“No-one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was been watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”
And introduction to a science-fiction classic.
The late scientist and pioneering writer of science fiction, Dr Isaac Asimov, howled his derision of Steven Spielberg’s first foray into science fiction when the award-winning Hollywood director produced and directed the engaging and enjoyable Close Encounters of the Third Kind all those years ago. But Asimov was a self-confessed admirer of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series and George Luca’s ground-breaking space adventure series of Star Wars. He did not mind telling his readers that he had been to a multitude of Star Trek conventions by the time Roddenberry and his crew of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei and others decided to imprint their adventures on the big screen.
Spielberg, for one thing, was not ashamed of his new work. And then came E.T. He did not rest on his laurels, so to speak, as his next sci-fi picture became one of the biggest grossing movies of all time. As the years went by, the young Steven Spielberg grew in stature and certainly matured well as a producer and director, never losing his child-like sense of adventure.
One can be forgiven for thinking that Spielberg may have noted Asimov’s critical notes on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Nevertheless, he had entered the space wars in a big way, surpassing the over-exuberance and mass productions of less significant science fiction movies through the years. There were some notable exceptions. Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner come to mind.
In 2001, the year in which Arthur C Clarke forecast his epic, Spielberg brought us A.I.Artificial Intelligence. Then came his adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Minority Report and the collaboration with the working man’s (and woman’s) Hollywood icon, Tom Cruise.
A few year’s later, 2005, The War of the Worlds began.
Well, truth be told, it began much, much earlier than that.
In 1897, its writer, H G Wells, first reproduced his story as a serial. Later, William Heinemann had the foresight to publish it the following year in book form.
Years later, as Adolf Hitler began his Nazi invasion of Europe, Sunday, October 30, 1938, to be precise, they arrived. Millions of American radio listeners at that time were shocked and thrown into panic when they learned that Earth was under attack. There were scenes reminiscent of today’s Hollywood disaster movies, designed to spectactularise, rather than instil fear. People fled their homes screaming. Others actually packed a few belongings and fled in their cars.
It was no more than an astounding radio adaptation of Wells’ novel by Orson Welles. A few years after the real second World War ended, that fear was still there as Hitler’s conqueror, Winston Churchill predicted the age of the Cold War, and Byron Haskin brought the first film adaptation of H G Well’s science fiction classic to the silver screen.
How could such shock and fear ever be replicated in an age of complacency and cynicism for all things real and surreal? Spielberg and Cruise were under no illusions, of that I am certain, but they brought the confidence of their collective talents to the drawing board and proceeded to produce an excellent reproduction of Wells’ timeless classic, placing it artistically and perfectly in today’s technological age. Spielberg’s impressive collaboration with Tom Cruise extended to a narratorial role for Morgan Freeman in which this actor uses his commanding voice to great effect in introducing and closing the film, reading lines from Wells’ novel.
H G Wells’ science-fiction classic is historically significant both as a literary work and a media effect. In its time, the story instills fear for its graphic depiction of an invasion of mother earth by malevolent, blood-thirsty aliens from Mars. Years later, Orson Welle’s dramatic reading of Wells’ story in a radio broadcast against the background of the second World War instilled fear in a nation which was ready to believe that it was indeed being attacked. In the twenty-first century, Steven Spielberg gave a gritty, haunting film adaptation to the viewing public.
Contrary to negative critiques of Spielberg’s interpretation of Wells’ classic, I was impressed with this film’s artistry particularly in the way in which ancient, but no less effective Martian crafts are used to capture its prey against the back-drop of the U.S. army’s and Home Guard’s sophisticated, but ultimately hapless counter-attacks against these evil, soulless creatures.
Two scenes, among many, were particularly captivating, locating themselves intertextually with the Holocaust of the second world war. While fleeing citizens wait patiently for a draw-bridge to signal a passing train, they watch in horror as this incendiary train screams past. Later, the helpless Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) and his young daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning), can only watch in horror as scarlet-imbued bits of clothing drift listlessly to the ground.
This is a captivating adventure and drama which ends as quickly as it unfolds. How critics were not impressed with this contemporaneous adaptation of H G Well’s story by Steven Spielberg, David Koepp and Josh Friedman, I do not know. Certainly, the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films felt otherwise.
Perhaps we will give both novel and film more thought and scrutiny in the future.
One hundred years from now, however, will this movie be as engrossing as the original story has remained these last 100 years or so?
“…no bacteria except those already known as terrestrial species were found. That they did not bury any of their dead, and the reckless slaughter they perpetrated, point also to an entire ignorance of the putrefactive process.”