Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Lots of people steal liberally from one version or another of The War of the Worlds. George Lucas derived his Imperial Walkers from the Martian machines in the novel, and Steven Spielberg virtually stole the scene of the separated lovers fighting through the crowd to find each other in the church in the George Pal version for a similar scene in which Richard Dreyfus finds Melinda Dillon in '>Close Encounters.

But nobody has adapted or adopted or stolen as much as the makers of Independence Day (which, by the way, they freely admit---as they do about the other dozen scifi films they "paid homage" to). So when I heard that Steven Spielberg was planning a remake of The War of the Worlds I could only laugh---isn't that exactly what '>Independence Day did?

According to the DVD commentary, the filmmakers (Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin) were attempting to graft the 1970s disaster film conventions (many characters, all drawn inexorably to the same scene of disaster) onto the 1950s alien invasion movie. In the process they gleefully appropriate ideas and images from science fiction films of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. They point out some references themselves on the commentary track: an opening shot reminiscent of Star Wars, a SETI scene out of "Contact," and a television playing "The Day The Earth Stood Still"-all in just the few couple of minutes. There are obvious visual and verbal references to "Close Encounters," "Star Wars," E.T.," "Planet of the Apes," and "Star Trek." Other more subtle motifs suggest "Superman" and the old Flash Gordon serials.

All of this supports the unique mood of this movie: somehow it gets away with not taking itself entirely seriously, and yet getting viewers involved in characters and the basic story. Even the casting adds to this with references, by featuring actors we identify with other science fiction movies and TV, where they'd played characters who displayed some humor: Will Smith would do a couple of "Men in Black" flicks, Bill Pullman had already done "'>Spaceballs;" Jeff Goldblum had played a similar off-kilter scientist in "Jurassic Park," a scary off-kilter scientist in "The Fly," and played a cowboy surgeon in the comedy science fiction adventure," Buckaroo Banzai." And of course the casting coup was Brent Spiner, Star Trek's '>Data, as a wide-eyed, wild-haired, too-much LDS--in-the-60s scientist.

No comments: