Sunday, 27 July 2008

War of the Worlds

I really should declare an interest. HG Wells' War of the Worlds is one of my favourite books ever. Jeff Wayne's musical interpretation remains one of the finest albums I've ever listened to (yes, I know, I should get out more). And the 1953 flick is one of the better cold war-inspired B-movies to have emerged from Hollywood during that period. And then there is the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg adaptation, which was shown on the BBC earlier this evening.

It is by no means a bad film, in fact I rather enjoyed it when I saw it in the cinema shortly after its release. And it is still watchable second time round. Plot-wise there isn't much to tell. Aliens turn up, wipe out loads of people, the military proves ineffective against them and the aliens then catch a cold and die. The struggle to survive while making a perilous journey from New York to Boston provides the eyes through which we see the rout of civilisation, the massacre of mankind (sorry, couldn't resist).

There are some things I find incredibly annoying about this film. First is the unashamed gung-ho American fuck-yeah! The invaders may have always been here (beneath our very feet! But more about that in a moment) and may tap into the recurring American anxiety around the enemy within/sneak attacks, but even though it was bacteria that stopped the aliens in their tracks we just have to see the American military take down a sickly tripod who'd left its shields off. We are informed earlier in the movie that "the Japs" had taken down a few tripods in Osaka - we can't have anyone else outdoing Uncle Sam can we?

And yes, the war machines. I've mentioned before how I like my science fiction to be a little bit plausible when it comes to the biology, technology and sociology of alien civilisations, but here WOTW falls down on two counts. First, there is the invasion. Characters speculate the aliens' tripods had long been buried beneath the surface of the earth at least prior to the human colonisation of North America. They are reactivated when their pilots "ride" lightning bolts down into their cockpits. Hold on just a minute. If you happened to be planning an invasion of Earth for whatever reason, why take the trouble of burying fighting machines to reactivate them thousands of years later, when nomadic bands take a good deal less effort to subdue than industrial societies? Makes very little sense to me. And secondly, if you happen to be an advanced alien race of warmongers wouldn't you have the nous to develop inoculations against the nasty bugs swimming around in the Earth's atmosphere? If the US and UK make sure their troops get their jabs before being shipped off, why didn't the aliens have the same sense too? (And that leaves out entirely the ability of Earth-bound bacteria to infect and kill biological systems evolved under very different circumstances. I digress).

I was also left wondering how Tom Cruise would have squared alien invasion with his potty Scientology belief system? As I understand it Xenu of the ancient Galactic Confederacy dropped the bodies of 75 million aliens in the volcanoes of prehistoric Earth, and then blew them up with nuclear weapons. The souls of the aliens were then forced to wander the earth and then attached themselves to the newly evolving humans. These traumatised "body thetans" pour their negativity into humans and are therefore responsible for all the nasty things the human race has done. But if this explains all the bad in the world, what excuse does Tom and Scientology have for the genocidal aliens in WOTW? Were they too seeded with the frozen corpses of confederate citizens in prehistory? Could their invasion have been warded off with a free personality audit?


Jim Jay said...

A few minor points first:

The Japs thing could be taken in a number of ways I think. After all the US only get to zap one that's about to die anyway, where as they must have killed some healthy ones - although I agree it's irritating because it rather goes against the main theme that human resistance was futile (that and planting a grenade in the rectum of another ship)

Second the stupidest thing abut them being buried under the ground is that the clear implication is that they were there before human civilisation developed at all - in which case why the war machines?

Riding the lightning could have a few explanations - all of them eweak - the clearest reason is that plot wise how do you explain they've been underground and square it with the invasion from space? Space and underground have to connect... so really its purely a plot devise which is probably why it's so weak.

Lastly though, stepping out of this particular film - the plot to war of the worlds is phenomenally weak isn't it? I mean humans are basically onlookers to their own destruction and salvation, they play no real role what so ever.

As a philosophical point it can stand - as a plot? It's quite strange no?

Blogger said...

I thought the remake was predictably awful, not least for the risible 'human interest' back-story. But the 1950s movie - now that's a classic of the sci-fi B movie genre! I think it's one of those films that should never have suffered the indignity of a remake.

Phil BC said...

Any film featuring Tom Cruise is going to be a bad job, period. The most infuriating aspect of the film, leaving aside my other gripes, is the bloody stupidity of his son. Uggh, I wanted to throttle the little turd. Typical gung ho cack. It's not enough that his throws a strop and dives head first into a battle with the aliens, but then for him to inexplicably survive it and turn up in Boston at the end. I don't know about you, but it had me tearing my hair out.

And another thing - did you notice the very bourgeois district they all ended up in at the end? Did you see how it was completely, and I mean completely untouched by the invasion? Not even a scrap of mouldy red weed to be seen.

If WOTW ever gets remade with a decent budget, could we have one that is completely faithful to the book, please?

cat said...

I love the book, the conception album and the 1950s film gave me nightmares throughout my childhood. One of my most vivid childhood memories is waking up screaming because the street lights were alive - after watching War of the Worlds with my grandad as part of the Horror Double Bill that used to be on at the weekend.

I enjoyed last weeks WOTWs it was just fun and for once Tom Cruise was not know it all and it was just Hollywood nonsense but not as sinister as HG Wells story or the 1950s film.