Saturday, September 10, 2005

War of the Worlds: truth or fiction?

One of the most interesting people I've met in Cleveland is Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Rumors that he is the former head of an international criminal organization are, he says, "LIES! ALL LIES!" I found his delightful reflections on Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" and its surprising relevance to current events worthy of note, and I think you will, too.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Helga and I finally went to see "War of the Worlds" last weekend: we had to wait until it reached the discount theater at the mall. Damn those SPECTRE budget cuts! Thirty years ago a typical night out for Ernst Stavro Blofeld was a romantic dinner in Monte Carlo followed by a high-stakes game of Baccarat at the Grand Casino. Now it's the buffet at Olive Garden and a cheap matinee at the multiplex!

And I had to replace my deadly piranha with hamsters! Do you have any idea how impossible it is to maintain discipline in your criminal empire when the worst punishment you can threaten is a plunge into the hamster pit?

But what a great movie! It had all the elements of a true Blofeldian classic: machines, death rays, mass murder. Spielberg had lots of spectacular ideas I'd love to incorporate into the Mark VI DRADS (Death Ray Delivery Systems) I'm building in an abandoned salt mine deep below Lake Erie. But Lord knows those blasted accountants at the home office would never authorize the slightest modification in our plans for world domination. The fools!

Illustration from French 1906 edition
Spielberg's rediscovery of H.G. Wells' original vision made me wonder if, perhaps, I made a mistake investing so many billions into 1950s technology. My advisers insisted the best model for my death machines was the flying-wing concept embodied in George Pal's 1953 version of "War in the Worlds"—graceful silvery wedges gliding silently on anti-gravity generators. But in Spielberg's movie, retro-engineered tripods were belching out industrial booms and clanking away like a division of Tiger tanks rolling through the cobblestone streets of an Alsatian market town during the Battle of the Bulge. And his death rays reminded me of an unfortunate experience I had with a barber in East Berlin whose heavy-industrial electric hair clipper malfunctioned during a brown-out. The sounds were nearly identical: mmmmmmzngTHWAP, scream, sizzle, mmmmmmzngTHWAP, scream, sizzle.

Of course, Spielberg's story breaks down in several places. Why, for example, would the tripedal alien invaders bury their war machines beneath the surface of the Earth "millions of years ago," then turn around and fly back to Mars? Why not do the job right away—when the only opposition would have been woolly mammoths, giant sloths and spear-throwing hominids? Why wait through the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs before making the big grab for world conquest?

Another flaw:
Is it really possible that a technologically advanced alien race would simply forget to immunize its troops against the bacteria of the planet they'd been planning for "millions of years" to invade? Not one microbiologist on the evil invasion-planning committee? You could forgive Wells for missing this little detail in 1898: the relationship between microbes and disease was a relatively new discovery and perhaps his Martians had neglected the biological sciences in favor of metallurgy, space travel and death rayology. But in 2005 that kind of slip-up requires more than a willing suspension of disbelief.

Or does it?

Sometimes, reality is as fantastic as science fiction. Imagine that the invaders were led by the Martian avatars of George Bush, Dick Cheney and Michael Chertoff. Millions of our compatriots are apparently quite content to believe that "no one could have predicted that invading Iraq would open the country's borders to thousands of fanatical suicide bombers" or "no one could have predicted that a massive hurricane would cause a big flood in New Orleans." So why wouldn't the equivalent Martian spin—"no one could have predicted that our invading forces would be infected by earth microbes against which we had no immunological defenses even though we'd been planning this thing for millions of years"—make for a perfectly credible plot?

That suggests the possibility of a sequel, doesn't it? What happens after the planned tripedal cakewalk over a prostrate Earth turns out to be a deadly quagmire?

My proposed outline: despite the Earth fiasco, the Great Ruler of Mars wins reelection by a comfortable margin because gullible voters actually believe he is more qualified than the other candidate to protect the Martian way of life from the threat of the non-destruction of Earth. He vows to "get the job done" and warns that not "staying the course" would be interpreted as "a sign of weakness" and would "give those earth folks exactly what they want: not getting exterminated." He pours reserve troops into the conflict, and this time everybody gets immunization shots. But the war drags on for years: the Earthlings, despite their technological inferiority, discover they can defeat the protective energy blisters by detonating roadside bombs underneath the Martian machines. Martian war minister Dlanod "Ymmur" Dlefsmur orders more than 11,000 tripods withdrawn to Mars to be "up-armored" to withstand the threat.

Meanwhile, the Great Ruler's bone-carapaced subordinates—basically a crew of mendacious Good Old Tripeds—neglect their own planet's defenses against natural disaster and a huge dust storm wipes out New Snaelro, a city famous for its Zzaj music and its savory Red Mars Sauce. The Great Ruler promises that "Armies of Non-Extermination" (the Martian word for "compassion") will ride to the rescue, but the relief effort is screwed up in Red Mars Tape. The Great Ruler explains that "no one could have predicted a big dust storm" but this is laughed off because, well, after all, Mars is a very dusty planet and the Annihilator Corps of Engineers have been warning for decades that New Snaelro's system of protective energy blisters was badly in need of repair.

But Mars is now divided into "Blues" and "Reds" and the credulous Red majority will believe whatever blathering macho nonsense comes out of their Ruler's speech-orifice. A compliant media—particularly the talking heads of the Xof News Network—manage to deflect the blame onto local and state authorities, and after (literally) sacrificing a few lower-ranking subordinates, the administration stumbles forward to new disasters.

Truth? Fiction? You decide.

2 Comments:

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Oh, my. I wish I had written this!

 
At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Ernst Stavro Blofeld said...

Well, Jon, for $1,000,000 I'll be glad to put your by-line on the article. Then you can tell everyone you wrote it. I owe Firestone a lot of money for the huge balloon tires needed for the big assembly vehicles that roll the death-ray machines to the launching pad. And one penny of every dollar earned by BloRayMe Enterprises is contributed to the Republican National Committee.

 

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