War of the Worlds

First of all, thanks, Tee, for letting me don your shoes and write a movie review. Now watch what I do with it, you may never let me do it again.

Instead of doing a normal review, I'm going to turn this one interactive. Reading various discussions of this film on the net, a question occurred to me that I find intriguing, and I want to know what our listeners think.

So, I'll give a quick review of the movie, then get on to the question.

The Gist: Tom Cruise gets the kids for the weekend. The aliens invade. Tom and kids run for their lives.

The Good: The special effects. The acting. The little girl. The other special effects.

The Bad: Seeing the aliens before the end. The teenage kid (his character, not the actor, he was quite good).

The Ugly: Watching the aliens eat.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

War of the Worlds
Genre: Fantasy
Official Webpage: www.waroftheworlds.com

Ok, there's the review. That took a lot out of me. Now on to the question I pose to you, the Dragon Page listener.

This is an interesting movie for me, because it illustrates for me two different thoughts on making movies from other source material. Should we try to keep as close to the original material as we can, or should we use the source material as a guide, but be free to modify it as we see fit?

From a scientific standpoint, the plot of War of the Worlds suffers on two counts. The first is the idea of three-legged aliens and their three-legged vehicles. The second is the foundational idea of the plot: aliens that are superior in every possible way are finally outdone by simple germs that mankind has evolved into symbiotic relationships with.

As discussed in the ?Movie Answer Man? section of Roger Ebert's website, three legs ? tripods ? make great stationary foundations, but suck when it comes to locomotion. Even if aliens could evolve to have three legs, which is unlikely, there would be no reason for them to use that model in their machinery. Humans don't use two and four legged or wheeled vehicles because there are two-legged and four-legged animals. We use them because those designs work. And they'd work for three-legged aliens, too.

Also, given what we know today about how viruses and bacteria work, the idea that they would wipe out the aliens, while not completely out of the realm of possibility, is a loooooooong shot. As they like to say on fark.com, here comes the science.

So, some would argue, justifiably so, that since the science upon which the movie is based is about as accurate as that of The Core, the movie is a dud. The writers should have done a bit of research before they sat down to write the script.

However? errors in science or not, these germ-wimpy walking camera stands are faithful to the original work. Can you have War of the Worlds with an ending other than germs killing the aliens? Then it's not War of the Worlds, is it?

So, my question to you, dear reader, is: If we want to revisit a previous work, do we stay close to the original, or do we correct and modify the stories to coincide with current scientific knowledge, which, of course, may one day become obsolete? Do science fiction stories, like scientific theories, need revision as scientific knowledge grows?

Most fans of science fiction novels enjoy reading the old stuff even when they know full well that the ideas they are based on are slightly, or even grossly, flawed. All the evidence says that there are not now, nor have there ever been men from Mars, yet Stranger in a Strange Land is still in print and considered a must read. Readers have no trouble understanding that science fiction of the past is based on the scientific understanding of the day, and adjust to it. But does the same logic apply to remakes of older works?

So, I want to know what you think. You're not limited to discussion of WotW, of course. When a movie is translated from the book to the screen, what should and should not change?

About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.


  1. Speed Racer says

    Haven't seen the movie, but I know the book and radio dramatization.

    It's OK to stick to the original material. It's also OK not to stick to the original material and make a new piece of art, in which case it might be misleading to use the same title as the original.

    With all genre stories, you figure out the rules that operate in the world created by the story and judge whether it sticks to them. There is usually some suspension of disbelief involved.

  2. I rather think you can do both. It's the difference between a remake and an inspired-by or based-on. If you're doing a remake, if we're supposed to believe that you're doing the same story, then the essential plot points should be the same. Because the dialog is probably going to change. The setting is probably going to change. And if you aren't at least having the same actions happen, precisely what are you remaking?

    Independence Day. Inspired by Wells' War of the Worlds. Whereas for a WotW remake, you can accept that the microbes killed the beasts because that's the way the story goes, somehow being an inspired-by story open up ID to critcisms. They didn't have to hold true to anything if they didn't want. They actually chose *a computer virus* as the method for destroying the aliens. They had the chance to make a scientifically founded choice and didn't. And I laugh.

    How's that?

  3. Well, I liked I, Robot even though it was only loosely based on the book. Why does a movie need to be a remake of an old movie, can't they base it loosely on the novel? I think they can. WOuldn't bother me as long as it doesn't stray TOO far and get too hokey.

  4. It's tricky because no matter what you do with a remake you are going to displease someone.

    I think in general a remake needs to keep some of the core ideas in the story, otherwise you are just taking the name to increase sales when your product has no resemblance to the original. I think you then need to take 1 of 2 routes, you either stay as close to the original as you can (Lord of the Rings), or you just keep the core ideas and adapt them to the story you want to tell (I, Robot).

    In the case of 'War of the Worlds' I feel they needed to keep the ending even though it didn't quite work for me. As you mentioned, the science might make the ending unlikely, but considering we are talking about aliens invading from Mars, it's hardly the most unbelievable thing in the movie.

    It would have been nice to see an ending where the aliens win, just to surprise people though.

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