Has it really been two centuries since H.G. Wells wrote The War of the Worlds? Well, no, not quite, but he did write it in the late 19th century, and in it, he criticized the European and especially British imperialism of his time; just as the world's colonial superpowers had wiped out the dodo, the bison, the aboriginal tribes of Tasmania, and others, so too they would now feel what it was like to live under the brutal domination of an advanced civilization, albeit one from Mars.
But if the novel encouraged self-reflection and invited its readers to consider how they had mistreated the world, the story's film and radio dramatizations have tended to confirm their audiences' fear and suspicion of the other. Orson Welles's 1938 radio play, which caused panic when some listeners mistook it for a genuine news broadcast, was produced less than a year before the Nazis launched the Second World War; George Pal's 1953 film came out during the Cold War, and presented Americans as the heroic, God-fearing victims of an unwarranted and presumably Soviet-style attack; and now, in the first decade of the 21st century, Steven Spielberg's film presents the alien invaders as stand-ins for the terrorists who attacked on September 11, 2001.
This time, the aliens do not come from Mars but from some other, unspecified world; and it turns out their fighting machines have been buried under the surface of the Earth, waiting for pilots to come and use them, for possibly millions of years—the alien equivalent of sleeper cells, perhaps. The pilots come down in lightning storms that send out an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out all the local machines; and when their machines rise up from the ground, they proceed to shatter the buildings and ...1
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War of the Worlds
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