They didn't really pre-screen it (remember those concerns about "piracy"?), so it's just now, the day before its North American premiere, that the War of the Worlds reviews are starting to fly in. There are just four reviews in the Metacritic database, but it's averaging a 76 so far - and even the reviewers themselves seem surprised to have found it to be a really good film.

's Todd McCarthy compares it to Spielberg's earlier film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, before predicting that its "relentless mix of breath-sapping scares, awesome spectacle, Tom Cruise and a massive marketing push look to deliver the biggest B.O.haul Spielberg has enjoyed in quite a few years." According to the Village Voice's Michael Atkinson, even if "the urban-Americana vibe is hard for Spielberg to nail at first" (and don't get him started on the "rote, unconvincing Tom Cruise–as-deadbeat-dad scenario"), the "second-by-second unfolding of the tripodal alien invasion is one of the most eloquent pieces of under-the-skin filmmaking he's done in years."

This isn't Spielberg in fairy-dust flight-of-fancy mode - as Kirk Honeycutt puts it in the Hollywood Reporter, it might actually be too realistic: "The real question the film raises is whether post-Sept. 11 audiences are ready to view destruction, chaos and horror as entertainment." It's a question echoed by Scott Tobias over at The Onion: "Though the image of a city in ruins immediately recalls 9/11—in fact, Fanning wonders aloud if it's terrorists at work—War Of The Worlds has stronger echoes of Spielberg's Schindler's List, due to the stark terror of innocents who are powerless to stop their extermination."

Wow. Finally, a summer blockbuster that's also a serious piece of filmmaking? Or, will the rest of the reviews soon pour in and balance the scales?