Hey, interesting that R Kadin mentioned no-one had commented on the relationship with the original novella, I typed out a few words after seeing the movie on Sunday...
I can't say I was much disturbed by things like cutting and acting that others have complained about on this thread. I guess it's all to do with not being fully engaged with the movie, and having ones "suspension of disbelief" interrupted. I was majorly skeptical about a lot of the creative choices made for the movie, which seems to show that I felt the same kind of disengagement, but focused my objections on other "problems" with the film...
Harvey's comments about not having referenced the Welles broadcast are of both valid and amusing; but such comments would similarly apply to any update or contemporaneous setting of a well known work, as well as to any naturalistic serialised TV drama. What would the characters in such a show see if they turned their set on during their show's timeslot? What would the protagonist of any version of "Hamlet" set post-16th century, make of the similarity of his own predicament with that of his more famous namesake? It's a fun discussion, but ultimately fairly pointless; if the the work is worth watching, we'll accept the world of the story with willing suspension of disbelief.
With that aside, my own specific objections to the modifications made to the original novella follow. What follows kind of relies on having seen the movie, and also being at least a little familiar with the novel and the Welles broadcast, so SPOILERS aplenty).
HG Wells in 1898 begins with "No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century [...] And early in the twentieth century...." Why not start with "no one would have believed in the early years of the 20th century", and "yet in the early years of the 21st century" or some such, as there is undoubtedly a not-insignificant proportion of the population who might believe (courtesy, in part, of Spielberg's own movies) that aliens could be/are watching us?
The whole "invaders from under the earth" seems a bit of a pointless modification. I'd guess the explanation is because much more is known about the surface of Mars today than in 1898. But equally, there's plenty still unknown about Mars below the surface, and I daresay it's more of an unknown than the depths of our own planet. Why not have invaders from below the surface of Mars?
I'd say Spielberg missed a trick too with the design of the invaders. HG Wells' martians are essentially brains with faces and tentacles. A future stage in humanoid evolution, in which beings live in their mind, depend on machines for travel and life support, and rely on heavily processed food sources is one of the more prescient aspects of the novel; as well as man's inhumanity to man, the vegetarian Wells also makes searing comment on our own treatment of animals. I guess Spielberg considered such an unflattering comparison might not find favour with audiences.
I also wasn't keen on the presentation of the human interaction with the fighting machines. I had no objections to the initial destruction with the heat ray (which is true to the HG Wells original; Harvey, I guess one could speculate it's to immediately quash resistance and cause chaos - snacking can come later!). Wells implies that once the martians take over the globe, they will breed humans factory style, for food; which I think was missing in the movie.
Another objection I had, based on the original, was the rejigging of the success of human attacks on the machines. Wells has the gunship "Thunder Child" successfully bringing down a tripod, at the cost of its own destruction. Welles and Koch do the same thing with a fighter pilot, as I recall. The effect of both is to show that the martians aren't invulnerable, but are as close to being so, based on the accessible technology, superiority of martian machine numbers, and heavy human cost.
I guess Spielberg's "shields" on the machines are necessary to protect them from nuclear weapons, and large scale conventional strikes. In the movie the army manage finally to take down an already stricken fighting machine, but it feels a very hollow victory. Maybe that's Spielberg's point, although it does seem to undermine the idea that man's escape isn't and can't be wrought by human effort. Again, I'd conjecture it's pandering to the audience, who might object to "us" not playing a more active role in the defeat of at least one martian machine, albeit one on its last legs. It all happens so suddenly in the movie, and the Morgan Freeman narration at the end to explain the germ connection feels rather tacked on.
On the alien anus thing- what's all that about then? With the aliens being seen as humanoids in the cellar, what does this mean? We've already seen the alien blood extraction machine (in an authentically Wellsian extended hypodermic), so what is this? Is Spielberg implying a hive existence, or is it just sloppy work, in order to accommodate "grenade up the ass" payoff? Is it simply a means of allowing the protagonist a heightened sense of agency, compared to the somewhat passive (unnamed) narrator of the novella, and equally passive Pierson in the Welles broadcast. In fact, the only agency (correct me if I'm wrong) the narrator of the novella is allowed "against" the martians is to attempt suicide towards the end, at which point the martians have already been vanquished by the infinitesimal disease bacteria.
I also agree the reunion with the estranged son was nonsense. The novella has the narrator reunited, against all odds, with his wife; but the reunion with the ex-wife, love rival, two children (one of whom took a suicidal attempt against the aliens), and the in-laws is both optimistic and demeaning to the sense of deadliness of the aliens.
And a general, post holocaust (which Mr Spielberg should certainly have taken into account) and post-London bombings (which are certainly high in everyone's minds here) is the way in which he presented death and destruction. The lead character's friends and neighbours were easily annihilated, (as well as many soldiers and civilians) in a "carnage candy" fashion; yet the protagonist's entire family escaped unharmed, WITH NO COMMENT. Surely you should know better, Mr Spielberg?
The point I'd stress, in conjunction with the sense of accomplishment (or otherwise) of the movie, is that everybody on this thread has objected to one thing or another about this movie. I guess we all found it to be lacking in some manner; and as such, latched on to the particular objections we all had to aspects of the movie. Still, I suppose that enough people were happy with it, or at least didn't let reviews or word-of-mouth keep them away from the theatre, that Mr Spielberg will be laughing all the way to the bank. Let's wish he would kick a few bucks toward the completion of "TOSOTW"...
Well, there goes my problems with the movie; comments anyone?