A chunk of narration near the end of Wells' War of the Worlds has always bothered me. That same chunk of narration in Spielberg's War of the Worlds bothers me even more.
I haven't read Wells in years, but as I started to working the influence of evolutionary theory ca. 1890-1910, I realized I'd have to account for War of the Worlds. After all, it's one of the few novels in which evolution qua evolution wins. Pure and simple: the best laid plans of man and alien fall before the unremitting logic of Darwinian adaptation. That's why the inclusion of this passage--in the form of a voice-over by Morgan Freeman--seems so, dare I say, conciliatory:
And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians--dead!--slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.
Spielberg, founding member of the Actual Jewish Media Conspiracy (a.k.a. Dreamworks), kowtows to an increasingly Christian marketplace of ideas by including that narration out of context.
In the film, Tom Cruise and his daughter shack up wtih Tim Robbins, a former ambulance driver. Robbins--like Cruise's son in the film--is compelled by the need to do something to, well, do something. As the aliens approach, Robbins becomes increasingly unstable, and so Cruise must put him down. The scene works. The murder of Robbins the ambulance driver--in addition to sounding like a Smiths' B-side--expresses the limits to which Cruise will go to survive. However, Spielberg focuses entirely on the revelation of Cruise's character--Robbins shuffles onstage, speaks bravely, cracks, and is shuffled off--whereas Wells' focus is as much on the curate as the unnamed (and decidedly less heroic) narrator.
That's right: I said curate. The criticism of the cloth in the novel is unmistakeable. To wit:
At Halliford I had already come to hate the curate's trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidity of mind. His endless muttering monologue vitiated every effort I made to think out a line of action, and drove me at times, thus pent up and intensified, almost to the verge of craziness. He was as lacking in restraint as a silly woman. He would weep for hours together, and I verily believe that to the very end this spoiled child of life thought his weak tears in some way efficacious.
Once God abandons him, the curate's "stupid rigidity of mind" becomes blinding, his lack of restraint--appealing to the period's gender stereotypes--transforms him into a little more than "a silly woman." But here's the most damning phrase, the one that puts the film's final theocentricism to lie: "to the very end this spoiled child of life thought his weak tears in some way efficacious." Those "weak tears" poured forth from his eyes as the words of the Lord, as supplications to God, poured forth from his mouth. In the end, the narrator has to knock him unconscious lest he witness Christ's love to the Martians:
"I have been still too long," he said, in a tone that must have reached the pit, "and now I must bear my witness. Woe unto this unfaithful city! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! To the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet----"
"Shut up!" I said, rising to my feet, and in a terror lest the Martians should hear us. "For God's sake----"
"Nay," shouted the curate, at the top of his voice, standing likewise and extending his arms. "Speak! The word of the Lord is upon me!"
In three strides he was at the door leading into the kitchen.
"I must bear my witness! I go! It has already been too long delayed."
By the time the narrator utters that the Martians had been "slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, put upon this earth," the efficacy of the appeal to God's love, His wisdom, His Justice, &c. have been undercut not only by the ineffectiveness of the narrator's prayers--muttered as a dying secularist hedging his bets--but also by the ineffectiveness of the curate himself, his faith, his earnest prayer, not to mention his eventual insanity. In Spielberg's film, the uncontextualized appeal to God as Intelligent Designer undermines the importance of the evolutionary narrative, of the (for its time) sophisticated understanding of the relation of species to environs.
Furthermore, invest those final lines with theological relevance and you create a conundrum: why did God, "in his wisdom," create the Martians who would put beneath this earth their tripodal molluscoid human-evaporating machines? Why wouldn't he grant them immunity? And really, have generations of humans suffered the common cold to protect us from the possibility of God's great Martian experiment making its way to Earth? In other words, a Christian walking away from the Spielberg film finds his or her assumptions unchallenged. The same cannot be said of a Christian who reads the novel.