As George Pal did with his 1953 version, Spielberg updates H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" from 1890s Britain to the contemporary United States, partly because turbulent times today provide a relevant backdrop for terror from the skies, and partly for simple cosmetic reasons.
"I can't stand the costumes of 1898," Spielberg said. "There's just something about those high collars, those frou-frou gowns. It's not my style, I guess.
"I think also, we're living in a fearful atmosphere, fearful times, and every version of 'War of the Worlds' that has occurred either in literature, radio or film has occurred during fearful times."
Spielberg also jettisons Wells' premise that humanity's assailants come from Mars, noting that explorations of the red planet have shown that "if life is ever discovered on the surface of Mars, it will be microscopic life."
The film never reveals where the aliens come from. Spielberg figures their anonymity adds to the terror.
"It's just really scary to imagine being invaded, especially being invaded by not only an unknown race bent on our total annihilation, but with no context," Spielberg said. "They don't spend any time explaining why they're here. There's no, 'We needed to move here because our planet has become inhospitable.'
"We have absolutely no idea why they've come, why they're doing this to us."
Here's a publicity image linked in from movies.about.com: