Agreed that even in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" the aliens did not have a purpose to come and visit the Earth. However, here in this movie, for the aliens to come and destroy the earth after going through a rather extravagant process of planting some industraial revolution era machines gzillion years ago seems a little too contrived. It was almost as if Mars(or whoever else it is) was fighting a huge intergalactic war with some other huge planet and sent a moquito army to destroy the Earth as a bonus out-of-syllabus question attempt. Instead of planting the machines then, they could have simply taken over the earth then itself and not allowed humans to flourish or at least breed humans in some poultry like farms and then eat them. There wouldn't be any bacterial problem this way would it?
There are some good aspects to the movie too. After all Spielberg is just out of form and not completely spaced out. The biggest plus of all is that movie has a linear narration style. There are no multiple threads in the movie's narrative, which Spielberg has to tie and converge later down the movie. The movie does not focus on global equations -- like it does not care about what Earth's strategy to counter attack is.. it does not have "experts" talking to some blinking president and tell them how to "Whoop E.T's ass". This movie tells a story of one person who survived the attack and Tom Cruise plays the person. Tom Cruise is not a hero. He doesn't survive because he is Tom Cruise (and Tom Cruise simply can't die). Tom Cruise excellently plays the role of a frightened, selfish man who somehow manages to survive. Tom Cruise is a good actor. You see the world through the eyes of Tom Cruise and like any body in such a world you do not know what's happening globally or whether there is any hope for human survival etc. If this happened to me, I would have pissed in my pants and run for cover. I wouldn't have cared if human beings win or not. I would have wanted to run away from the scene of action and just stay in hiding until the army does its job. Tom Cruise does the same thing. He is a completely selfish person, who only wants to get away from anything interesting these martians are doing. So selfish that if anybody gets in the way of his survival he will kill them. Fair enough.
I liked the chaotic way in which the movie progresses. You don't know whats happening. You expect the camera to widen its focus and take you aerial view into the White House for an important Security meeting any moment. That does not happen. The Camera never expands into a bigger view. It is shown from a single person's point of view. Even the things that Camera focuses is shown from the point of view that a normal eye can see. It doesn't show the entire Earth, Europe , Asia etc burning. It shows three to four streets completely destroyed. Thats it. Typical of Spielberg's movies a young child is your reference point. She is your connection with "what would I do if I were in that world?". You already have Tom Cruise to identify with and then there is this girl. The character Rachel blows your heart out. Boy can she act well! The one scene in that basement alone is worth the price of the ticket. But then again Spielberg has done this before. His orchestrated movements of a particular situation getting worse was on full display in (a) the final scenes in Jurrasic park where the 2 kids escape from the raptors in the kitchen (mirror was used there also) (b) the scene in Lost world where the 3 people try and escape the trailor falling from the hill top. He starts with a situation and tunes every parameter in the situation to make things progressively bad and thereby increase your anxeity levels and then slowly unwind it down to safety. All the time the background music of John Williams plays tricks on you with sudden silence. But much like this movie even this scene is not Spielberg's best. The scene where the train of fire runs through was quite eerie. See... those are the magic moments Spielberg is known for. If only the movie had many many many more of them.
Neither I nor anyone else who did not like this movie can exactly articulate how the movie could have been made better. To put it simply -- It lacked the magic of Spielberg that was present in his earlier movies. The magic which surprises you and makes you think "this guy is intelligent". I guess he has underplayed the movie and overplayed the hype too much. This is atypical of Spielberg. I know he is a master money maker but usually puts his money where his mouth is.. that is up until now. The movie is so low key always that it never really gets up and seriously kick ass. Maybe its not Spielberg's fault for giving so many awesome movies so early on in his career. Our expectations now are so sky high that it is impossible for even Spielberg to exceed them. Spielberg may already have given his best to us. That makes me even more sad. I love Spielberg and I can't bear to this. I think the Oscar folks should have held on to the awards a little longer and not given Spielberg any Academy awards. That would have been the motivation factor for Spielberg to continue giving us great movies. This would have prevented him from giving overly optimistic, too sweet movies where *everybody survives*. Why the hell can't he kill the boy at least for heavens sake? The last time I thought he gave us a truly great movie was after watching Saving Private Ryan. I just hope it is not the last time ever.