There are some 12 (and 12A) certificate films that I would be willing to let Alex (age 4) see–with proper supervision, of course. Despite the dark tones, I think he would quite enjoy Revenge Of The Sith, for example, and Spider-man, too. War of the Worlds, though, definitely does not fit on that list. I found this a genuinely scary film.
After first setting the scene with an interestingly unsympathetic main character (Tom Cruise playing a divorced dad reluctantly taking his kids for a weekend), Spielberg ramps up the tension and doesn’t take his foot off the gas until the closing scenes. The images of death and destruction are vivid, and the more subdued set pieces continnuously push a sense of despair at the overwhelming odds the humans face. The whole film is filled with a sense of genuine dread. It’s somewhere beyond thriller, but short of horror: a mixture of shock at what has happened, and fear of what is to come.
The ending, then, comes as a bit of a let-down. Because it stays true to Wells’ original story, the humans don’t have a hand in their own salvation. Tom Cruise doesn’t turn the situation around, and single-handledly defeat the invaders. Instead, they are saved by the good fortune of evolution itself. This isn’t very Hollywood, but it is much more like real life, where heroes aren’t on tap to avert every disaster, and a return to normality may seem incongruously mundane. The references to 9/11 are wholly intentional.