War of the Worlds

With the Australian media preview of War of the Worlds last night SMH film writer Gary Maddox has an intriguing little piece in today’s paper. It’s not really a review, it’s not really a comment piece, it’s a short reflection on post 9/11 culture and the new film:

Panicking crowds fleeing down streets. Buildings collapsing. A coat of grey dust on Tom Cruise’s face. A crashed passenger jet. And the first thought when the explosions and killing starts: is it a terrorist attack?….

Other War of the Worlds adaptations tapped into fears about Nazis and the Soviets. While remembering the past, Spielberg has tapped into the new fears about terrorist attacks.

The strength of the movie is the resonances with other wars on humanity, including the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Spielberg is reminding us there have been many threats over the generations, but humanity can survive.

It’s not the first time this connection has been made. In fact Spielberg has been drawing people’s attention to it in many of his publicity interviews. He seems most articulate in this interview with the Chicago Sun Times:

“In my mind, there is that image of everyone fleeing from Manhattan across the bridge after the Sept. 11 attack,” Spielberg says. “That’s a searing image that will never leave our minds.

”This movie is also about people being attacked for no reason. They don’t know why they’re being attacked. We certainly went to great lengths in the movie not to explain any reason for these attackers.“

His screen writer David Koepp says in the same piece that although the reference was explicit they worked hard to make sure the politics were not:

”Certainly, there are a lot of political undertones and overtones,“ Koepp says. ”But we tried consciously to never lead with the politics. That’s a guaranteed way to make a piece of crap.

“The political tones of this movie will emerge for themselves. In the ’50s, ‘War of the Worlds’ was, ‘My God, the commies are coming to get us.’ Now it’s about fear of terrorism. In other parts of the world, the new movie will be fear of American invasion. It will be clearly about the Iraq war for them,” says the screenwriter.

Koepp and Spielberg also makes some interesting comments about the visual and plotting choices that were made:

Spielberg was clear about what film he wanted to make with “War of the Worlds” and what film he refused to do. The rules included: No U.S. landmarks in flames, no beating up on New York City, and no politicians, scientists or generals leading the way to victory. There would also be no shots of world capitals.

There could be airplanes crashing into houses, alien tripods sending a ferry boat the way of the Titanic and dead bodies floating sadly down a river and seen through the eyes of a child (Fanning), who comes across the horrifying site in the woods.

I’ll wait to see how successfully he avoided some of those easy cliches – or rather if he did what others he replaced them with – the frustrating thing about Spielberg is that he is a bleeding heart liberal with an overtly American mythical view of family and nation. His rule about no generals/scientists leading the way to victory will undoubtedly be matched by a parable about the heroic little guy protecting his family. Of course neither point of view really comes to terms with the complex issues of individual and communal agency in the face of disaster.

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One thought on “War of the Worlds

  1. Living in a society where it is still considered quite outré – if not downright treasonous – to reexamine pre-9/11 history for possible rational reasons why foreigners might feel justified in attacking the United States, one quoted paragraph from the Sun Times article resonates powerfully:

    ”This movie is also about people being attacked for no reason. They don’t know why they’re being attacked. We certainly went to great lengths in the movie not to explain any reason for these attackers.“

    A nation that spends a decade throwing million-dollar smart bombs around the world like firecrackers – peace, war, or otherwise – and then bristles with outraged “innocence” and horror at being itself attacked, is already living a powerful and extremely dangerous myth. Just how consciously or subconsciously Mr Spielberg realizes such things in the elaboration of his art is indeed a fascinating and potentially revealing question.

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