Saturday, 8 October 2011
War of the Worlds (2005):
This is Steven Spielberg doing what he does best: the action blockbuster.
What makes Spielberg’s movies stand out from the usual predictable dross is the attention to detail, and the high quality of the performances and script.
Against the backdrop of an alien invasion we see a dysfunctional family finally pull together and work out their differences in the face of adversity.Almost all of us have a favourite book from our childhood. Mine is The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells. I loved Jeff Wayne’s version on double-album vinyl (now audio CD), liked the 1953 movie adaptation, even though the tripods became flying machines and there were many important book plot points missing from the simplified movie script. A gem of a movie is The Night That Panicked America (1975), Joseph Sargent’s TV movie, based on the true story of Orson Welles’ live radio broadcast, on October 30, 1938.
Welles recreated the story of War of the Worlds so convincingly that many believed the martians had indeed landed, resulting in a nationwide panic.
Welles is brilliantly played by Paul Shenar. To date this movie has been overlooked for a DVD release, to the chagrin of many fans.
Spielberg’s adaptation has excellent performances from all the cast: Tom Cruise as dock worker, Ray Ferrier, an “everyman” struggling to keep strained relations with his ex-wife Mary Anne (Miranda Otto), his son Robbie (Justin Chatwin), and daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning). Tim Robbins plays Harlan Ogilvy, a deranged survivalist who gives Ray and Rachel shelter in his basement.
There are also notable cameos by Lisa Ann Walter, as Cheryl, and Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, as the grandparents who appear briefly at end of the movie and were both the stars of the 1953 movie.
Despite the story being updated, it’s still a more faithful adaptation of the book, including in this version the “red weed”, a fast-growing organism the Martians let loose to spread across the surface of the earth, fertilized by human blood, in order to make the surface of our world resemble their own planet.
Just as many sci-fi stories, particularly of the 1950’s, were symbolic of the paranoia of Communism, in this movie there are visual and spoken references to 9/11 and our fears of terrorism. In the middle of a bright, seemingly-ordinary day, the world is changed forever by an attack that has come with no warning and has devastating results. Victims are reduced to dust, incinerated by the Martian’s “heat ray”.
The atmosphere is suitably ominous throughout and some of the images, like the initial attack, seem to strike from nowhere, particularly the scenes in which dead bodies float by on the lake and a runaway train thunders by with every carriage ablaze.
This is a more superior and intelligent modern sci-fi movie than many that have come and gone over recent years, with superb special effects, and a story that concentrates more on the dynamic of human relationships.
There are some nice touches: the dockside crane that Ray operates at his job is remarkably similar to the tripods; the earth and its micro-organisms defeat the Martians after mankind has been defeated, pushing out the alien invaders in much the same way that Rachel informs Ray that her hand will push out the splinter and, as Ogilvy points out: “Occupations always fail.”
The Day That Panicked America The H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Scandal (2005), a documentary covering Orson Welles radio broadcast and its aftermath. Included with the DVD is a CD with the original audio broadcast.