Nuggets of Wisdom

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Top 13 Scariest Nostalgic Moments (HM)

Honorable Mention: War of the Worlds (2005)

This movie was released around the same time I was starting college, so it’s hardly a childhood moment for me; but since it was a terrifying moment, I’ve decided to include it as an honorable mention.

War of the Worlds needs no introduction. This novel started the entire alien invasion subgenre in science fiction, and as such, its plot is familiar to even those who haven’t read it: Martians invade earth and lay waste to it with their advanced alien technology in order to take over the world. (“Of Course!”) All hope seems lost for the human race when the alien invaders are suddenly defeated, not by human might, but rather by germs. Although the alien invaders were more than a match against our technology and military forces, they were no match against our germs that their bodies had absolutely no immunity to.

Aside from inspiring every single alien invasion movie ever created, this novel has been adapted into film and other media, from radio dramas to video games and even a rock opera. Most of these adaptations had absolutely no effect on me. The original novel? Never scared me. The 1953 movie? Never scared me. Even the infamous 1938 radio broadcast that generated mass hysteria by fooling listeners into thinking that a real alien invasion was taking place? Never scared me.

But then came the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie. That scared me!

Even after having been familiarized and desensitized to the story through its previous adaptations, this recent movie adaptation managed to give me goosebumps. How did it manage to do that? I think there are a few reasons.

For starters, I saw this movie when it came out in theaters. It’s one thing to watch a scary movie in the safety of your own home, even if it’s at night with all the lights off and your comforter draped over you, but watching a movie in a dark, open theater with blaring surround sound makes you feel much more vulnerable.

This movie adaptation was also set in the present; whereas, previous adaptations were set in the past. The original novel was set in Victorian England. The radio drama was set in the 1930s. The original movie was set in the 1950s. With each of those adaptations set in the past, the action seems distant to the audience, and as such, it’s harder for you to become enveloped with it when you know it all happened long ago; but when the action is set in the present, it gives you that unsettling feeling that something like this could actually happen--even if you know in the back of your mind that aliens don't actually exist.

The special effects are perhaps the most unsettling aspect of this adaptation. Pervious adaptations were created when special effects were limited, and as such, they come across as campy by today’s standards. But since then, computer technology has improved, and with it, special effects. As such, the special effects in this movie seem far more realistic, making the film more frightening realistic, and by extension, darker.

Consider the death rays. In the 1950s movie, the rays just made people disappear in flashes of green light. Nothing remotely scary about that. The rays in this film, however, disintegrate people into dust. That’s freaking terrifying! So detailed are the special effects that you manage to see the horrified expressions of the victims even as they’re being reduced to dust. If that wasn’t unsettling enough, the protagonist makes it home after nearly escaping the aliens’ first attack, discovering that he’s covered in the dust—dust that was once living, breathing human beings. That is traumatizing!

Another haunting movie element is the sound the tripods emit. Whenever you hear their wailing horn, you know that death and destruction is coming soon. (And it didn't exactly help my case that the sound reverberated within the spacious theater from its surround sound system!)

But do you know what the most disturbing aspect of this movie is? It was released only four years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, one of the worst attacks on American soil. To explain how much of an impact that has on this movie, when the original 1953 movie was slated for an anniversary DVD release in 2003, it was delayed because distributors felt releasing a movie about massive catastrophe in the wake of a massive catastrophe would be in bad taste. But even after four years since that attack, this movie managed to reignite post 9/11 fears, as many reviewers noticed how the fear and uncertainty of the characters in the movie reflected the fear and uncertainty that many Americans still felt in the wake of 9/11. Although the screenwriters claimed they never intentionally meant to draw parallels between the movie and terrorist attacks, director Steven Spielberg admitted that the characters reflected his own uncertainty following the terrorist attacks, and wanted to focus on their drive for survival in the movie. So having this movie released in the wake of a traumatic experience in American history makes this movie all the more traumatizing.

Though with all of that aside, the only thing in this movie that never really troubled me were the aliens. I can never understand how a movie so traumatizing for me could have the most stereotypical aliens in them. Most other adaptations go out of their way to make the aliens look as otherworldly as possibly, but in this movie, they appear no differently than your other generic movie aliens.

Overall, of all the adaptations of H.G. Wells classic sci-fi epic, this one was by far the one that made me second-guess the idea that aliens could invade earth.

And if you’re curious about what I thought of the other two film adaptations that came out that same year...

Bwahahahahaha! No, just no!