Creative Combustion

It’s an indisputable fact – American summer cinema is defined by gargantuan blockbuster films. As Batman swoops back into theaters, the “Star Wars” saga draws to a close and Johnny Depp dons a hat once worn by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, blockbusters may rule summer 2005 even more so than usual.

But perhaps the biggest “big” summer movie this year is Steven Spielberg’s new film adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel “War of the Worlds” (Paramount Pictures). Opening June 27, the project reunites Spielberg with his “Minority Report” star Tom Cruise.

When The Hatchet spoke with Cruise last week, he said that bringing a classic tale of alien invasion to life again with Spielberg was an irresistible prospect. “Who doesn’t want to work with Steven Spielberg?” he said. “I think that he, without a doubt, is the greatest storyteller in cinema. With the two of us together, it’s creative combustion.”

As soon as Cruise and Spielberg finished “Minority Report” in 2002, the pair knew they wanted to work together again. “We said, ‘What movie are we going to make next?’ There were three projects Steven was involved in and the third was ‘War of the Worlds.’ We kind of looked at each other and that was it,” Cruise said. “When we started working on this picture together, we always thought of it as the smallest big film, an intimate picture told from a subjective point of view. And how could we make this movie so that it means something to us? There was a quiet agreement between us as to dedicating the film to our children and how much we love them.”

The “War of the Worlds” franchise began with the publication of the classic Wells novel in 1898, continued with boy genius Orson Welles’ mass panic-inducing radio play in 1938 and entered the film world for the first time with George Pal’s highly influential 1953 version.

“The book was really about British colonialism and also dealt with the Industrial Revolution,” Cruise said. “Then, in 1938, when Welles did his radio piece, America was nervous about being drawn into the European theater in World War II and Hitler. The third version, the film, was done during the Cold War.”

Although it comes 52 years after its last incarnation, the new “War of the Worlds” harkens back to the story’s roots, Cruise says. “We really went back to the original book. It’s based on the book; it’s not a remake of the Orson Welles radio play or, certainly, of the film. It’s a very different movie that pays tribute to the original book.”

So why does the “War of the Worlds” story, written more than 100 years ago, hold such resilience and malleability?

“It’s a universal theme. What would happen if all mankind were attacked by an enemy? We each have different feelings about that. My personal view is that when you look at mankind, we do have natural enemies. I just don’t think that mankind is actually cognizant of enemies like illiteracy, drug addiction, crime, immorality,” Cruise said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, what color your skin is, what you believe in, what part of the earth you live on, you will be affected by those things.”

Cruise said he was interested in looking at what happens when the whole world is attacked. “When you look at it, how does man behave (against each other) in terms of war? … Each person will bring their subjective reality to the film and it’s going to be whatever they feel. You can take the emotional ride or you can write it into whatever’s going on in your life personally.”

Because of its universality, Cruise has high hopes for the new film. “When you look at great sci-fi, you see that there are characters you can relate to, and there are themes that are timeless. I think that the ‘War of the Worlds’ theme is timeless. It can be represented in any era, in any walk of life.”

War of the Worlds opens June 29 in Washington, D.C.

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