Published Nov 01, 2005"Is it terrorists?," asks a character in the recent remake of War of the Worlds. Or maybe the rapture? No explanation is given for the alien attack in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic, but the blatant 9/11 imagery was clearly intended to stir up fear and patriotism in bona fide survivors of terrorism and victim-culture revellers alike.
More disaster movie than sci-fi flick, War of the Worlds following a mediocre father played by Tom Cruise, who is almost likeable next to the actors portraying his kids, the equally irritating Dakota Fanning, more shrunken adult than little girl, and Justin Chatwin, a teenage mouth-breather who's drawn to the army the way Homer Simpson is to all-you-can-eat buffets.
The real attraction of this version is the tripods, the craft of choice for the aliens who are systematically destroying mankind. Their hulking bodies, serpentine legs and laser guns, not to mention the chilling sound they make before each extermination, are amazing. The aliens themselves, along with Tim Robbins as a rifle-toting nut-bag, less so.
In the political climate of the Cold War, the original The War of the Worlds was an innovative, escapist sci-fi drama in which the world unites against a common enemy, unless of course the Martians were meant to signify the reds.
Made in 1953 by Byron Haskin and masterminded by animation/SFX expert George Pal, this adaptation puts scientists, reporters, the army and the clergy at the frontlines, including solid leads Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, employing everything from a measly bible to the frickin' A-bomb to counter the invaders. The aliens drive more conventional disc-shaped vessels here, though their manta-ray shapes and cobra-head laser-guns give them a unique organic edge.
Despite Spielberg's masterful SFX, the older film has more charm, and the DVD better features, with two intriguing commentary tracks, a "making of" featurette, a profile of H.G. Wells and a complete audio recording of Orson Welles's infamous 1938 reading of the story as a news bulletin, which sent Americans scrambling and paved his way to Hollywood. As always, fear sells.