Notes on Speilberg’s War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds – Spielberg version

Notes on Interviews in the Bonus Disc

War of the Worlds reflects our post-9/11 fears but it also reflects another impulse that we really are human beings and we really do come together to help each other survive especially when we have a common enemy [George Pal’s] movies reflect our fear of the Soviet Union … this film has a special significance, this film mostly touches on how this much catastrophe can bring about that much healing. Our worlds gone through a lot of growing pains and we’re in a whole different mind-set, so I made this movie because I thought its time had come … again.

Steven Spielberg

What is remarkable about this is his failure to note that as a plain matter of historical fact the USA was not under the threat from the Sovs which was promoted in its propaganda – of which alien invasion movies were a part. The US state spoke of a ‘missile gap’ between itself and the USSR; there was a gap, but with the US having a massive superiority. In other words, Spielberg’s version is consciously part of the “War on Terror” propaganda – though he was likely disavow that it was such, that the US does not do propaganda in that way.

This should make us wonder even more on the significance of the alien tripods not arriving in space ships, but having been buried under the ground – for a ‘million years’, as one character opines.

We should also note two references to conspiracism:

1) In the crowd moving to the Hudson Ferry one refugee states that nothing has come out of Europe (implying that this is because Europe is complicit with the tripods), another that this because Europe has been devastated (these are flagged in the credits as, respectively, ‘conspiracy buff’ and ‘conspiracy debunker’).

2) The character, Harlan Ogilvy, who invites Ray and his daughter to share his cellar is a kind of ‘survivalist’ who asserts that the human race will prevail by going underground and rising up against the aliens. I don’t remember whether the solider in the novel had any specific referends, but this is clearly a reference to Survivalism and the militia movement. He is characterised as a nutter. He may have designs on Ray’s daughter, and is finally killed by Ray because his noisy hysteria is endangering their hideaway. The costume designer, Joanna Johnstone, discussing his costume refers to him as a ‘wife beater’ – no explanation, no context … it just makes no sense, it comes out of nowhere !


I got this book on 9/11 with all these photos of the people covered in ash, and the state everyone was in and how it unified everyone in New York at that time … it was a similar thing like 9/11 and how it unified everyone to be one instead of being against each other and hating each other.

Justin Champman – ‘Robbie’, son of ‘Ray’, main character

We’d be hard put to find a better statement of the conspiracist claim for the motivation of ‘9/11’ – yet there is no sense that Chapman sees anything problematic in this. He is making an analogy between a fiction (the movie) and a real event (“9/11”) and showing that they share a socio-dynamic which constructs unity. Yet it does not occur to him to question the evidential status of the official “9/11” narrative. If this uniting function is so obvious to him, an average US teen actor, might it not have been even more obvious to elements in the US state? This seems so to me, who disses conspiracism … but …. makes you think.


One of the ugliest animals is crowd mentality, when a crowd acts as a single organism with a single purpose, to survive – it will destroy anything in its path to achieve its goals.

Steven Spielberg, discussing the scene where Ray’s car is attacked en route to the Hudson Ferry.

It is remarkable that the same sensibility which values “social cohesion” has a deep distaste for the “crowd”, the “mob”. What this political imaginary wants is itself as the “mind” to that political body which is constituted by atomised individuals; its great fear is that these individuals should constitute themselves as a collective subject, because such would effect the end of the bourgeois state.


The War of the Worlds sequence up on the hill it is a great example of collaboration between departments. You know, we would get missile launchers and give those missile launchers to Special Effects to create a pyrotechnic. We had real guns, so it was us collaborating with the military who would be firing those guns

Doug Harlocker, property master

This is a neat slippage between two senses of ‘department’: those within the movie company, and those within the Hegemony. It is a fine – even finer for being unconscious – recognition that Dreamworks and the USMC are both departments of the Iron Heel. Of course the latter does not have to give orders to the former, nor does Dreamworks take orders from the State. It does not have to; it does what it does ‘naturally’. That is the meaning of ideological hegemony. It never occurs to it to do anything different


The Marine Corps came through with over a hundred guys. We had M1 tanks, Humvees, and LAV 25s. Everything you saw on that ridge line is real, those are real Marines, doing Marines’ jobs.

Major Joseph Todd Breasseale, military technical advisor.

Later on, commenting on the final scene when the tripods are collapsing he remarks that 80% of the military extras are on furlough from Iraq or Afghanistan.

It would be difficult to imagine a better actualisation of the idea that alien invasion movies are really about ‘human aliens’ – the tradition of soldiers dehumanising the enemy could hardly be taken further. Whether at work or at play the military are fighting aliens.

The imagery of that final scene could not be less subtle. It occurs in Boston, detonator of the American Revolution. The camera pans around a statue of a Minuteman – encrusted with dead ‘red-weed’ – to a tripod which has crashed into a building: both destroyed by Earth’s indigenous bacteria. The American Revolution is also referred to in the title – Independence Day – of the previous major movie of alien invasion. Again, in the back-story of Babylon 5 the trigger for the events which free the Galaxy from the struggle between the Vorlons and the Shadows is the Earth Force ship Lexington firing on the Minbari. Lexington was the town near Boston where occurred the armed engagement between the colonists and Brit troops which led to the War of Independence.

There is a kind of iconic scene of alien invasion, both in movies and on the covers of pulp SF mags: an Earth city being devastated by invincible alien craft firing energy beams, the alien warriors in space armour with disintegrator guns. Now think about those newsmovies of Stealth bombers attacking Baghdad, the Marines in Kevlar helmets and their M16s with IR sights and grenade launchers.

What movies like this one  express is – in the strictest sense – a projection of the Iron Heel’s role. They both represent humanity as America, being attacked by aliens (see more recent movies such as Battle Los Angeles, Battleship, Skyline) and yet present images of near-invincible aliens attacking relatively defenceless humanity.


This film is really about how we all love our families.

Steven Spielberg, proposing a toast to the crew at the end of shooting.

So this is both about an up-dating of the 50s Red Scare propaganda and that most banal of American virtues. These meld seamlessly in the movie, as of course they do in the political imaginary which speaks through it.


We don’t go into their motivation, we just experience the results of these nefarious plans to supplant us with themselves.

Steven Spielberg, commenting on the difference between these aliens, and the one in ET.

During the first American war against Iraq the USMC’s required ‘book of the month’ reading was Sun Tsu’s The Art of War. One of the most celebrated maxims of this text is (quoting from memory) ‘The general who knows himself and his enemy will win a hundred battles’. Yet in W o t W the enemy is depicted as so utterly Other as to even be surprised by the wheel.

But I suppose one could deconstruct the meaning of the movie as being that if this is how you view the aliens then you certainly will not defeat them, because the downfall of the aliens is not effected by human agency, but by the Earth’s indigenous bacteria. Such a reading would have it that this is a warning voice within Liberal Imperialism


The aliens have gone rogue, they’re rogue aliens, ET gone bad, ET gone rogue

Tom Cruise, commenting on the difference between the earlier Spielberg movie – ET – and the present one.

He doesn’t comment on the sense which ‘rogue’ has acquired over the last decade or so: ‘rogue state’ – first applied, I think, to Saddam’s Iraq.


No-one comments on the change that is made from Wells’ ending where the alien-destroying microbes are just there, just part of the natural order, to the voice-over which refers to God. His great-grandson remarks on the ‘extraordinary prescience’ of Wells seeing the interconnectedness of life and the necessity of all parts of it.

The idea that nature in some way knows a hell of a lot more than we do is an idea that will last forever



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