War of the Worlds

There are so many commentaries and reviews of this film already, that I am not sure what I can add. I did read the original H.G. Wells novel (1897) and the Orson Wells radio script (written by Harold Koch) from the 1938 broadcast that scared the dickens out of a listening nation. H.G. Wells story takes place in England and the radio play moves the action to New Jersey. After that, with a few exceptions, the novel and play are pretty different. Where they converge, of course, is how they tapped into national paranoia of alien – the human kind – invasion. Like similar sci-fi alien invasion stories and films today, the alien invasion and how we respond as a nation are really about how we as a nation (or the UK as a nation) confront diversity and the threat to national security. I think Spielberg’s version of the story (a film was released in 1953 as well) also speaks on two levels: the sci-fi and the real.

 

The Josh Friedman & David Koepp script of this current rendition of this classic sci-fi story respected elements of H.G. Wells original novel more than the radio script had time to do. The references to 9/11 are noted.

 

A friend and colleague said that his son had noticed that in War of the Worlds, the alien invasion fails because their immune system is not compatible with that of humans and military action is useless; in a film like Independence Day, humans go for outright extermination of the aliens. (I enjoyed Independence Day thoroughly, however, especially the part when the president, played by Bill Pullman, rips off the St. Crispan Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. But I do think sci-fi alien films offer thoughtful viewers much to think about regarding the philosophy of “the other” and deserve serious study as a genre.)

 

This morning on Meet the Press (July 31) Tim Russert interviewed the crew of the space shuttle that just arrived at the space station and asked them if they thought there were other forms of life out there. They all agreed that this is a real possibility.

 

I recognized Bayonne, NJ (since I lived across Arthur Kill on Staten Island for thirteen years), which is closer to Manhattan than the location of the big hole in the 1938 radio script, which had it closer to Princeton.

 

It occurred to me that maybe Spielberg made this film as a kind of cinematic hommage to the sci-fi genre, H.G. Wells, and the impact that Orson Well’s radio broadcast, just before the beginning of World War II, made on American entertainment history. Perhaps this is why it was difficult to empathize with the main characters – except for Dakota Fanning who played Rachel, the daughter of Ray, played by Tom Cruise. I was reminded of elements of Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in some of the action and motifs in the film – and hints of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. The image of the “lonely child” marks all of Spielberg’s work as he willingly admits.

 

War of the Worlds was scary enough but seemed stronger on style than on story.

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