Stephen Spielberg‘s career seems to have gone in three different directions lately. There are the serious, mature films that began with Schindler’s List and continued with Amistad, Saving Private Ryan and this year’s Munich. On the flipside are the lightweight comedies that always seem to star Tom Hanks, like Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal. Somewhere in the middle are the edgier science-fiction films like A.I., Minority Report and now his take on H. G. Wells‘ The War of the Worlds.
If you include the original H. G. Wells novel, there have been four major versions of The War of the Worlds, and each one was an accurate reflection of the fears of the time in which it was made. The recent Steven Spielberg film is clearly influenced by the events of September 11, 2001. The Orson Welles radio broadcast of 1938 reflected the gathering clouds of a war in Europe that was less than a year away. Likewise, the 1898 novel portrayed the author’s concern about the rising militarism that would sweep the continent into World War I.
The 1953 version is equally a product of the Cold War, reflecting the concerns of its producer, George Pal, whose native Hungary had been swept up in the postwar annexation of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union. Anyone who can’t see this film’s implacable Martians as stand-ins for Communism, well, that person probably hasn’t actually seen the movie.