Nearly everybody who heard that Steven Spielberg was filming in Bayonne has asked the same three questions: What is Spielberg like? Have you met Tom Cruise? And what will the Aliens look like?
And remarkably I never met Spielberg or Tom Cruise, and I saw no aliens roving the streets of Bayonne, before, during or after shooting the film.
For the most part, Spielberg's aliens have always bugged me - partly because they had this uncomfortable air of sweetness that made them seem more like the Christian concept of angels than the space invaders I always imagined there were hiding under my bed when I was a kid.
I'm one of the few people that hated ET.
I tolerated the aliens in Close Encounters simply because I found the film's main character so intriguing and could easily understand how he could get so wrapped up in the invasion and his need to find out more.
When Spielberg began filming in Bayonne, I felt and acted like the character from Close Encounters, needing for some reason to see the landscape upon which this part of the film was based.
Even Spielberg's TV special - which as kind of modernizing of Close Encounters for a multi-week mini series wouldn't allow the aliens to remain bad guys through the last episode, somehow turning things around so that everything worked out in the end - a typically overly sweet Spielberg device.
If Spielberg keeps to form, War of the Worlds - despite the provocative trailer - has the potential to follow this pattern, too.
Past editions of this H.G. Wells classic have always served as metaphors for the ultimate evil. The 1939 radio broadcast served as warning to America of the potential danger of the Nazi in Germany, playing off the great fear that was already gripping the wide world. The 1953 film - like most science fiction movies of the era - had a touch of anti-communism, and painted the aliens as something of a collective society out to destroy all the west stands for.
While Spielberg could play the matter safe and paint the aliens as a kind of terrorist threat, something that would fully echo the concerns of the post 9/11 world. His tendency to show the aliens - at least in part - may actually play well against the concept that Wells, a socialist, had proposed. So in trying to anticipate how Spielberg will present his invaders, we might consider the aliens as first depicted by Wells.
Indeed, Spielberg's trailer for the upcoming movie gives us a strong hint at the more loyal interpretation, since the voice over for the invasion is nearly word for word the opening sequence as written in the 1898 book by Wells.
"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own, that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water," Wells wrote. "No one gave thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable."
Despite the horrors that would soon overtake the earth, Wells did not paint aliens without motivation. They were faced with a dying planet that would soon result in a dying society, and they jealously looked across the gap of space to the younger more vibrant planet earth where live was still thriving.
The immediate danger of extinction had in Wells' words, "brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers and hardened their hearts."
"And looking across space with instruments and intelligence such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance... a morning start of hope, our own warmer planet, green with vegetation, and gray with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas."
So intelligent were these Martians that they gauged us as something inferior, they way we might a dog or less. And as desperate as they were, these aliens from Mars, saw their only hope in moving their population closer to the sun.
Wells perfectly understood this need, and pointed out how many native creatures human kind had driven to extinction in its effort to expand.
Here - if Spielberg stays loyal to the spirit of the book and follows his own habits of refusing to judge the space invaders too harshly - has the potential to present a picture that is not as one-sided as the previous interpretations of Wells' book.
What will these aliens look like?
If the hand in the movie's logo is any indication, the aliens will follow the book to some degree.
The mechanical shells the aliens traveled in Wells described might give us a hint: "It presented a sort of metallic spider with five jointed, agile legs and with an extraordinary number of jointed levers, bars and reaching and clutching tentacles about its body. Most of its arms were retracted, but with three long tentacles it was fishing out a number of rods and plants and bars which lined the cover and apparently strengthened the walls (of its nest.)
Wells central character, trapped in a house near this nest got to look at the creatures operating these machines.
"They were huge round bodies - or rather, heads - about four feet in diameter, each body having in front of it a face. This face had no nostrils... but it had a pair of very large dark colored eyes and just beneath this a kind of fleshy beak. In the back of this head or body was a single tight tympanic surface since known to be anatomically an ear... in a group around the mouth were sixteen slender almost whip-like tentacles, arranged in two bunches of eight."
These creatures did not eat the way humans did, but injected blood directly into their bodies - and in this instance, human blood. So that much of the invasion also included a perpetual hunt. The aliens had not merely come to destroy man, but also to make humanity serve as nourishment for the aliens - a kind of cattle the aliens would seek out at feeding time.Contact Al Sullivan at email@example.com