In the Dark

Preternatural Selection

War of the Worlds
Produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by David Koepp and Josh Friedman

Holy oxymoron!  Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is a thoughtful summer blockbuster.  While it serves up the obligatory thrills of the school’s-out-let-it-rip subgenre, it also pays surprisingly scrupulous homage to its source, H.G. Wells’ novel.  There are changes, to be sure.  Instead of landing in late-19th-century Woking, England, Wells’ alien invaders now descend upon post-September-11 Bayonne, New Jersey, riding lightning bolts into the urban tarmac, no less.  In a disquieting allusion to the tactics of jihad sleeper cells, they plummet underground to the weapon caches they have buried long ago in preparation for their apocalyptic assault.  By the way, the New Jersey location is surely a nod to Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio adaptation of Wells’ novel, in which Bayonne figures as one of the staging areas for the earthlings’ feeble response to the invading Martians.  Given what we know about the relative lifelessness of Mars today, Spielberg says nothing of his aliens’ planetary origins.  As in the novel, however, he depicts them sitting in cowl-shaped control cabins atop 100-foot-high walking tripods from which they blast ululating...

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