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YMMV / The War of the Worlds

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The novel:

  • Alternate Aesop Interpretation: The Martians have no colonial/imperial ambitions, they view humans as pests to be exterminated or cattle to be consumed. The narration compares humans to the bison and the dodo, to ants and to rabbits whose warren is destroyed by homebuilders. The only comparison to an act of the British Empire is to a case of genocide rather than of colonial rule. The Martians seed the Earth with Alien Kudzu which destroys Earth plants (until it meets the same fate as the Martians themselves). The entire story, including comparisons drawn by the narration, looks like a picture of habitat destruction leading to the extinction of native species, rather than of imperial conquest. So did Wells intend a Green Aesop rather than the anti-colonial one usually assumed? Given that he was ahead of his time in advocating for ecological conservation, at a time when not even biologists thought that was an issue, it’s at least possible. On the other hand, many imperial powers did view the "other" human as animalistic as well, and did ravage a lot of the local land in the name of industrialization, so it's likely both interpretations can work in tandem.
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  • Alternate Character Interpretation: It is mentioned that the Martians, on their home planet, fed off pale-skinned, human-like creatures. Depending on in what light you want to paint the Martians, some say those human-like creatures were just as sapient as Earth humans, surviving specimens of the original humanoid species it is speculated the main Martians were mutated from — while others would say the Martians didn't initially mean to be as savage in their takeover as they ended up being, having taken their cattle with them, but were forced to start hunting down Earth humans when their cattle died on the way.
  • Delusion Conclusion: Since the narrator states that going insane would be a mercy now that the Martians are almost certainly going to win - and only after this do the Martians all die from a completely unforeshadowed vulnerability to terrestrial bacteria - a theory has arisen that he actually did go mad and the rest of the book is his hallucination of mankind victorious and safe. This theory is so famous that practically every literary critic who discusses the book brings it up as a possibility, sometimes claiming that it’s more plausible than what really happens.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • The book's references to the use of poison gas by the Martians were scary enough in 1898, but after World War I...
    • A similar thing happens in the Orson Welles version. Their take on the Thunderchild scene involved a bomber performing a Heroic Sacrifice by crashing into a Tripod. A tactic the Allied servicemen in the Pacific would become all too familiar with a few years down the line...
    • The artilleryman in particular is a disturbingly prophetic figure. Even though he does not have the will to follow suit with these plans, the ideas that came up with do sound a lot like the things thought thirty years later by a group of people in Germany with good dress sense and a tendency to march without bending their knees led by a certain rejected art student.
    • At the year 1898, the thoughts of a war so brutal that entire cities could be destroyed to the ground en masse were considered as paranoid nonsenses and wild fantasies, especially if they were about this kind of war between the "civilized" European nations...
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    • The Orson Welles version, which was broadcast in October 1938, took place a year later and noted that "the war scare" was over...
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Unbelievably inhuman creatures with plenty of tentacles arriving from outer space, beings so immeasurably alien we don't stand a chance in fighting them, and implications of our own inevitable doom in a universe that at best seems completely indifferent to what happens to us, not to mention a certain degree of insanity that comes from realizing our insignificance. Sound familiar? Well, good ol' H. P. Lovecraft would have been a child when this book was published, predating just about everything he wrote.
    • The name of the military leader that battles the Martians at Weybridge and Shepperton is Brigadier-General Marvin.
    • The aliens that the invaders take with them as food source neatly fit the description of The Greys.
    • The aliens' use of heat rays, now that the US Army is working on utilizing high energy lasers in warfare. Really, for lasers in general, as the book was published twenty years before the first theoretical foundations of lasers were known.
    • Human examination of the Martian tripods describes them as using electrically/magnetically manipulated sliding devices, rather than gears, pulleys, or anything based on the wheel. Modern readers will view this as a steampunk version of a "mechanical muscle".
  • It Was His Sled: The fact that the Martians are all but unstoppable by regular means but eventually get sick and die, which is usually the case in most adaptations.
  • Mainstream Obscurity: Famous, but rarely read or watched.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Alien attacks are so common in popular culture that this would not stick out to a modern reader/viewer.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Overall, the original novel is one of the most brutal comments on British colonialism at the time. Direly needed.
    "And before we judge them [the Martians] too harshly, we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished Bison and the Dodo, but upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?"
    — Chapter I, "The Eve of the War"
  • Values Resonance: "Being on the receiving end of imperialism sucks" still rings true. Multiple arguments against the foreign policies of the current great powers are that it's repackaged Victorian Imperialism. In fact, Spielberg's adaptation largely draws on both the fears of 9/11 and the subsequent fears of foreign peoples whose nations were the target of military operations in The War on Terror by America.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: It's a classic novel and such, but is in no way for kids. Especially some of the graphic descriptions of the Martians, and the dark psychological study of how people might react to such an invasion. One wonders why they make kids 12-14 read it in schools.

The 1953 movie:

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: The aliens may have only attacked the welcoming party and started the invasion altogether because of the white flag they were waving. While waving the white flag does indicate peaceful intentions, it has a far more common alternate meaning that you would NOT want a potentially violent alien race to assume; SURRENDER.
  • Fridge Logic: One of the first characters to be disintegrated in the 1953 film claims that they are Martians because Mars is currently at its closest approach in years. Other characters also assume this as the basis for where they come from, later on in the film. While this is true, no-one ever questions that this is only an assumption.
  • Genius Bonus: General Mann says he hasn't seen Dr. Forrester since Oak Ridge, indicating that they both worked on the Manhattan Project.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • The creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 swiped the name Dr. Clayton Forrester from the film's hero, and their Dr. Forrester is now by far the one more associated with the name. So watching the film in a post-MST3K world can be an odd experience.
    • The Martians' "skeleton rays" are eerily reminiscent of the Daleks' blast-guns, especially as they appeared in "Remembrance of the Daleks".
    • Speaking of which, desintegrators appeared in a certain unauthorized sequel albeit in the hands of the heroes.
  • Narm: The Martian that Dr. Forrester and Sylvia encounter in the farmhouse. Why? Not because of its appearance but because it Screams Like a Little Girl.
  • Special Effects Failure: The terrifying and intimidating look of the Martian machines loses some power in certain shots as you can clearly see the wires holding them up.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?: The 1953 film depicts the nations of the world fighting the Martians. All except the Soviet Union, and since this was the Cold War, many assume the Martians are meant to be an allegory for communism.

Multiple versions:

  • Anvilicious: The book and 2019 TV series spell out Wells' message that the Martians were not so different from the British imperialists, who would come off very similarly to the less technological advances peoples they conquered in the 19th century. He notes that the British caused the extinction of the Native Tasmanians (a few of them in fact survived, although this wasn't known in Wells time-thankfully by now they have made a comeback), much like the Martians seem intent on doing in the TV series. This was arguably necessary at the time, since imperialism was greatly popular, and it was shown as such in the TV series (possibly also needed as a reminder for the modern viewers).

The 2005 Film:

The 1988 TV series:


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