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The danger of making a screen adaptation of a famous novel is that it will be compared to an original piece and then deemed as better or worse. Steven Spielberg was well aware of that risk, when presenting to the public his version of War of the Worlds (2005) that bears little resemblance to H.G. Well’s novel. Plotlines of the story and movie center on the invasion by extraterrestrial beings, but details surrounding the invasion differ substantially and underscore the uniqueness of both works that have occupied their niches in literature and cinematography.  

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Opening lines of both the film and the book give readers and viewers a broad hint at what will be the primary focus of the story. A striking similarity between the novel and the movie impresses at the beginning: “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 own” (Wells 19). “That as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water” (War of the Worlds). The first person account in both stories gives readers a splendid opportunity to experience the invasion, as the main character sees it and becomes more involved in the course of events.

The movie shies away from the novel’s basic points, such as settings, characters and the purpose of aliens’ invasion. Probably, the lapse of one century impacts the director’s view of creatures from the outer space. What is necessary to note, Spielberg does not emphasize that aliens are from Mars. Wells, on the contrary, pinpoints that invaders are from Mars, as their planet has entered the cooling off stage and they view the Earth as a favorable place for living. “To carry warfare sunward is, indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, generation after generation, creeps upon them”. In one episode, Ray Ferrier steps out from his shelter, looking for his daughter, and the view of surroundings covered with blood that open up before his eyes may be indicative of Mars, which is often called a “red planet”. The extraterrestrial creatures are portrayed hideous and repulsive in the novel and film. They are large and grey with two large dark-colored eyes. Wells leaves much to the reader’s imagination: “There was something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty”. Spielberg’s aliens rely more on technology that is no match for humans.

Aliens’ invasion is shown differently in the novel and movie. According to Wells, a large star or rather meteorite collides with the Earth “somewhere on the common between Horsell, Ottershaw, and Woking” in Britain. The Thing, as people call it, is a large cylinder with the most part buried in sand. The astronomer, Ogilvy, is the first to discover the cylinder and the news spreads quickly, and people gather around it propelled by curiosity to find out what is inside the Thing. Then, Martians emerge to the horror and dismay of the curious crowd. After a flash of light and three puffs of green smoke, a machine appears to direct its laser rays on people. “It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable sword of heat”. In Well’s story, the name of the protagonist, who takes readers on a thrilling and dangerous journey, is never mentioned. Spielberg’s character, Ray Farrier, played by Tom Cruise, is a divorced dock worker with two kids. He does not try to be a role model dad. One day, he observes a strange phenomenon of lightning that strikes in the same place several times. His curiosity draws him and other onlookers to the epicenter of the event. Cars come suddenly to a standstill and people gather around the hole in the asphalt somewhere in the city center. Than, a large tripod surfaces and starts a massacre of humankind. The fear and panic penetrate pages of the book and they are equally palpable in the movie: “The fear I felt was no rational fear, but a panic terror not only of the Martians, but of the dusk and stillness all about me. Such an extraordinary effect in unmanning me it had that I ran weeping silently as a child might do”.

Besides disparities in details surrounding the main events, characters have more dissimilarities than similarities. The protagonist in the book is happily married, and he reunites with his wife at the end of the story. Spielberg’s hero undergoes misfortunes of encountering aliens together with his small daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning). He derives courage and strength from protecting his child at all costs. The happy ending, when Ferrier takes his daughter safe and sound to her mother in Boston and reconciles with his son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is an expected finale of the movie. Ogilvy in the book and Ogilvy in the movie are two different and distinct characters. The former is an astronomer who is quite interested in the Martians. He finds the fallen star, he is among the men who try to uncover the cylinder and he is a member of the Deputation that is burnt by aliens. Spielberg’s Ogilvy, played by Tim Robbins, is a man desperate to survive. He loses his family and is driven by the idea to revenge extraterrestrial creatures. Grief and fear gradually yield to despair and madness. 

It is always fascinating to watch the movie that diverges from the plot of the book in surprising directions. It is also inspiring to read the book that abounds in various minute details that stir the imagination. The novel and the film War of the Worlds use different means to convey the mood and inner tension of the main character and overall atmosphere of suspense and fear, touching nerves and triggering feelings with equal power. Wells and Spielberg form a perfect tandem, due to their talents and skills that are well acclaimed worldwide.

Code: writers15

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