35 – War of the Worlds (2005)

 “No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns, *they* observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world. Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us”

The original War of the Worlds from 1953 would have been one of the first sci-fi films I saw, and I loved, the tale of Martians, coming to earth and wiping out humans as if they were mere ants, it would go on to inspire many alien invasion films over the years, for instance Independence Day. Steven Spielberg has also always been a fan, he bought the original radio script as performed by Orson Wells at auction, and had wanted to make his own version of the tale for years. Finally in 2005 he did, this is a tribute not only to the 19th Century novel by HG Wells and the radio play by Orson Wells, and also the highly underrated 1953 movie, however Spielberg was also  inspired by the new sense of fear of terrorism which had reared its head in America since the 2001 September 11th attacks.

The word “alien” or “martian” is never used in the film, instead “Is it the terrorists?” shrieks the 10-year-old Rachel Ferrier (Dakota Fanning) to her stressed-out father, Ray (Tom Cruise), as they flee Bayonne in a stolen minivan. He is perhaps too preoccupied to give the honest answer, which is: “Well, sort of, sweetheart. In a metaphorical sense, that is.” (Morgan Freeman’s voice-over narration, taken pretty much verbatim from the Wells novel, helps to underscore this point.) We see Ray also dust himself down after an alien attack again inspired from survivors of September 11th, there is never a panoramic shot of the tripods, they are always filmed from a human height again a representation of the hand-held video of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

War of the Worlds is nerve-racking apocalyptic, offering an occasional reprieve but not much solace. It is, in other words, a horror movie, and one that does not, for the most part, insist too heavily on its own topicality. As such, it takes Spielberg back to his early days as a maker of lean, sadistic, effective thrillers. Although the special effects are elaborate and expensive, War of the Worlds has some of the stripped-down ingenuity of Jaws and Duel Like those pictures, it is an elemental story of predator and prey.

The reason I have chosen this version is the loving detail Steven Spielberg has for the different versions of the tale, for example an alien investigating a cellar, spins a bicycle wheel, this references the original book, where the narrator observes that the aliens do not use any wheels, as if they had skipped that invention. It also of course is self referencing of Steven Spielberg’s own other alien story E.T.Spielberg also lovingly recreates an entire set from the original film, which for me takes you back to that period of first falling in love with sci-fi.

War of the Worlds, is a non stop thriller, there is no let up in the pace of the film, its one set piece after another, the other interesting fact is that it is told from a human perspective this is a story of an absent father that trys to hold his family together. There is a lot of criticism of this film but as stated before, personal choice, and I have a love affair with this story myself, so it makes it onto the list and will certainly pass some time before the real alien invasion.

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2 Responses to “35 – War of the Worlds (2005)”

  1. I’ve seen a few of these films, but I see I have some more to check off the list. Thanks for the comprehensive list!

  2. No updates for months…..shame 😦

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