The war is on
Steven Spielberg's `War of the Worlds' has an impressive pedigree to live up to.
CATASTROPHE STRIKES Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier and Dakota Fanning in their new Steven Spielberg film `War of the Worlds'..
Steven Spielberg apparently always wanted to make a movie based on H.G. Wells seminal science fiction work. He owns one of the last copies of Orson Welles 1938 radio broadcast that had the citizens in a tizz. Originally scheduled for a 2007 release, a happy serendipity saw both director and star Tom Cruise between projects (Cruise's Mission Impossible III continues to go through major cast and crew revisions) saw the project hurtling towards completion in double quick time.
When the 42-year-old Cruise had time off jumping on the sofa proclaiming his love for the 26-year-old Katie Holmes and berating Brooke Shields on her anti-natal depression, he spoke fondly of the cute little tricks Spielberg indulged in - like playing Jaws music during the filming of an under water sequence.
Spielberg was all praise for his Minority Report star as well when he said, "Tom spreads a kind of team spirit to everyone involved. I mean, this guy could win NBA championships if he coached any basketball team." Spielberg's last outing as director was the saccharine sweet Terminal with Tom Hanks acting as a kind of bumbling citizen of the world.
Cruise also did not taste much success with his silver haired assassin in Collateral. Their last collaboration, Minority Report, was a dazzling piece of filmmaking.
Wells story is set mainly in a corner of South East England. The book opens with an "incandescent gas" issuing from Mars. This goes on for 12 days and the narrator (supposed to be Wells himself) is not overtly worried as a celebrated astronomer Ogilvy says, "the chances of anything man-like on Mars are million to one." Then of course all hell breaks lose when cylinders containing the Martians descend on earth.
The Martians are described as having two eyes and a mouth that is a "lipless brim of which quivered and panted and dropped saliva." The Martians, incidentally, have a horrid use for humans. Then follows a nightmare journey across the country with the narrator meeting a curate who loses his mind, an artillery man who has a Darwinian view of the future where, "We can't have any weak or silly. Life is real again and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It is a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race." They form a nice little trinity of the clergy, the army and the media.
The Martians have a super effective heat ray by which they burn everything and also build humungous war machines to subjugate the little earthlings. The novel which begins with the words "across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts that perish, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us," ends with "the destruction of the Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, perhaps is the future ordained."
While Spielberg's version has shifted action from England to America, changed the Martians to anonymous aliens (as science has proved there are no Martians) and given the narrator a name and two children to protect, there are points of similarity as well. Tim Robbins' character is called Ogilvy and is a combination of the Curate and the artilleryman. The red weed is from the book and the war machines are faithful to the drawings in the book. The trailer paraphrased Wells' text and doffing a cap to the other Welles, the voice in the beginning and end of the movie is Welles' from the original broadcast.
The others in the cast include Miranda Otto (from Lord of the Rings) and everyone's favourite child in distress Dakota Fanning playing the Cruise character's daughter, Rachel. For all who are looking for signs of post 9/11, you have Fanning screaming, "is it the terrorists?" and Robbins saying into the camera, "Occupations always fail." Casting Robbins is significant as he is one the most vocal left-wing dissenters.
Spielberg, who is better known for his blockbusters rather than political comments, seems to back in familiar territory with aliens - not of the cuddly "phone home" variety, endangered children and the regular bloke who needs above all to save his family.
Team Spielberg includes cinematography by Janusz Kaminski and music by John Williams. While bacteria felled the aliens in the book, one has to wait and watch whether it would be microbes or mega bucks ($135 million) with a little help from CGI (over 500) that would do the trick in the reimaging.
Science fiction through the ages
The War of the Worlds (WOTW) by H. G. Wells was serialised in 1897 in Pearson's Magazine and came out in book form the next year.
While with Time Machine and Island of Dr Moreau, WOTW constituted the seminal works of science fiction, Wells himself preferred to call the genre Scientific Romance.
On Halloween night (October 31) of 1938, the 23-year-old Orson Welles terrified the nation with his radio broadcast of the novel on WABC with the New Jersey police station being flooded with calls from frightened citizens.
In 1953 a movie version of WOTW was released, directed by George Pal.
In 1978 a double concept album was released with Richard Burton as the narrator.
In the late Eighties, there was a 42-episode serial on the book.
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