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Customer Review

261 of 344 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ACTION MAN, July 25, 2005
The War of the Worlds is a great novel and Spielberg is a director of exceptional talent and accomplishment, so I had been hoping for a lot from this film. In the event, I have got part of what I was hoping for. Very occasionally, a novel can be 'walked' straight on to the screen (The Big Sleep, with a script by Faulkner, is a striking case), and I found myself wondering whether this novel might not have benefited from the same treatment. Some of Spielberg's changes are perfectly reasonable, others less so in my own opinion. It makes perfectly good sense to bring the action forward by a century into the present day, for instance. I suppose there's no harm either in changing the main actors from Wells's scientist with a wife and a brother to a dysfunctional American family, as this may provide enhanced 'human interest' or some such benefit for all I would know. Again, I have no real problem with the way the film combines the roles of the curate and the artilleryman in the book into the single persona of the former ambulance-driver, and I can well understand that Spielberg would have thought it prudent to tone down the socialistic elements in this aspect of the story in order to avoid setting off the wrong types of reaction in American audiences. What I do have a major problem with is the appearance of the Martians themselves. I'm sorry to report that these have far too much in common with a certain wretched TV series. The author's own description is one that stays in the memory, to say the very least, and Wells's Martians look the way they do for very clear reasons that he provides. What was gained by going downmarket in the way Spielberg chooses to do? Nothing that I can think of except perhaps better audience figures from harking back to that ghastly broadcast series.

In fact the best things in the film come directly from Wells. Even one of the best lines, where the statement that the invaders come from somewhere else is met with the question 'Where - Europe?' is a very clever adaptation of a good joke in the book comparing the attitudes of Mrs Elphinstone to the Martians on the one hand and the French on the other. The Martian tripods are simply terrific, their appearance lifted more or less exactly from the book. However The War of the Worlds is a work of political and social philosophy and speculation, not just some science-fiction yarn. I really would have liked Spielberg to be a bit more ambitious and reflect this more than he seems to have felt like doing. For one thing, the Martians are invading the earth because their own smaller planet is cooling and dying around them. Wells explicitly says that there is no reason to suppose them 'pitiless'. They have come for pressing practical reasons connected with their own very survival. We know now, as Wells did not, that all they were going to find on Venus is a searing hell under the rolling white clouds, so it would be more than likely, as Wells says again, that they would learn from the failure of their first expedition and come back to the earth better prepared the next time rather than stake everything on one throw, which is what the film seems to be suggesting. The last gesture of the Martians in the film is an expression indicative of hatred, which doesn't even make sense considering they saw us as their food source. What consumer of beef makes hostile faces at beef-herds? The Martians' purpose can't have been 'extermination' as someone is made to say in the film, only subjugation, another matter perfectly clear from the novel.

More survives of the view Wells takes of the behaviour of humanity itself, and Spielberg handles the mob-scenes rather well. However what he tones down more than I would have wished is the reflections, in the novel expressed via the persona of the artilleryman, on the likely behaviour of human beings towards one another once the Martian dominion was hypothetically established. The artilleryman's predictions are class-based like the vision of the Eloi and Morlocks in the Time-Machine, but they are far from endorsing Marxism and there is no reason to see them as any firm viewpoint held by the author himself.

Perhaps the very best things in the entire film are to be found in the voiceovers right at the start and right at the end. The words are lifted almost verbatim from the novel itself at these points, and they are simply awesome, the first page in particular of The War of the Worlds being surely one of the greatest in all English fiction with the last page not far behind it in that respect. The exquisite irony of the fact that the Martians, who might have viewed us as we view micro-organisms in a laboratory were in their turn thwarted and destroyed by just such organisms when nothing humanity could do availed in the least is obviously not lost on the director. I just wish he had raised his game more consistently to something like the level of the theme he was taking on.
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Showing 1-10 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 13, 2006 3:55:42 PM PST
Barry Yamaha says:
Perfect review.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2007 5:28:55 AM PST
Very kind of you to say so. A happy New Year.


In reply to an earlier post on Aug 11, 2008 8:02:07 AM PDT
If not perfect, at least one of the best I've ever read.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 11, 2008 9:05:49 AM PDT
You are also very kind. I would agree with you that it is not perfect.

Posted on May 27, 2009 11:08:09 PM PDT
MagicSinglez says:
Steven Spielberg should be more ambitious? HaHa

Perhaps Speilberg should just be less subtle, instead? Is all I can think to say. . . Don't mean to insult you there but it is what it is. You know, it's actually got me thinking. . . Perhaps Spielberg is about telling a story on two levels. . . trying to appeal to everyone, and those on all side of sides of the political spectrum - it's about selling tickets - or even, selling tickets - so folks internalize the propaganda. But, I don't believe that. Speilberg always stands apart from that. It's about the human condition. His movies are always incredible.

In reply to an earlier post on May 29, 2009 3:33:58 AM PDT
Thankyou for your interesting observations.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2009 5:17:49 AM PST
Did you miss Speilberg's self reference to Schindler's List?

The scene where the main characters are in a wooded area and all the clothes are dropping from the tripods in the sky.

So much like the scene in SL when the train pulls into Auschwitz and the ash from the furnace is "snowing".

I found the parallel of Nazi to Martian a little too self indulgent.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2009 7:22:48 AM PST
That's interesting. I have to say I missed that touch entirely.

Posted on May 15, 2010 4:38:06 PM PDT
Nice to see someone's actually read the book. Spielberg sure didn't. He could have had something with the staying power of Jackson's Lord of the Rings, but Jackson subordinated his ego to the story he was telling. Part of the reason Jackson did so well was that he tried so hard to be faithful to the story. There's a reason why "The War of the Worlds" became so famous. It was a brilliant story. Spielberg could have stuck to the original story, but his ego wouldn't let him. And what do we get? We have the excellent points you've made. But I think the worst of it was a change Spielberg was apparently quite proud of. They came from underground. Oh. My. Gawd.

In reply to an earlier post on May 16, 2010 3:03:16 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 16, 2010 3:04:15 AM PDT
I agree entirely about the 'underground' bit. After all, how could those huge machines have escaped detection for so long? I have known the book all my life, and I reread it sitting in a park in the sunshine on the day after I watched the film. I agree with your estimate of it entirely, and I was thinking how well it has worn over all these years. In case you're interested I've got a review of the book here somewhere as well.
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