Sunday, October 24, 2010

War of the Worlds

I consider H.G. Wells to be quite a fascinating science fiction writer. Not only are his stories and writing style intellectually stimulating, but also quite prescient given the time they were written. Wells lived from the mid 1800's right to the end of WWII. He lived smack in the middle of the industrial revolution. Having a strong sense of compassion for humanity, most of his fictional stories were meant as warnings about the consequences of man's folly. It is this social aspect of his works that really establishes them as true classics in my opinion, even though I'm sure I would disagree with many of his views at the time.

One of his more famous novels, War of the Worlds, was written right at the turn of the century. As a born and raised British citizen, he witnessed British colonialism, which is a form of imperialism. War of the Worlds acted as a warning against imperialism by turning the tables and creating a race of imperialistic aliens with the humans in the role of the conquered. The aliens completely out power the humans, but they are ultimately defeated by nature. By putting all their trust in their war machines, and having no respect for the indigenous world they were rampaging, they neglected to become knowledgeable about that world and ultimately succumbed to their own ignorance. It is a powerful allegory. What is amazing is that it was written before airplanes, tanks, and heavy artillery, yea, even before the first world war. Yet here we find a global war waged using armored vehicles, chemical weapons, and "heat ray" technology.

War of the Worlds was always a bit of a enigma for me personally. I remember as a kid seeing some old movie posters for the original 1953 film and thinking how cool it looked, but it never seemed to come up on TV or anything. All I could ever find out about the story was that it was about Martians invading Earth, and although it looked cool, I wondered how in the world anyone could construct a full length story around such a concept that had any real depth to it. Then I learned it was written at the turn of the century and marveled that someone could come up with such ideas that early on. War of the Worlds was in fact the first science fiction novel about a full scale alien invasion. Because of that, it shaped the early images of that genre concept for years to come. So I had this interest in the concept of the story, but never any real interest in the story itself.

So I guess it is odd that it was only in recent years that I actually rented and viewed the original George Pal film. Pal replaced the mechanical tripods with floating submarine-like ships, and he removed a lot of the more gruesome aspects of the story, like the aliens feeding on human blood. All I remember was that I found it enjoyable. Although the special effects are dated, they seem pretty good for their time period, and even the script is pretty well put together. One interesting addition that reflects the cold war period is that nuclear weapons are used against the aliens as a final futile attempt to destroy them, something that Wells had no knowledge of.

Along comes Steven Spielberg with an updated version of War of the Worlds in 2005 starring Tom Cruz and Dakota Fanning. It definitely had a Spielberg blockbuster feel to it - lots of action, impressive special effects, while the character development gets lost behind all the ruckus. Spielberg actually brings in some of the original Wells concepts, including the "red weed" that covers the landscape and feeds on the vegetation, and the separation between the main character and his spouse. But he also creates his own back story by adding the kids, new situations, and lots of extra details. It is definitely his own telling of the tale and great fun. However, I can't say that it adds anything of real value to the Wells legacy.

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