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Thursday, July 28, 2005

The War of the Worlds

My wife and I went to see the new film version of The War of the Worlds yesterday. It was a gripping experience. The rating was PG-13, but both of us wondered why it wasn't R, because of the violence. Most of the violence was a campaign of extermination, by aliens, zapping people, buildings, infrastructure, airplanes, you name it. There were only two examples of a human killing another, and the one involving a main character directly took place off screen. Above all, it was loud. There were very few quiet moments during the entire length. Something was crashing, exploding, etc., almost all the time. Sometimes it was difficult or impossible to hear the dialogue. (See here for Christianity Today's review of the film.)

There is a Wikipedia article on H. G. Wells, the author of the novel, and one on the novel, itself. The book, originally published in 1898, is available from Project Gutenberg. An audio version is also available from that organization. Orson Welles spearheaded a radio broadcast of the novel that caused a panic on Halloween, 1938, as many listeners thought they were hearing news, not drama.

Tom Cruise, who starred, was excellent. He has (rightly, I believe) been criticized quite a bit for some of his non-scripted pronouncements in the past few weeks, but, in this case, he portrayed a selfish, egotistical male, trying, apparently for the first time, to seriously take responsibility for his children, to perfection. This attempt by Cruise was the most positive aspect of the movie. How many parents, male and female, are really disconnected from their own kids? How many of us, whatever age, parents or children, are too self-centered to really care for anyone but ourselves? Too many by far. If it takes a disaster to change such attitudes, the disaster will probably have been worth it.

The story departed somewhat from H. G. Wells' plot. For example, in the book, it was clear that the aliens were Martians. This movie did not indicate their origin. In the book, the narrator is grateful to God for his survival:

Whatever destruction was done, the hand of the destroyer was stayed. All the gaunt wrecks, the blackened skeletons of houses that stared so dismally at the sunlit grass of the hill, would presently be echoing with the hammers of the restorers and ringing with the tapping of their trowels. At the thought Iextended my hands towards the sky and began thanking God. (From Gutenberg e-text)

Neither Cruise's character, nor, as I recall, anyone else, expressed any such sentiments in the movie.

In the original novel, the aliens are finally destroyed because they don't have immunity to our microbes, not by humans--we are almost powerless against them. The movie used Wells' idea:

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things--taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb without a struggle, and to many--those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, for instance--our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain. (From Gutenberg e-text, unpaged. This passage, or one very similar to it, was read aloud at the end of the film.)

My wife asked how intelligent aliens could have overlooked microbes in their invasion planning, which is a good question. Never having been an alien, I'm not sure, but I suppose that the potential of microbes to invade and kill would, indeed, be easy to overlook, since we have been selected to resist most of the ones we have, and have learned to avoid, or destroy, many of those we aren't particularly resistant to. Even among humans, exposure to a new microbe, one that a particular population hasn't experienced before, is the most dangerous kind of exposure. The ending is at least somewhat plausible.

One sobering thought that came to me was the question of how, in the case of a real disaster, survivors might find each other. This fictional invasion destroyed most of our infrastructure, including phone networks. Landmarks were destroyed. The same could happen with a hurricane, an earthquake, a tsunami, a war, or a terrorist attack. Communication and transportation might become very primitive. A place where we had agreed to meet might be gone entirely, or very dangerous, for many reasons, or it might just be impossible to get there at all, or at the same time others did.

There may be many disasters left to befall the world, or even to me, before Christ's return. I should plan for them, I suppose, but should also realize that, whatever plans I make, they will probably be inadequate, and I am ultimately dependent on the Great Planner for survival.


Brandy said...

Thanks for the post. I've been debating as to whether I wanted to see it or not.

Adam said...

I quite liked the movie. I, too, was shocked by the violence, but I suppose the PG-13 rating was given because there was very little gore despite the destruction. Though wholesale slaughter might be expected in a extraplanetary takeover - especially if you consider Hollywood's professional opinion as evidence (see: Independence Day, Mars Attacks!)

Nate Chevrier said...

I loved the movie but one factor that left a sour taste in my mouth was the amount of the Lord's name being used in vain. I normally let out a big "BOO!" when it happens, but with the frequency it was being used, I probably would have either gone hoarse or worn 20 buckets of popcorn. Despite that, the movie surpassed what I had expected.