- In any of the adaptations of The War of the Worlds --
from the original novel to "Independence Day" -- the aliens are
scary creatures indeed.
- Their military strength far surpasses ours. They land
on our planet and simply start destroying. Finally, despite their obvious
technological superiority, they never make an attempt to communicate with
- What do you do in such an implacably hostile relationship?
Some advocate military intervention without any attempt to communicate.
Others desire communication first, in the hopes that the aliens will prove
to be friendly and the war of the worlds can be called off as a misunderstanding.
- Perhaps this second position is the most hopeful stance
toward alien life -- when we find them, they will look at least something
like us, and they will respect us for who we are, as a race. However, The
War of the Worlds presents us with alien life that simply do not care about
the fate of humanity. The aliens want our world; they want us, humanity,
dead and gone. These are deadly aliens, not fluffy-cuddly ones, and they
come awful close to wiping us out nearly every time.
- However, whether we respond to aliens as benevolent space
gods or unstoppable destroyers, we are projecting our own hopes and fears
onto the unknown, wrapping what we see in what we want to see.
- The alien as political creature
- In writing the story which launched the view of the alien
as enemy, H.G. Wells presented us with the pessimistic view of our relationships
to creatures unlike ourselves -- human or alien. But what was Wells commenting
on? To see behind the alien mask into the Other of Wells' novel and its
adaptations, it helps to place each version into some kind of historical
framework. What one generation fears in one time, another may enjoy, or
not even find worthy of consideration.
- In 1898, when Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, the
sun was still shining across the reaches of a dominant British Empire.
Significantly, only a decade after the European powers divided Africa among
themselves, Wells, Martians applied the same colonial mentality to Earth
- Members of an older, more advanced civilization, the
Martians landed on Earth and decided unilaterally how they will reshape
the planet, without any input from the natives. Just as the Africans did
not stand a chance militarily against the European colonization, the people
of Earth were helpless before the invading Martians. Forty years later,
Orson Welles shifted the time and location of the Martian invasion to New
Jersey, and the face of the alien shifted as well.
- At the time, Germany was marshaling its strength and
preparing for wars within its own borders and without. Kristallnacht, the
attack on Jews throughout Germany, happened only ten days after Welles,
broadcast, and the invasion of Poland was less than a year away.
- Questions of defense and preparation
- Lurking behind Welles' Martians, then, is the question
of military preparedness. Would the U.S. military prove as ineffective
against a real German invasion as it had against a fictional Martian one?
- Ironically enough, Orson Welles was on the air once again
in 1941, when the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor forced him to interrupt
his broadcast with news of an attack of monstrous proportions. Many listeners
initially refused to believe his news, citing the radio drama The War of
the Worlds as evidence.
- After Welles, the War of the Worlds came to film in August,
1953, scant weeks after the settlement of the Korean conflict. While the
cinematic version kept the basic theme of humans versus the aliens intact,
careful -- or nervous -- viewers could also have seen the proceedings as
relating to a possible conflict with the implacable powers of Communism.
- In this version of the story, not insignificantly, the
decisive strike from Earth is the atomic bomb. However, while the nuclear
defense fails amid concerns about human safety, the aliens are once again
destroyed by bacteria.
- It was not until 1996 that humans took the reins of their
own interplanetary destiny away from the bacteria. In "Independence
Day", for the first time, human agency repels the alien invasion after
the nuclear option, considered as a last resort, fails once more.
- Instead, the Other of the turn of the millennium is conquered
when humans adapt to technology, planting a computer virus into the aliens'
systems. Considering the electronic medium in which you are reading this,
it's a small but subtle point -- have we become the Martians in order to
- Were the Europeans reading The War of the Worlds a century
ago the Martians in disguise, or did the mask face the other way around?