War of the Worlds According to Spielberg

Motivation for Making the Film

I thought to myself, “Why can’t I try my hand at a scary alien movie, the kind of film that Ridley Scott directed, when he made the first “Alien,” which is one of my favorite scary sci-fi movies of all time.

It’s something that I had always wanted to do. I wanted to do “War of the Worlds” ever since I read the book in college, before I actually became a filmmaker. I had always known that I would do some version of it at some point.

Approach for Directing a Scary Movie

It was not anything really conscious. It (the book) is a great story. It’s a great piece of nineteenth century classic literature. It began the entire revolution in science-fiction and fantasy. I just thought we could make a version of the H. G. Wells that’s a little closer, a little darker, toward the original model.

Father Figures in His Work

When I wrote the script for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” it was about a man (played by Richard Dreyfuss) whose insatiable curiosity, and his developing obsession, the kind of psychic implantation drew him away from his family. He only looked back once, when he walked onto the mother ship. I wrote it before I had kids. That was 1977, so I wrote that blithely.

Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and go onto the mother ship. I would have the guy doing everything he could to protect his children. So in a sense, “War of the Worlds,” does reflect on my maturity in my own life, my growing up and now having seven children.

The theme of American Refugees in the Movie

WE don’t often see images of American refugees, except after local national disasters, like hurricanes and people fleeing, as in the Florida Keys. But, of course, the image that stands out in my mind the most was the image of everybody in Manhattan fleeing across the George Washington Bridge, in the shadow of 9/11. This was a searing image that Ive never been able to get out of my head.

In the movie, you see American fleeing for their lives, being attacked for no reason, having no idea why theyre being attacked, and who is attacking them. David (Keopp, the screenwriter) and I went into great lengths NOT to explain any of these particular attackers.

Giving the Film a Hopeful Message

I have hope for the future. This is why Im probably not the best person to tell a story that leaves you with nothing to hope for. I just felt that this movie is a reflection, and there are all sorts of metaphors you can derive from the story. I hope that “War of the Worlds” is a movie that everybody could see in a facet of the prism they choose to take from the experience.

I tried to make the movie as open for interpretation as possible, without having anybody coming out with a huge political polemic in the second act. There are certainly politics underneath—some of the scares and some of the adventure and some of the fear—but I really wanted to make it suggestive enough so that everybody could have their own opinion. I certainly gave you enough rope to hang me with.

Minority Report Versus War of the Worlds

“War of the Worlds” is 100 percent character. “Minority Report” is 50 percent character and 50 percent storytelling, very complicated storytelling. In “minority,” there are layers and layers of murder mystery plotting, where if Tom Cruise or any of the actors even gave a suggestion that they knew what was going to happen next, the audience could have picked it up, because audiences are so smart today. They pick up things so far out, or left field, that we, filmmakers, can’t believe that.

I was always concerned about giving away too much of the plot of “Minority Report,” while we worked together. Tom and I were working like writers on a script in our director-actor relationship, making sure that the story was being told well.

Whereas “War of the Worlds” is experiential. It’s a character journey. It’s all about character–Tom’s, Dakota’s, Justin Chatwin’s and Tim Robbins’ characters– who these people are. In a sense this freed us up to explore the behavior that we had no chance to explore in “Minority Report.”

Functions of Sci-Fi Genre

Science-fiction is not a subconscious thing at all. For me, sci-fi is a vacation, a vacation from all the rules of narrative logic. It’s a vacation away from basic physics and physical sciences. It just lets you leave all the rules behind and just kind of fly. As a human race, we don’t fly. We envy the birds. Sci-fi gives me a chance to really soar. This is why I keep coming back to sci-fi in my work, because there are no limits to where the imagination can go.

Now, the challenge of sci-fi is that you have to tell a credible story, and impose certain limits. I have to impose those limits on myself. There are a lot of directions I could have taken the story, but I did not because it would have made it too fantastical. “War of the Worlds” could have been more like :Independence Day,” or flying saucers, or it could have been much more about the army versus the extraterrestrials. There could have been huge battle scenes and tripods going down and soldiers being blown up. I did not want to go there.

In a strange way, I wanted “War of the Worlds” to be a little more of a cousin to “Saving Private Ryan,” in the genre of sci-fi. I mean, it is more of a story told through a first, personal point of view. So I did impose limits, and David Koepp imposed his limits. We shaped the screenplay so that all the characters would seem as realistic and normal as we are. That was very important to me.

Sci-Fi Movies and Real Life

The science-fiction as a genre is the great escape for moviemakers. But sci-fi movies can sometimes suggest really cool ways of exploring the universe, like the aftermaths, which are completely inspired by sci-fi. Science-fiction has done a lot to encourage people to spend the money at NASA to go into space. “Star Wars” did, and “2001: A Space Odyssey” did amazingly positive work in that field. Science-fiction stories really inspire young people to think and imagine that anything is possible.

My movies goes form historical stories to science-fiction. I love going back fro history, where I really am contained and I have pretty much be more of a reporter, a photojournalist. In science-fiction, I am an imagineer, where I don’t have that many constraints on where we take these stories.

Changes from the Wells Novel

One major change from the novel is to have the aliens laying dormant on earth, rather than coming out of the sky. That idea was just something that I came up with because I didn’t want to deal with death from above. It’s a clich that weve seen so often in sci-fi movies, where you look up at the sky and it’s raining down terror and death on you.

I thought this was much more logical if the growth could have been living with us, inside of our earth for eons, before the time was right, and the aliens made their plans. I though this was more of an original way of introducing a threat, nor from above, but right where we least expect it to come, threat from the interreaches of earth.

Alien Life on Another Planet

I think we all know that we are NOT alone in the universe. I can’t imagine anyone believes that we are the only intelligent life form, the only biological life, in the entire universe. Back in the days of “Close Encounters,” I was convinced that we had been visited. Now, I am not as convinced. There are millions of video camera out there today but they are picking up less photographs, videos, UFOs, alleged UFOs that were being picked up in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s. Why is it that when there are 150 percent more video cameras on the planet, we are seeing less from up there

Most Difficult Scene to Direct

Physically, the most difficult scene, the one I worried about the most, was the scene that involved the safety of several thousand local extras, when we were shooting up the Hudson River. That was the ferry scene, which was the most difficult, because we had thousands of people running, and I was terrified of someone falling, tripping, being stepped on, being run over. Thank God we had such a great stunt coordinator, and we had many dozens of stunt people actually inside the crowds. We had many safety meetings with the crowds and nothing bad happened, but I was on the edge for four days because of the vast amount of crowds at night, running on very narrow streets. To me, that was the most anxious time in filming, and I couldn’t wait for that scene to be over. I was happy every time we finished taping that everybody was OK.

Collaborating With Tom Cruise

We have never had a disagreement. What usually happens in our process of work is that Ill give Tom an idea, and to Tom an idea is a gift. When he hears a new idea, it’s a total surprise and he will just cover thousands of acres in trying to figure out a way to take that idea and make it his own. Im the same way. Tom will bring an idea and Ill try it on. It was Tom’s idea to have a song associated with cars, and the car guy in the movie was also Tom’s idea.

Movies evolve this way. You start with a screenplay and you evolve from there. Every single day there are 15 pr 20 moments of discovery, and this is what makes movies come to life for me.