Sunday, June 05, 2005

In Surprise Move, Idiot Pens Hollywood Blockbuster!

Filmgoers will be aghast to learn that a complete moral idiot has written the screenplay to Stephen Spielberg's latest major motion picture event. I've come to rely on Hollywood over the years for keen intelligence, multilayered subtlety, great depth of characterization, a studied sense of psychological ambiguity, sharp wit, and, most of all, consummate taste. Imagine my keen disappointment when War of the Worlds scriptwriter David Koepp decided to provide a reading guide for slower students of the soon-to-be-released re-re-re-(re?)make.

The Prifoner of Zembla and I had a conversation when news of the re-etc.-make broke. It went something like this: "I hear Stephen Spielberg is doing a version of war of the Worlds. I don't suppose he'll do the sensible thing and retain the original Victorian setting." "You're kidding. Of course he won't."

In the latest issue of Fangoria (one of my several catchy slogans here at Coyly is: "I read these things so you won't have to!"), Koepp elaborates on the assiduous reasoning in the decision to set the newest version in the present day: "According to Koepp, the notion of setting the new War in Wells' 19th-century environment lasted 'about 30 seconds' because 'we know it didn't happen! You don't see a lot of period fantasy films unless they're like Raiders of the Lost Ark (and) end up hushed up in a big warehouse. This story would have been difficult to conceal for even the most talented government!' More to the point, Koepp says, 'I'm not that interested in the experience of a bunch of Victorians, what they might have felt like had they been invaded. The book was written in the then-present day, so I felt our film should be set in our present day.' "

I might have been tempted to consider Koepp's points if he had just come out and said, Ha, ha, we all know that moviegoers are just a bunch of drooling oafs who do not understand that movies are different from history books or newspaper records." I might have understood if Koepp had said, I don't want to do a movie about la-dee-da tea-sipping polo playing imperialists. I could sympathize if he'd said, I don't want to research Victorian backgrounds because that is too much like school, and anyway we didn't want those frilly costumes when all of our budget was allocated to paying Tom Cruise and creating state-of-the-art special effects.

No, what he is saying is much more interesting. He is saying that fantasy fiction should stick to what actually happened -- unless, I guess, it can be corroborated by a thoroughly successful government cover-up. Well, it's a theory. I leave it to my reader(s) to think of about three dozen counterexamples instantly in the movies. Perhaps another consideration was the thought of Tom Cruise performing with a British accent, or any accent, in a movie, which is apt to reduce even his most devoted fans to giggling helplessly.

But Mr. Koepp goes further. He wants to use a contemporary setting so that viewers will get The Point. Just in case we do not see exactly what Point should be gleaned from a bunch of monsters invading from outer space, Koepp explains patiently: "We're back to what the book, at least in my mind, is really about -- an allegory about military adventurism...And the way our country now conducts its foreign policy with such unbridled glee. So what a 107-year-old story tells us, yet again, is that striking at lands too far from home is always going to present gi-normous problems. And you will probably be forced to leave, or be done in by local insurgents."

But of course. It's an allegory. Alien invaders conduct interplanetary "policy" with "unbridled glee." If they were all gruff and solemn-like, it would be different. They're just asking for it. And they ought to have anticipated "problems." You have to think these things through. When aliens invade "too far from home," they could be "forced to leave." They should stick to invading their own selfs. But we're not really talking about bug-eyed-monsters, because this is an allegory -- about the United States, in case you're not reading between the lines here. No, it's not about how the U.S. lost World War II because of these selfsame failings. But you're close. It is about President Bush and the current administration, who are notorious for their "unbridled glee." Connect the dots.

Of course, now that you understand the underlying allegory, seeing the movie will be redundant, because all of those action sequences and special effects will be pretty meaningless if you're not allowed to discover The Point for yourself. When audiences are shouting, "Eureka!" as they slowly master the difficult allegorical components of this movie, you'll just be yawning and saying, "Yeah, yeah. I'm smart. I already knew that." On the other hand, maybe the girl you took to the movie will be highly impressed. If you express your insight loudly enough, perhaps audience members will similarly be highly impressed. It's worth a try.

If you want to read the novel, though -- it's Sunday afternoon, you don't have anything planned but lawn work, anyway, and that can always wait until next Sunday afternoon -- it's here. The invaders are gratifyingly ungleeful.