time Tim Robbins is introduced. The scenes including him are overlong, barren and not at all credible. From trying to be a document of human psychology in extreme situations (a bit earlier, there's a brilliant scene where a mass of people wants to acquire Cruise's car), War of the Worlds becomes a banal, unremarkably space invasion movie that is more comparable with 1950s B-movies than with what Spielberg back in 1977 showed us what science fiction actually can be.