War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds started life in 1898 as a novel by H. G. Wells. It was subsequently adapted to a famous, indeed notorious, radio play by Orson Welles in 1938. The film rights had been acquired by Paramount in the 1920s but it was not until the early 1950s that studio producer George Pal revived the project. The first film version was duly released in 1953, having been directed by Byron Haskins from a screenplay by Barré Lyndon. In 2005, another film version, this time by Steven Spielberg with the then top draw star Tom Cruise, was released.
The enduring appeal of the War of the Worlds story alone makes it worth of further study. Of equal interest, however, is the way the original novel and its various derivatives reflect something deeper, namely changes in lifestyle patterns, social values and ideological climate of the time. Intentionally or not, all versions of War of the Worlds paint a picture of the world, giving varying representations of people and places.
Wells, Science Fiction and War of the Worlds
Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) is often credited as the ‘father of science fiction’, along with Jules Verne (1828-1905) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). By the time, Wells wrote War of the Worlds in 1898, scientific knowledge and its technological application in a host of new devices like trains, automobiles and aircraft had transformed the world. Huge industrial cities now dotted many countries while developments in military firepower were industrialising warfare.
Astronomy too was fast advancing. The American amateur astronomer Percival Lovell, for example, was propagating the idea that Mars had once been home to an intelligent civilisation. The Italian Giovanni Schiaparelli had fuelled such speculation in 1894 with his claims to have detected what looked like canals on the planet’s surface. In the same year, a French observer Javelle reported that light could be seen flashing there (many saw this as an attempt at communication with Earth, though Wells turned the phenomenon into the flash of rockets being launched).
War of the Worlds is of course about invasion from outer space. Such concern about conquest by ‘outsiders’ did not emerge out of the blue. The end of the 19th century was a period of increasing international tensions. The face of European politics had been changed by the emergence of a new and powerful force, a united Germany. This perceived German menace was itself part of a wider set of tensions born out of the competitive scramble for lands and resources by all the leading European powers.
To critics of ‘imperialism’ like Wells, the colonial powers were ruthless and violent predators, sucking the blood out of the lands and peoples they brought under their domain. A true reign of extermination had existed for most of the 19th century in Tasmania where, through direct massacres by white settlers or death due to ‘alien’ diseases, courtesy of those same incomers, the indigenous population was wiped out (as the novel’s prologue mentions). Wells was well aware of the darkness at the heart of imperialism.
Wells brought other perceptions to his writings. As a socialist, he was not sympathetic to the established churches. Nor did he have much faith in other organisations in contemporary society, including the military. Indeed, he brought a sceptical eye to many human activities and institutions. He was critical of both existing social elites and the ordinary citizenry. He saw hypocrisy, ignorance and greed across society. At one point, he has one of his characters speculate that there will many people who will be prepared to serve the new Martian rulers (as had happened in the real colonies).
Of course, War of the Worlds in all its forms is mere fiction, albeit rooted in plausible science and technology (this distinguishes sci-fi from fantasy). However, though science fiction stories may be often set in some imagined future, the issues they address are usually of the time and place in which they are conceived. As such, sci-fi is a means by which contemporary hopes and fears, especially ones related to science and technology as well as environmental concerns such as overpopulation and pollution, can be aired.
Readers experience the events of War of the Worlds through the eyes of the narrator, a resident of the area where the Martians first land. He is married and we also follow the adventures of his brother in London, which we have to assume, were related by him to the narrator at some subsequent stage.
The narrator is also friends with an astronomer, Ogilvy, which provides the earlier part of the story with an expert who can deliver a scientific commentary on the unfolding events. He is transformed into Professor Pierson in the radio version and the 1953 film’s scientist hero, Clayton Forrester. Ogilvy has no direct equivalent in the 2005 version.
There are two other significant characters, a curate with whom the narrator is subsequently trapped for a number of days in a cellar, and a soldier, a survivor from a destroyed artillery regiment. Both undergo major transformations in the two adaptations.
Then there are the aliens themselves. Wells of course chose to depict them as ferocious and pitiless. That they are portrayed as mindless killers offers an alternative form of political criticism, drawing parallels between their social structures and behaviour and those of cruel and aggressive authoritarian regimes in the human body politic. In book and all subsequent adaptations, the Martians destroy without restraint or remorse.
Since the time of the novel’s publication and the first film treatment, the red planet had been the subject of close human scrutiny courtesy of a series of flyby and orbiting rockets as well as robotic exploration ‘rovers’. It has become somewhat harder to suspend disbelief and accept that Mars is home to would-be invaders. Thus, Spielberg’s version simply avoids the matter of the invaders’ origin.
Wells imagined his Martians using tripod war machines. The makers of the 1953 film first thought of using his idea but the technical difficulties of reproducing such moving machinery on film proved insurmountable. Instead the Martians use flying machines which bear a strong resemblance to earthly manta rays (except that these fish are quite harmless).
By 2005, advances in computer generated imagery enabled Spielberg’s team to revert back to something much closer to Wells’ original concept. The deep and resonant fog horn sounds emanating from the Martian tripods are perhaps even more effective, though the 1953 film too had some striking sound effects too (made by distorted electric guitars). Wells had suggested as much, writing of both Martian ‘howling’ and ‘hooting’.
Wells also imagined that the Martians would use heat rays and deadly ‘vapour’ shells. Perhaps the notion of gas warfare has become too tasteless a subject. Not so long before Spielberg’s film, for instance, terrible images had circulated of gassed Kurdish victims of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Whatever the reason, both films confine themselves to destruction by heat ray. Certainly, on screen the flashes of the heat rays are very dramatic (though Wells is actually more graphic about burned survivors).
Both movies, especially the 1953 version, make the Martian machines more invincible than is the case in the novel. There, both human artillery and a warship, The Thunder Child, destroy a number of enemy war machines. In the first 1953 adaptation, the Martian warcraft are invincible and all conquering due to their use of a protective shield. The movies’ change accentuates the predicament facing humankind.
Inside the machines are the Martians themselves. In his depiction, Wells reflected a Darwinian view of evolution. This theory led many to assume an on-going development of mental faculties, a process which would favour the brain over the body. Logically this would create creatures with literally and metaphorically ‘big heads’ but comparatively puny bodies. Both films follow this logic, as do most sci-fi films and indeed comics. The films follow this characterisation, though the 1953 film restricts direct views of the aliens (a traditional weak spot in sci-fi films in the pre-digital era).
Wells made another choice: that the violent encounter should take place down here on Earth. The specific setting of the story is what would now be called the Home Counties of South East England. Events later focus on what is called “Dead London”. The British capital could justly be said to be the centre of the world’s greatest industrial power of the time, with the British flag flying in an Empire that stretched around the world. That the Martians could defeat such a power would, then, symbolise the terrible threat they posed to humanity in general.
It was noted above that Wells brought strong values and messages to his story. He used an allegorical approach to attack colonialism, with the imperialists of his day figuratively transformed into Martians invaders from another world. The novel also raises further political perspectives, most directly through the character of the artilleryman. His views on the need for a new elite to some extent echo Wells who tended to envisage social transformation as the result of leadership by planners and engineers (see his A Modern Utopia, 1905). His critique of existing class structures was not a rejection of elitism per se. He opposed them because existing forms of class privilege allowed the ignorant and incompetent to rule.
Some modern readers might hear in the soldier’s talk about the “able-bodied” and “clean-minded” a pre-echo of the rhetoric that was to be employed by right-wing demagogues in the decades after the book was published. But, to be fair, it must be also noted that Wells was no fool and, unlike many of his fellow socialists, Wells was not duped by dictators like Joseph Stalin.
Wells had no time for revolution-from-below (as in the socialism of Karl Marx) which he saw a little more than mob rule and likely to lead to disaster. In his novel War of the Worlds, Wells depicted ordinary people as helpless and panic-stricken. Indeed, at one point he has the artilleryman dismissively relate stories of crowds roaming the streets too drunk to see the alien machine that scoops them up.
Insofar as there is a hero in the original novel, it is the narrator himself. Clearly, he is a middle-aged member of the educated middle classes. That he can write down his experiences and discuss the scientific aspects of what happened underlines his level of knowledge. He is also married and the importance of both saving his wife and subsequently finding her are his core concerns. This is not a society of single parents and divorcees. Nor is it multicultural. It is ‘English’ to the hilt.
Indeed, the novel is very much a male affair. The three main characters are all men, as are minor ones like Ogilvy, the astronomer royal Stent, and a journalist named Henderson. The deputation that tries to meet the Martians is of all male. There are several unnamed women who at various moments shriek. The narrator’s wife appears a few times. Her response to being told by her husband of the first Martian attack is to worry that the aliens might come to their house: “’They may come here,’ she said over and over again.” At various point the narrator talks to her “reassuringly” since she gets into quite a flap.
Yet not all women in the story are like this. The narrator’s brother becomes companion in flight with two ladies. One of them, “a dark, slender figure”, has the presence of mind to bring a gun and has the will to use it. She is “quiet and deliberate”. Her sister-in-law, however, becomes “increasingly hysterical, fearful, and depressed”. She even panics at the thought of going to France.
The England described by Wells may be prosperous and contented on the surface but, below, there are deep flaws. When tested by the Martian invasion, this culture buckles. Wells peppers the narrative with representatives of many walks of life, all of whom variously are unable or unwilling to give help when necessary. Usually they just flee in abject confusion (though some pause to loot).
As mentioned above, Wells portrays established religion, embodied by the curate, in a most negative light. The armed forces are portrayed in a way that has become quite stereotypical. They wage a brave but futile struggle. But Wells also casts a satirical eye on soldierly ways too. When warned of the danger, officers stupidly refuse to accept what they are being told: “what confounded nonsense!”
The first movie adaptation in 1953 follows the overall architecture of the novel in the sense that everyday normality is disrupted by the arrival of the Martians, matters going from bad to worse thereafter before the final climax. After the opening prologue, the action moves straight to the landing of the Martian cylinders, omitting the book’s section on the gas flares from the surface of Mars. At the end too, there is considerable abbreviation with the fate of the Martians sealed in a very speedy ‘deus ex machina’ resolution, with the addition of a short epilogue.
The action was moved from the Victorian Home Counties of England to southern California, first the small town of Linda Rosa, then the city of Los Angeles. This was the cheaper option in terms of film production and would make the story more accessible to the primary target audience in the USA. Characters’ names were similarly Americanised, though the prologue was read by a veteran British thespian Cedric Hardwicke to add a bit of Shakespearian gravitas.
The biggest change to the narrative was to add a female character, Sylvia Van Buren. She plays the part of a classic ‘damsel-in-distress’. Thus, the narrative could now carry a love story alongside the sci-fi action. The novel’s narrator and scientists are rolled into one, the Pacific Tech physicist Dr. Clayton Forrester, whose scientific credentials are heavily underlined in the script. Instead of playing the role of an ‘everyman’, he can provide expert commentary on the story’s events.
Clayton’s efforts to protect Sylvia run parallel to his participation in the fight against the Martian invaders. Indeed, the narrative twice veers away from the work of his fellow scientists to find the Martians’ weak spot, first following Clayton and Sylvia as they hide from Martian search parties and, second, Clayton’s search for Sylvia midst the devastation of Los Angeles.
The curate in the original novel transmogrifies into the uncle of the heroine. He is a local pastor, a kindly man of peaceful disposition. His role bears no resemblance to that of the curate. He mainly functions as the means that brings Clayton and Sylvia together (he invites the former to stay in town). His death further serves to emphasise the deadly intent of the Martians (and gives Sylvia her first opportunity to have a great big scream!).
The artilleryman is dropped, though there are soldiers who play minor roles in the 1953 version. A number of scientists are also added, the main two, apart from Clayton Forrester, seemingly of foreign extract (after all, in real life, the American military did employ German scientists who had worked for Hitler)
The military counter-attack is updated. Thus, the movie makers add the use of nuclear weapons against the Martians to the story. It underlines the inadequacy of human technology even more dramatically than anything in the original book. Though the dialogue does mention radiation and what today would be called collateral damage, there is no debate in the manner of Independence Day (1996) of the wisdom of using such weapons.
Another theme in the novel is dropped. It is the lengthy reflection on the nature of evolution in which the narrator speculates on how the Martians evolved. Wells even hints that they might represent human destiny. Presumably it was decided that screen dialogue could not sustain such heavyweight material.
Despite the changes noted above and any offence they might have given to purists, it must be said that the core element of the original novel is faithfully preserved. It is that of human arrogance and the corresponding incapacity to recognise that there might be other forces greater than what humans can muster. The very things that aided humankind in the past — cleverness and courage — are shown to be of no avail.
Given that the previous decades had seen an avalanche of scientific discovery and associated technological innovation, something very tangible in daily life, widely celebrated (not least at World Fair expositions) and reflected across the media, it is all the more striking that Pal and his associates were so faithful to the fundamentals of the original text.
The 2005 adaptation
Spielberg and his colleagues faced several choices when adapting the War of the Worlds novel. One was to eschew the changes made in the 1953 film and go back to the original. This was indeed the pitch of the low budget Pendragon Picture version that also came out in 2005: “The First Authentic Movie Adaptation of the 1898 H. G. Wells Classic Novel”.
In some ways, Spielberg did do just that. In particular he revived the tripod war machines, crewed by what turn out to be literally as well as metaphorically bloodthirsty aliens, something omitted by the 1953 adaptation. In one scene the army does manage to destroy an alien tripod: the invaders had not totally invulnerable to human weaponry. However, there is major departure in that the tripods had been buried by the aliens in pre-history and it is only their crews that descend from the skies (here the film is closer to the TV series of War of the Worlds in which the aliens have been hibernating).
The opening seven paragraphs written by Wells to ‘set the scene’ are, in condensed form, also retained. There are, however, significant omissions from Wells first paragraph. He wrote that the Martians have “intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own”. Thus, straightaway he succinctly but clearly stresses that they are smarter than humans. But Wells also spotlights the fact that they are not supernatural. They are living beings like us, subject to scientific law and potentially vulnerable. He thereby anticipates the story’s ending.
As in the novel and 1953 film, the main character is present to witness the aliens emerge. Like Wells’ narrator and Clayton Forrester, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) survives the initial carnage and flees with his children. On their journey to the grandparents’ home, they get caught up in the alien onslaught and futile attempts by the armed forces to resist it.
As in the novel there is an extended scene with the hero (now plus daughter) trapped in a house, this time with a ‘survivalist’ called Ogilvy, something of an amalgam of the curate and the soldier of the original novel. Other incidents are added, notably the aftermath of a plane crash (amazingly it does not damage their vehicle), a dramatic escape from a ferry sunk by the aliens and, later, from a prison cage slung beneath an alien warcraft.
But the film follows its predecessor and the novel in that the end comes quite suddenly. The death of the aliens is combined with a final family reunion. The novel too briefly has the narrator rejoin his wife and a cousin but concludes with a lengthy speculation by him on what can be learned from the whole affair). Ray Ferrier is, however, not one for either philosophical or scientific musings.
Like the 1953 film, the 2005 version features spectacular action scenes. Yet the battles are subordinate to a story about individual human survival. Like Pal, Spielberg updated the time period to the present but moved the location to New Jersey on the other side of the USA. Another contemporary element is the addition of a roving TV news crew on one point in the story whose film footage is then available to reveal how the aliens arrived on Earth.
The biggest change is the addition of a young boy and girl, the offspring of a not very promising ‘hero’. They constitute the core trio of characters. In the novel and 1953 adaptation, children are scarcely seen and certainly not heard. Ferrier’s ex-wife and grandparents do put in an appearance but they are far from central to the main story.
Both film makers and the audiences for their products are all children of their era. The context of both production and consumption will exercice a considerable influence of the content and style of the film as well as the responses to it by its viewers. The world of 1953 might be thought to have been a comparatively tranquil place. After all, societies were recovering from the calamity of World War 2 and some areas, not least homeland America, were experiencing an economic boom. Yet the War had demonstrated the dark side of science and technology, deployed to exterminate millions of concentration camp victims and harnessed to create a bomb that could destroy entire cities in a flash.
Worse, actual fighting had been replaced not by true peace but on-going hostility between two power blocs, the USA-led West and the USSR-dominated East: capitalist ‘democracy’ faced off totalitarian communism. To the horror of many Americans, China had just been ‘lost’ to the Communists. This “Cold War” had turned hot in Korea as local proxies of the two rival superstates, the USA & the USSR, fought each other in a conflict marked by an even higher percentage of civilian casualties than had characterised the 1939-45 war. There might have been global peace but the world was clearly a far from settled place.
Back in the USA, many American school children were given training in what to do if the nuclear attack alert were to be sounded. There were also scares about Communist spies and saboteurs leading to witch hunts led by Senator Joe McCarthy. So when characters in the 1953 film talk about enemy ‘”sneak attacks”, the audience in the USA at least would have had the Russians firmly in mind.
The early 21st century has some continuities with the post-war era but there have been big changes too. It is a world much more dominated by science and technology. Most people lead peaceful and, compared to previous centuries, prosperous lives, albeit with some terrible exceptions, especially in Africa.
Yet between the surface there is, again, much unease and, in many quarters, growing concern about the future. Some threats to well-being are quite concrete: human-caused climate change and other forms of environmental dysfunction, impending oil shortages, mass migration, terrorism, job insecurity and AIDS.
Violent conflict in various parts of the words (e.g. Sudan, Chechnya, Bosnia and many part of the Middle East), perhaps helped to give a harsher edge to the 2005 War of the Worlds. The triumphalism of the 1996 Independence Day has gone, a reflection of the fact that even military victories (e.g. the two Gulf Wars) can fail to deliver the promised dividends of greater homeland security or a lasting political settlement in the conquered lands.
Both 1953 and 2005 were years in which people were likely to be receptive to sci-fi films. The very vitality of the sci-fi has, in part, been its ability to give expression to fears about invasion, actual and potential, in all senses. It could be quite literal in the form of real viruses and diseases. More often it is done figuratively, with, say, aliens from outer space representing the threatening ‘them’, be they imperialists terrorists, immigrants, or simply strangers we do not understand.
Painting pictures of the world.
Whatever the particular treatment of the original story, both films contain values and give off messages about many aspects of society. Imagine, for example, aliens were to make a very quick visit to Earth but were only able to take back copies of the two films to show their fellows back home. Further imagine that such an alien audience sits back to watch the two movies. Now consider the impression they would get of the Earth.
Our alien viewers would get a picture of people. They would deduce that humans take two main forms, ‘male’ and ‘female’. They might also note that human skin colour varies. During their viewing they would be learning much, rightly or wrongly, about the behaviour patterns, status and social roles of these different people. They would see how people dress and what they eat and drink. They might further observe that people belong different social strata. Furthermore, it would be observed that people form organisations such as the armed forces, the church, the political system, and businesses.
Further conclusions might be drawn by our alien viewers about these entities and also social institutions like marriage, work and leisure. Our alien audience would also be given a picture of what America physically looks like, plus some snapshots of other parts of the planet. They would see towns and countryside as well as the insides of particular buildings.
Films, then, inevitably paint picture of people and places. It might be deliberate or accidental, overt or covert but it happens. Intentionally or otherwise, movies cannot but suggest that this or that aspect of life is normal or abnormal, typical or unusual, modern or out-of-date, desirable or undesirable, admirable or despicable, acceptable or intolerable, changeable or unalterable, inevitable or avoidable, and so forth. Of course, different members of the audience may totally agree with, only partially accept or completely reject such messages.
Of course, there will be many — perhaps most — viewers who will say that they only want to be entertainingly diverted for a couple of hours and do not bother to think about any values and messages the movie might contain. Yet just to make sense of the film, they will be interacting with it. They will have to decide many things: who is who and what kind of people they are, what is the nature of particular situations (safe? dangerous? comedic?, etc), and so forth. They may develop feelings of sympathy or hostility towards certain characters. Audiences will likely be evaluating in other ways: was that a wise decision? is that action justified? was there a better alternative? etc. In doing so, they will be comparing events on screen to ones comparable to them from their own experiences (included ones courtesy of other mass media).
Mention was made above of Planet Earth yet both films largely equate with the world with the USA. Other countries appear very briefly in the first adaptation, largely represented by stereotypical images. Thus, there is France (inevitably perhaps, a still of the Eiffel Tower) Brazil (the Christ Statue on the dome mountain of Corcovado Sugar Loaf mountain overlooking Rio) and India (Taj Mahal).
The 2005 film does not stray far from the NE states of Virginia, New Jersey and New York. The rest of the world is more or less ignored. On one crowd scene, conversation is heard about other countries. Interestingly there is a hint, albeit contradicted by another character, that Europeans have escaped the same degree of damage as the USA. After all many real Americans think that Europe is decadent and its countries, with the exception of Tony Blair’s Britain, have failed to support American efforts in the so-called War on Terror. Not surprisingly the script of The Simpsons cartoon series had school grounds man Willie sneer at French “cheese-eatin’ surrender monkeys”. The Independence Day by contrast was careful to include considerable plot information about alien attacks all over the planet.
Both films depict built environments as well as more rural areas. Two types of urban America are on view in the 1953 film. There is small town America, complete with both church and cinema. It is depicted as a place of tranquillity and decency. Linda Rosa is a town free from poverty, juvenile delinquency, drug abuse and racial tensions. To some extent the cinematic tradition (most commonly in crime films) of contrasting such homely places with the big, bad city is followed: the worst excesses of human behaviour happen on the streets of Los Angeles.
Small town America is today something of an endangered environment. Sometimes people have drifted away to the big cities. More often, conurbations have sprawled outwards, engulfing once physically and socially separate communities. The first sections of the 2005 film is largely set in that nowhere land of tract housing, business strips, car dealerships, shopping malls and highway interchanges.
It moves to the countryside for the major battle scene and for the sinking of a ferry before returning to suburbia. In passing, it does show that working class Americans do live in poorer environments compared to more successful middle class groups (of course this is all relative: Ray Ferrier is infinitely more prosperous than millions of people in Asia and especially Africa). Roads are a dominant feature of the film as, of course, they are of real America. Indeed, some alien viewers might even think that the Earth is inhabited primarily by cars which in turn seem to harbour two-legged creatures. Ray Ferrier, for example, almost lives beneath a gigantic flyover.
Before discussing specific social groups and institutions, it is useful to start with the general picture painted of people as a whole. As noted before, H.G. Wells had not much faith in either the elites of his time but nor was he populist, extolling the virtues of the average citizen.
In the 1953 film a not very rosy view is given of humankind. Much is made, for example, of the way the last chance of defeating the Martians is lost when a panic-stricken mob destroy the scientists’ van. (The scene is repeated in Independence Day but, seemingly, with more comic intent, as a cut juxtaposes the President’s plea for calm against scenes of mayhem).
The townsfolk of Linda Rosa are none too bright. Their only response to the ‘meteor’ landing is to think of ways of turning it into cash. In the first scenes in Los Angeles, we have see local citizens (including what the script calls “a bum with an unlighted stub of a cigar”) listening to Clayton Forrester on the radio at a local store. Even the “well-dressed” group shown in their home by the radio are rather vulgar (“Siddown!”, the man says to what the script calls a “bird-brained blonde”).
The mass of people shown in the 2005 film are not particularly more attractive than their 1953 counterparts. Perhaps the key scene is this respect is the one where Ray Ferrier and his children arrive at the ferry. Law and order soon break down and the threesome are evicted from their vehicle.
Overall, the two films follow the novel in taking quite a bleak view of human aptitude. After all, it is a bug, the common cold, that defeats the Martians, not human efforts. This might be contrasted against Independence Day in which it is human ingenuity which comes up with a technological weapon (a computer virus) with which to defeat the aliens.
Deep down, the 2005 film is the darker of the two. The 1953 characters claimed the aliens must have weak spots that could be exploited. No-one has any suggestions, let alone answers, in the second film. There are neither patriotic speeches (Independence Day) nor affirmations of religious faith (1953 film). Conspicuously absent is the strong feel-good element of many 90s movies (even the depiction of the Titanic catastrophe, with its upbeat, happy ending in the James Cameron 1997 treatment). It is true that the main character, Ray Ferrier, does cope after a fashion. Yet images of panic-stricken crowds, columns of helpless refugees and desperate mobs predominate. Even the soldiers mutely stare as they are taken to the front. There is none of the jocularity of the fighter pilots of Independence Day.
If our mythical aliens came from Planet Male Chauvinism, they would feel quite at home with the 1953 film. The most obvious issue about the 1953 film in terms of representation is indeed its sexism. The screenplay does strengthen the female part in the Wells story. What the women do, however, is stereotypical in the extreme. The new heroine, Sylvia Van Buren, is a homely local girl who teaches “Library Science”. When she meets Forrester Clayton, she does not recognise him at first and talks rather dreamily about what a wonderful scientist the man is (“They had him on the cover of Time. You’ve got to rate to get that!”)
Before the first major battle, she is seen serving coffee and doughnuts to the waiting troops. This is but a sideshow to her main role which is to be scared out of her wits and scream for all she is worth (though she is also prone to fainting). To be fair, she does pause for a breath and she uses the time to get back to preparing a meal for ‘her man’ when they are trapped in a ruined house together.
High Science is also a bit beyond a mere female teacher of Librarianship. At the scientists’ conference, “Sylvia glances at them in turn, not understanding, but sensing the importance of what they are saying”, according to the screenplay. At the end of the film when all seems lost but she is reunited with Forrester, a radiant smile is seen to cross her face (the world may be on the brink of destruction but she has recovered her man!).
In Clayton Forrester’s Gene Barry, we have what, in 1953, would pass for an action hero. Initially he is seen wearing glasses (after all, he is a scientist!) but then discards them. He is considerably younger than the main character of the radio broadcast and novel but no teen idol. In an interesting example of how language changes, the script says that Clayton has a “butch haircut”.
By 2005, the hero has changed into what might best be seen as the Fallen Man. Though Clayton Forrester refers to a lonely side to his life (see below), he is clearly competent (and is duly rewarded with a prospective wife to keep him company). Ray Ferrier, by contrast, exudes inadequacy. He is someone who clearly deserved to get divorced and who merits the contempt of his children. His ex-wife is clearly several steps up the social ladder from him on the evidence of her house and parents. The mise-en-scene of his house speaks volumes (basically it’s a pigsty).
At the same time, he clearly finds little satisfaction in work. Essentially he is drifting through life. Only through the struggle to protect his offspring does he redeem himself (and even then only to a limited extent since he is last seen standing alone in the street, left out rather like Ethan Edwards at the end of John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece, The Searchers).
In common with several modern films, there is a strong element of masculinity-in-crisis. Ray Ferrier is shown to be struggling to command the respect of his children. At various points, both comment on his shortcomings. The son in particular is constructed to be that modern breed, the alienated youth who openly flouts adult preferences and decisions. The lad gets on well with his sister but this is largely a narrative device to create one counterpoint to a seemingly inadequate father.
The low point comes in a diner where, for comfort, Ferrier’s daughter clings to her brother for comfort, not her father. The father is often filmed in direct close-up with his heads in his hands before looking at the camera with a dazed and helpless expression on his face. His challenge to the survivalist in the cellar is born out of desperation, rather than a serious plan to save himself and his daughter.
Women do not play much of a part in the 2005 film. Ray Ferrier’s wife turns up to leave the children with him but then disappears from the film. Of course, there are other female characters. Rather revealingly, two are credited as “the hysterical woman” and the “panicky woman”. Others are shown in the conventional roles of “neighbour with toddler” and “upset mother”. The film does, however, a real person, Roz Abrams, a veteran TV reporter and news anchor for almost 30 years, most recently with CBS 2 News in New York. In doing so, the 2005 War of the Worlds does reflect to a certain extent the progress made by women towards greater equality of opportunity since 1953.
Anyone seeking to find out about human population demographics would be wise not to trust these two films, especially the latter one. In the 1953 one, the average person seems to be middle-aged. There are a few older citizens and very few young ones. In the America of the time the baby boom was underway but toddlers and babies in prams are conspicuous for their absence.
There is also no generation gap on view in 1953. Yet that new species, the teenager, keen to reject parental ways, had already been born. It might be remembered that this was the year of the Marlon Brando film The Wild One with its bike-riding tearaways. But it is easy to exaggerate. Most young people in that year were more familiar with the drugstore soda fountain than real drugs or really anti-social behaviour. The wholesome dance to which Clayton Forrester goes with Sylvia and her uncle is not too out of keeping with much of the then Middle America.
Apart from the gigantic explosion in human numbers, the biggest demographic change since the 50s has been the ‘greying’ of society. Yesteryear’s baby boomers have grown and many are now grandparents. The average lifespan has shot up. Yet this huge army of quite senior citizens is, for the most part, invisible in the 2005 film.
This is indeed the dominant practice in much of the media, the main exception being the representation of the more elderly as “old gits” and “grumpy old men/women”. Only a few films and TV shows show something more positive. Look at the proactive senior citizens of the film Cocoon (1985) or their equivalent, Marty in TV’s Frasier. Of course, the demographic of the core cinema audience is rather younger than society as a whole so it is not surprising that there is such a youthful bias in many films today.
There is another change in society that the 2005 film reflects, a phenomenon that some social critics have called the ‘infantilisation of society’. It is reflected in another new species, the kidult. He (it is more a male trend) has childish tastes, wants whatever he wants right away (no delayed gratification for him) and shies away from adult responsibility. The result is, to use a related term, “PeterPandemonium”. The 2005 film’s Ray Ferrier would seem to fit there the bill. At one point, he even asks his kids what to do.
The opposite side of this coin are ‘hothouse’ children who have grown (or had to grow) too fast for their own good. The very young, for example, are now the target of intensive advertising while pop culture has sunk its teeth into the pre-teens. To some extent, Rachel and Robbie Ferrier reflect this real phenomenon of accelerated child development.
Family values are very much to the fore in the 1953 film. Clayton Forrester is initially characterised as a work-obsessed and lonely bachelor who lives on campus (“I haven’t any family”). He has to eat in “coffee shops and restaurants”. He even does not know how to do the right steps at the square dance at the town hall! Later when trapped in the ruined house with Sylvia, he says that “a big family must be fun imagine it makes you feel you belong to something”. Sylvia might get a man but Clayton gets his full manhood. Marriage and the raising of children within its bosom, it seems, are normal and decent according to this movie.
Yet it can be argued that things are not so simple. Take, for example, the scene when the Martian probe touches Sylvia. It may simply be a horror film convention. Yet one critic, James Gilbert, speculates that there may be sexual undertones here. Clayton does not lay a hand on her (though elsewhere he roughly pushes her around) but the alien seems prepared to transgress proper decency.
Gilbert goes further and suggests that the romance plot is there precisely because conventional structures such as the family were widely felt to be at risk due to social change. Certainly World War 11 had shaken up many gender roles. Women had done skilled work in factories and shipyards. Many a soldier had received what were called “Dear John” in which they were informed that their partners were leaving them for someone else. Returning veterans sometimes found it hard to settle into domestic routine. The 1953 film restores some semblance of traditional order.
By 2005, things really have changed according to Spielberg’s representation of family life. The central character is a man who has lost his wife and is unable to relate to the children that the marriage produced (such characters are often washed-up cops, especially on TV). Family life is shown to have fractured further in that the ex-wife not only seems happy with her new husband but is also pregnant by him. Father-son conflicts replace those of mother versus daughter common in old weepies like Mildred Pierce (1945).
The 2005 film represents a significant slice of social reality. Roughly 50% of American marriages end in divorce. For well over 20 years, approximately one million American children per year have been lived in a house split by divorce. The peak year for divorce was 1981 but a subsequent decline reflects the fall in marriage rates, not a trend towards couples sticking together. Central to the decline of the family as the fundamental ‘glue’ of society is what David Blankenhorn’s eponymous book (1995) calls Fatherless America and David Popenoe (1996) A World without Fathers. Ray Ferrier would seem to fit the picture.
Community values are strongly evident in the 1953 films. They are embodied in the Linda Rosa townsfolk as well as its lead characters. Presumably such message had much appeal after the traumas of World War 2. That they could be lost due to actual or imagined hostile forces gave the film even greater significance, if only at a sub-conscious level. Gilbert points out that it is Religious Faith, that fundamental cementing element of (Conservative) America, that saves the day.
There is also a certain element of community in the 2005 film. Ray Ferrier is seen mixing with his neighbours and he seems to enjoy good relationships with his workmates, albeit only in the form of male joshing. Yet, subsequent to the alien attack, the co-operative spirit quickly falters. Ray and his children are very much on their own in their flight to safety. There are encounters with a TV crew and with other refugees but there is little sense of people uniting in the face of danger. Indeed Ray’s goal is to dump his children with his former wife and family. Such representation might be contrasted with, say, the tradition in many British films, especially war movies, of collective endeavour.
Central to any analysis of the human community depicted on screen is the representation of race and ethnicity. It might be remembered that 1953 was part of that period when Afro-Americans usually got to play just big fat and sassy slave Mammy (e.g. Hattie McDaniel in the 1939 Gone With the Wind) or scared servants whose frightened eyes and flashing teeth shine out in the dark (e.g. Willie Best in the 1940 The Ghost Breakers).
The America of the 1953 War of the Worlds is largely a whites-only environment. As news of the Martian attack is broadcast over the radio, we see shots representing all aspect of life: a store, a home and a factory. Later we see street scenes. All feature only whites. Yet the existence of hispanic elements in the American population is recognised by the character of Salvatore (“a swarthy Mexican”) who talks in that stereotypical kind of voice heard in the Pat Bone hit record ‘Speedy Gonzales’, courtesy of the famous voice actor Mel Blanc). Salvador is “good-natured” though a bit slow, closer to the stereotype of the sleepy and rather cowardly peasants seen in movies like The Magnificent Seven (1960). Other national stereotypes are only obvious in the original script. Thus the Italian attaché is “fat” and “suave”, the British one “has a trim moustache, three rows of ribbons, greying hair”.
Judged from a few scenes, the America of the 2005 film would seem to reflect the real life ethnic and racial diversity of the country. Ray Ferrier is shown as having Brazilian neighbours, for example. Nor are there any cardboard cut-out characters like the 1953 Salvatore. Yet the point shouldn’t be stretched too far. If the film were to be compared to some of the later Vietnam War movies or even to Independence Day, it might be concluded that Hollywood is still not totally at home to the human diversity of the real world. Unaware viewers would never guess that Afro-Americans constitute a majority in many big American cities, including the capital, Washington DC.
Consumerism and Social Class
Above, it was imagined what aliens might make of the Earth depicted in the two films. It might also be asked what the majority of the real planet’s human inhabitants might think of the lifestyles on view. For many, many millions today, the wealth of even the Americans of the 1953 film would seem quite rich in physical terms. Cars are taken for granted while the hero has access to a private plane. Everyone is well fed, equally well dressed, living in general comfort and comparative ease.
The affluence of the 2005 characters is even more striking, their houses endowed with all kinds of electronic gadgets and other trappings of affluence. No-one seems to go short of anything, prior to the sudden disruption of their lives. Of course, on real planet Earth, grinding poverty, lacking very basics such as clean running water, proper sanitation and adequate shelter are still common. One real life disaster in 2005, Hurricane Katrina, revealed just how many Americans in places like New Orleans live in very tight circumstances, even if they do not suffer the famines that stalk parts of Africa.
The 2005 film does, however, make much more of the differences in wealth and lifestyle within America. According to the 1953 film, the USA is a comparatively classless society. But the second adaptation does spotlight that Ray is clearly poorer than, say, his ex-wife and her new husband or his old in-laws. However, this is more a device to underline his failure as a citizen than serious social criticism. With regard to contemporary USA it is left to maverick directors like Michael Moore to put the realities of class division on screen.
With God on our side
Mention has been made of the positive changes to the man of God in the 1953 film. The film’s genuflections towards religiosity go further, however. The novel’s curate is turned a pastor at the local church and uncle to the heroine, Sylvia. He is a much more attractive character, wanting well for his niece and attempting to make peace with the aliens.
Churches figure prominently in the film, especially toward the climax when Sylvia seeks comfort in a church. Furthermore, in what many might feel to be a jarring finale, a voice-over gives the impression that God had saved his flock by the forethought of adding microbes to his Earthly domain. “It is the littlest things that God in his wisdom had put upon the Earth that save mankind, “ intones a voice-over. Indeed, it looks as if the prayers heard in the soundtrack have been directly rewarded and the Martians duly smitten. In the background, a choir intones a great ‘Amen’.
It is not clear whether the film makers totally misread what in fact are ironic comments by Wells in the novel or simply overrode the author’s intentions. Producer George Pal was a practising Catholic. Furthermore, it was common at the time to talk of the then ‘real’ enemy as “Godless Communism” so it seems only natural that the ‘good guys’ are decent Christian folk.
Though a Born-Again Christianity is a strong force in contemporary America, the 2005 film has fewer religious strands than its predecessor. There is no curate/pastor nor do any scenes take place in a church. Student of Planet Earth might conclude it had shed Organised Religion. Instead there is something of a spiritual void into which has stepped a very materialistic and selfish individualism reflected not just the character of Ray Ferrier but the general lifestyles on show.
The armed forces are another social institution that features in many sci-fi films, not just war movies. In the 1953 films, military leaders are shown to be rather foolhardy: “If they start anything, we can blast them right off the earth!” and, later, “The Air Force’ll take care of these babies now!” In 2005, the armed forces are evident but they are only seen moving to the ‘front’. There is a big battle but it happens literally over the hill. It scarcely matches the formal set-piece in the Pal/Haskin treatment. Nor are there scenes with generals and scientists planning their next move. The White House, Pentagon and the like are simply absent in Spielberg’s version (cf Independence Day).
It should be noted that the American military has largely recaptured the public relations ground it lost during the Vietnam War and some soldiers (Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf) have become popular national figures. Presumably Spielberg’s choice reflects a decision to focus the narrative on Mr. Everyman (Ray Ferrier), thereby displacing other potential players. That said, the armed forces are mainly shown in roles that protect civilians, something of a positive depiction.
Scientists are, of course, a staple of sci-fi films. Their depiction in the 1953 is a direct echo of Wells. Only the scientists seem to have a clue: “If they’re mortal, they must have mortal weaknesses. They’ll be stopped — somehow!” But, like soldiers, they too are marginalised in the 2005 film, perhaps for similar reasons.
Though the 1953 film is certainly alive to the destructive powers of the nuclear bomb, civil nuclear energy is still being represented in a very positive light. Clayton Forrester is introduced in Sylvia’s dialogue as the “man behind the new atomic engines”. The great disillusionment would only come in the wake of the Windscale fire, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and various other accidents at nuclear power plants in subsequent years. The 2005 film largely ignores human technological capabilities.
The representation of violence has tended one way in American cinema. Crudely it is: “peaceful gestures may be fine in theory but, in practice, let’s blast ‘em”. Thus in Sergeant York (1941) and Shenandoah (1965), previously pacifist-minded men learn that they have to take up the gun while the Quaker wife of High Noon (1952) concedes that her sheriff husband was right to stay and fight.
Both films echo this tradition, though in a rather more muted way. The Martians kill the first people they meet and when pastor Collins suggest to the Colonel that “couldn’t you try to communicate with them first”, he is disdainfully ignored and duly gets killed for his own efforts to make peaceful contact. Yet human resort to violence gets nowhere so the film ends on a rather ambivalent note. The 2005 film is fairly similar. Ray Ferrier’s son feels that he must rush off and help the military but it is depicted as a foolish act.
Interestingly, both films exclude one group that usually muscles its way into both cinematic and real-life disasters: politicians. There is no speech of encouragement such as President Whitmore doing his Henry V speech in Independence Dayor the 1998 Deep Impact’s President Beck solemnly promising that America will be rebuild. Perhaps, in the aftermath of World War 2, it was assumed that the military, aided by scientists, would call the shots. In other sci-fi films of the time like the 1951 When Worlds Collide, politicians do appear but are incapable of responding to the danger.
Messages & Responses
It is hard to know what ideas audiences took away from these films. Certainly, both were very popular but it might be assumed that most cinema goers simply went to see a movie that would entertain them, least great special effects (for which the 1953 film duly won an Oscar). Overall, the first movie is a rather gloomy affair. It seems to say that all that can be done is to trust in God (though some might read this as a reassuring message). This thought and many of the stereotypes discussed above probably fitted the dominant mindset of the time.
The image, for example, of small town as country bumpkins probably meshed with the perceptions of many viewers in city cinemas. The ready resort to maximum violence would also have rung true with those aware of the life-and-death struggles against the Japanese in the Pacific War a few years before or against the human waves of North Korean and Chinese soldiers in the contemporaneous Korean War. Above all, the USA has a strong Christian element with whom the religious overtones of the films would be quite consonant.
A modern viewer might find much of the America on view in the 1953 film quite mundane, if not downright dull. Yet this might be the part of the charm of the film for audiences at the time. After all, it was the very ‘ordinariness’ and comforting moderation of Presidential Eisenhower, not just his war record, that had helped him get elected the year before in 1952.
Moreover, the fundamental institutions of society — home, family, church, army, science — are tested but survive. They might not the agents of victory. That is God’s hand. They may give way at the edges. There is looting and mass panic. But society does not implode as in the original novel. Midst the gloom, then, there is a reassuring light.
Above all, the film speaks to the fears and suspicions of the Cold War age. America might have become the leading superpower but it was vulnerable none the less, just as the film suggests. Of course, the dominant discourse has long been one of Progress. Certainly mainstream politicians compete to promise More! Better! Bigger! But, perhaps, deep down, many people are more sceptical and appreciate the potential for things to turn out quite differently. Films like War of the Worldsgive voice to such hushed fears. How many cinema goers at the time made any connection between the Red Planet, the red colours in the film and the Red Menace of Communism is anyone’s guess. Probably most just enjoyed a scary alien invasion movie.
To modern audiences, the religious tone in particular might strike some today as rather corny. Yet it is no more odd than that found in recent films directed by Mel Gibson (e.g. Passion of Christ, 2004) or in which he has appeared (e.g. Signs, 2002). Indeed the evocation of God’s hand by politicians like George Bush could be seen as a greater cause for concern, against which Pal’s treatment is rather mild.
Use and gratifications 2005
The second adaptation affords both similar and different pleasures for its audiences. It certainly offers quite spectacular special effects. Thus, there are many ingredients taken from the disaster movie genre. Assorted people are variously crushed and incinerated while the trio of survivors manage to get away (with balls of flame literally in hot pursuit at one point).
En route they meet more people but they too are destined to die. Indeed, their deaths are customarily spectacular: a burning train, army vehicles out of control and aflame, and a capsizing ferry. Of course, the conventions of the disaster movie prohibit instant and total disaster (as might be inflicted by a truly superior alien adversary). That would finish the movie too soon!
The alien onslaught is told from the eyes of one American family fighting to survive it. To that extent, it might appeal more to those sections of the audience that have been saturated with soap opera and the like. It is also custom and practice in news and documentary programmes now to focus on the plight of a handful of victims of, say, an earthquake or tsunami.
The ‘hero’ is the film is much more of an ‘ordinary Joe’ than his ‘predecessors’ and as such constitutes someone in the narrative with whom large sections of the audience can identify. As would be the case with most people in real or imaginary wars, he does not know the ‘big picture’, he is uncertain what to do and simply has to cope the best he can. He is no hero but nor is he, ultimately, a complete coward. He can rise to the occasion — as do many ordinary people in real life calamities.
The grim tone should not, however, be exaggerated. After all, the Ferrier family does survive, father has reconnected with his children, while ex-wife and grandparents made it as well. The damage done is not beyond repair: many buildings still stand and at the end the proper authorities seem in control again. Just as the real USA survived September 11th so too does it absorb fictional blows in the 2005 film.
The extent to which the 2005 film connects to public concerns about terrorist assault can only be a matter of speculation. The destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York was, of course captured live on TV for all the world to see, epitomising this new kind of war. Citizens of the USA, UK, Spain and elsewhere have become used to appeals to be vigilant and to rally together in the face of this common foe. It is perhaps a sign of the times when the script, consciously or otherwise, has Rachel ask: “Is it terrorists?” on the occasion of the first alien attacks.
Though there have been large-scale dissent against many aspects of the war against terrorism, especially the invasion of Iraq and what many feel to be bogus justifications of it, a film whose subject is a sudden onslaught by an utterly ruthless foe is going to resonate widely. So too will the replication of specific images from events like September 11th, none more so that the sight of body parts flying through the air, pieces of crashed aeroplanes or people sticking up pictures of loved ones who are missing.
America is very much shown as a victim. It has done nothing to bring the on-screen calamities down upon itself. In the real world, there are many, not least in the anti-globalisation and other movements, who might disagree. They might argue that, to some extent, the USA — or certain sections of it — has brought many problems on itself, not least by consuming a grossly disproportionate share of the world’s resources, ignoring other concerns (climate change etc) and generally trampling over other cultures through a more insidious process of Americanisation. But this is not how most Americans will see it and the film concurs with this view.
It is one thing to try and describe the picture thus painted. It is another to analyse who was behind this representation and what were their motives in creating it. Reference has already been made to the way the events and popular attitudes of the time could have coloured the minds of both film makers and audiences alike.
Yet individuals are not just passive creatures, simply reflecting the dominant way of thinking about, valuing and doing things at the time. There have been plenty of movie makers, for example, who have gone against the grain, often risking commercial failure and public opprobrium. So it is necessary to look behind the camera and consider those making the choices about settings, characters, storylines and so forth that create the world of a film.
At first sight, both films would seem to be largely the product of white, middle-aged American men, the George Pal/Byron Haskins team (the screenplay writer, cinematographer and editor were all male too) and Steven Spielberg (ditto). In 1953 the three producers were all men. By 2005, however, two of the three producers of the film were women, though most of the female crew seem to figure largely in roles such as casting, costume, make-up and set design (in 1953 some of these roles were also filled by men).
Of the team behind the 1953 War of the Worlds perhaps George Pal is the most interesting and the one to have planted any specific values and messages in the movie. George Pal was of Hungarian extraction and had worked at the famous UFA studio in Berlin before he came to the USA at the age of 31 in 1939 (he had left Germany when Hitler came to power). He had long shown an interest in fantasy since his stop motion Puppetoon animations of the 40s for Paramount.
His first sci-fi film Destination Moon (1950) was a hymn to private enterprise since it is American businessmen who are behind the lunar spaceship. Pal also celebrated science. Clayton Forrester and his colleague are shown to be humanity’s only hope in not just War of the Worlds but also When Worlds Collide made two years before (industrialists also help again). In the 1960 Time Machine, Pal again celebrates another adventurous spirit.
The depiction of utterly destructive aliens in the 1953 War of the Worlds possibly owes something to Pal’s experience of the Nazis. In 1942, he created an extermination-bent mechanical army in his 1942 Tulips Shall Grow. Given that he found shelter in the USA after fleeing Holland, it is not surprising that there is no deep questioning of American values, institutions, or lifestyles in any of the films he produced or directed. Indeed the spirit of adventure and free enterprise seems to run through several of his creations.
It is even less clear whether War of the Worlds reflects any specific ideological on the part of its director, Byron Haskins. Other films such as The Naked Jungle (1954) and The Power (1967) depict strong men (not unlike Clayton Forrester) who suddenly have to face terrible ‘alien’ dangers, respectively an army of ants and a murderous super-brained man. There is a certain emptiness in all three of the central heroes, men who in one way or another, are loners (Forrester’s being his lack of a domestic life).
Perhaps it is the comparatively long personal scenes in what after all is a sci-fi action film that are the distinction contribution from Haskins. There is more emotional depth to the characters than is common in modern blockbuster spectacles, the 2005 adaptation included.
Spielberg is sometimes singled out as a movie ‘auteur’, putting a distinctively personal stamp on his films. Yet it is hard to draw some direct line between the 2005 film’s representation of the world and some ‘Spielbergian’ worldview. Many have noted a certain tendency towards sentiment, sometimes of a quite cloying kind, in his films. Thus in the otherwise blood-soaked Saving Private Ryan (1998) there is a tear-jerking epilogue in which the now ageing Ryan is reassured that he has lived a good life and has thus merited the sacrifices made on his behalf. In 2005, such sentiment is rather less evident, though there is a quite mawkish scene in which Ray Ferrier sings a Beach Boys song to his daughter (it certainly brings bitter tears to the eyes of any music lover!).
Many films by Spielberg have a wide-eyed wonder at the world with a faith that some beneficent force (not necessarily Godly) tips the balance in favour of good over evil. Sometimes that awe has innocent, almost childlike qualities. Many of his films seem to reflect his own desire for a simpler more straightforward world, a desire that surely resonates strongly with millions of people. The values are homespun and down-to-earth. Spielberg celebrates home, family, inclusion, and tender, loving care.
Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the overall war against the alien invaders in the 2005 film is kept in the background. War of the Worlds is essentially about a struggle by a parent to protect his kids. Even the major battle against the alien tripods happens over the brow of a hill while the camera and editing keep the focus on the man, his son and daughter.
Central to Spielberg’s concerns have been child-parent relationships and the family home. On the negative side there is the recurrent theme of loneliness and estrangement. More positively there is reunion, acceptance and belonging. At the beginning of War of the Worlds, the family is in complete disarray: the parents are divorced, the children adrift. But, by the end of the film, though marriage may be not have been healed, everyone is back together again. Even the narrative logic of the film is sacrificed for the sake of a quite cloying finale as father and daughter not only find the mother and grandparents safe and sound in a street that the war somehow missed but the son turns up, having been last seen disappearing onto a fire-swept battlefield.
Ultimately there is one thing that connects to the two films, apart from the generic conventions of science fiction. It is the feeling that peace, prosperity and security cannot be taken for granted. Instead they are brittle gains that can be swept away in a flash. Once all the spectacular special effects and specifics of their storylines have been forgotten, it is this sense of fundamental insecurity that lingers the longest. Given the increasingly troubled times that seem to lie ahead in actuality, perhaps, metaphorically speaking, they both did look to the future.
© Sandy Irvine,
Newcastle Upon Tyne
26 November 2019
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The website Wikipedia has very useful entries on H. G. Wells, War of the Worlds, and the two film adaptations.