This post contains spoilers for War of the Worlds but surely everyone already knows this story by now.
I’ve been listening to the War of the Worlds Orson Wells radio production (or podcast as they are now known) and I thought it might be a good time to re-watch the 2005 film adaptation, directed by Señor Speilbergo and starring Tom Cruise. I should probably say that I don’t hate Tom Cruise, I know that’s not a very fashionable thing to admit but I thought he was pretty great in Magnolia and he’s actually pretty good in this film too. Now, it’s possible that the reason he was so good in Magnolia is that he was playing against type – the polar opposite of his usual roles – but was also sort of how the audience expect a Hollywood star actually would be in real life. And it’s possible that the reason he is good in War of the Worlds is that he is really into aliens in his personal life: they’re his whole religion or something. Maybe War of the Worlds is to Tom Cruise what The Passion was to Mel Gibson.
Anyway, it’s a good film I think. I don’t hate the glitter-toothed midget and I don’t even hate the two children who he really should have led around on a leash in order to save a lot of bother: 90% of the danger in the film could have been avoided if he tied his kids to him so they didn’t wander off and didn’t let them do things like drive into angry mobs. The special effects are cool, there’s plenty of action, the story is interesting and Tim Robbins even pops up for a bit to say a crazy hello. I do, however, have a couple of questions:
What the hell were the aliens thinking? In the opening monlogue – read by Morgan ‘The Voice’ Freeman (no substitute or Orson ‘Unicron’ Wells) the alien intelligences are described as ‘greater than mans’ – or in the 2005 film as ‘greater than our own’ – because it needs to be clear that the aliens are also smarter than very clever women. We are even told these big fat smart-bugs ‘observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water’. They draw up an invasion plan where they prepare for their conquest thousands – maybe millions – of years in advance by burying their tripods around the planet and hoping humans evolve to live nearby, then they arrive there riding the lightning. These aliens, we are told, must have spent millions of years preparing for this invasion, they are not fucking around. However they didn’t count on disease and all died within about a week.
Let’s just be clear here, this is the worst invasion ever. They have complete technological superiority – we can’t even scratch them – and they have prepared for millions of years. Plus they are smarter than us, even smarter than our cleverest women-folk. Now, I am pretty sure that if you go on holiday to say, Africa you will get a bunch of vaccinations and that’s not even a different planet. Did the threat of illness just not occur to them? Was this some minor logistical mess up that meant that the lightning pilots accidentally went a thousand years too early and didn’t have time for their shots? Perhaps if we look at their motivations all will become clear:
I mean really, what were the aliens trying to achieve? They arrived a long time ago and buried their tripods. Clearly they didn’t want to conquer the Earth when they first arrived, but were waiting for something to change in the future before they came back. The fact they buried war machines means they were probably expecting resistance, so it seems likely that they were waiting for the human race to evolve, perhaps waiting for us to evolve to a relatively technologically advanced stage where there might be some fighting to be done.
That’s the best way to conquer Earth you could think of? We hear that Europe was hit even harder, and it does seem like the aliens were thorough with dozens of tripods arriving even at the crappy little ferry crossing in the middle of nowhere. We have to assume the aliens didn’t know where population centers would spring up when they buried their tripods and so maybe they got lucky or maybe they buried millions of the things and there were thousands more tripods lost in the middle of the desert or emerging at the bottom of a canyon in Antartica. The tripods don’t move very quickly and mostly shoot at people one by one, plus they have to check each basement with a slow moving camera-tentacle that apparently can’t really see in the dark and gets confused by mirrors. For a bunch of super-geniuses this does seem like quite an inefficient way to conquer a planet, pretty much it’s an invasion plan that a 5 year-old would come up with. So they stomped around shooting with a laser that evaporated people – maybe they want to wipe us all out?
You’ve got red on you. Except the use of the laser beam death ray seems counter-intuitive in light of the later revelation that the aliens want to harvest people in cages and spray their blood all over the land in a gory fine red mist, like some grotesque febreeze. First of all – this is very dickish behaviour for conquerors – it’s just not cricket. Imagine if this is what we did during the invasion of Iraq, there would be protests for sure. Second of all, if they aren’t doing this just for fun, then presumably they need to be squirting people juice all over the planet and maybe they shouldn’t have evaporated half of the population already. At some point you have to imagine one of the aliens shouting ‘Wait guys stop! Oh fuck it we needed those!’ Just because you can death-ray people doesn’t mean you always should. If the aim was to get blood everywhere then the tripods would have been better off with chainsaws – and also that would be an amazing film.
But… if the aliens want to spray people all over the world then you have to think it is for more than cosmetic reasons bearing in mind how long it will take to spray blood across the entire planet. I mean it’s possible they are doing it just to freak out Tom Cruise but it seems unlikely: they seem to want to grow this red plant everywhere. I’d guess that the red plant grows with human blood and so they needed a high human population before they could invade – so that there would be enough blood to fertilise their gore-plants and bring about some sort of change to the planet’s eco-system making it habitable for them. If they are thinking like this then how do they not know about bacteria?
It simply can’t be possible that they wouldn’t know about disease, and it’s is highly unlikely that with all their preparation they forgot to take their jabs. So maybe the whole blood-spraying evaporating-people tripod-conquest thing was a ruse. Maybe they had an ulterior motive. Let’s look closely at the film and see what the aliens actually do when they think no-one is looking:
They get out of their tripod and root through a box of photographs in a basement, before finding what appears to be a picture of Jackie Kennedy and running away with it. Hmm. Could it be that they plotted for a million years and staged an attempted genocide just to get their hands on some photographs of girls? Why does this picture fascinate them so much considering they must have evaporated a whole bunch of women just earlier that very day? Also, why are these aliens naked? Is there some sort of rule that aliens must never wear clothes? I’m no super-genius myself, but if I was colonising a foreign planet by changing it’s ecosystem I would probably wear a spacesuit or at the very least some pants and maybe a hat to keep all the blood out of my hair. I bet their alien mother back on their alien planet had told them to wrap up warm or they would catch their death – listen to your alien mother!
Perhaps we will never understand the motivations of these mysterious aliens – after all their very way of thinking is ‘alien’ to us and what might seem like a giant waste of time to us might be a resounding success for a species that is so super-smart as they apparently are, or one that really loves old photos. Or maybe Morgan Freeman just oversold it in the beginning monologue and the aliens weren’t all that smart after all: if he had said that they were not especially bright aliens then fair enough, I wouldn’t have had a problem with the film – at least they would have tried, bless ’em.
One thing is for sure though: if we do get invaded by aliens we should look to Tom Cruise for leadership – the guy is a veritable Xenu warrior princess. I say just leash the children to him and let him lead us.