Strange Invaders

'War of the Worlds' & 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'

H. G. Wells was a Darwinian but he wasn’t smug about it. His novel War of the Worlds portrays humankind’s panic at discovering it is not at the top of nature’s hierarchy. Martians invade earth and quickly, almost casually, brush aside all our defenses. Perched on ambulatory tripods that emit heat-rays and poisonous gas, these octopus-like creatures have a thing or two to teach Edwardian England about imperialism. But while the British entertained hopes of educating subdued Indians and Africans into becoming reasonable facsimiles of the English, the Martians have no such idealism; they simply covet our land, our atmosphere, and our nutritious blood. Wells writes compassionately of the men and women caught up in the chaos but, as a scientist manqué, he can’t help being fascinated by the superior technology of the invaders. In the midst of chaos and despite his own hungry wretchedness, the novel’s narrator maintains a willingness to see matters from the Martian point of view, and this gives the book a perdurable creepiness.

There is no such “objectivity” in Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation. He has used the Wells classic the way Jonathan Demme used The Manchurian Candidate: to create a hyperbolic vision of post-9/11 America. Wells’s theme was the vastness of the universe smacking aside the provinciality of human concerns...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.