Let's reflect on how science fiction revisits and rework human fears, taking as a main example War of the Worlds. And what will be told after this pandemic?

But do you think that what we are experiencing now will end up in history books?

When I try to visualize what is happening around me from a broader point of view, I always imagine it explained by my high school history and philosophy professor. An apparently shy man, but capable of making even the most complex concept sensible, transforming it into an example containing apples, pears, bananas and strawberries.

For my part, I have dedicated myself more to cinema and television than to fruit and vegetables and metaphysics, today I am surprised to watch otherwise negligible films such as Open Grave (2013) by Gonzalo López-Gallego as a natural response to the pandemic.

Science fiction as a mirror of human fears

At university I learned a notion that fascinated me from the first time I heard it: no cinema is documentary, but all cinema is documentary. No cinema is a documentary, because showing an event or situation without filtering it through one's point of view, one's opinion or one's idea of ​​narration is, in fact, impossible. All cinema is documentary because there are infinite things we can find out about who preceded us and how he perceived himself and who was beside him, even in a fiction.

The stories we tell each other are a mirror of ourselves, the historical moment we are experiencing, the changes in society and, part that personally fascinates me most, of human fears. Whether we try to exorcise them, or decide to put them on display, those are there, and they will say a lot about who we were even in the years to come. And what will the daughter products of the pandemic tell us?

If we look for examples of how important historical events or cultural changes have influenced literature, cinema and television, we slip into a den of the white rabbit which is mostly a bottomless pit. IS I'm here to talk to you about cases, especially in science fiction, which I personally find most interesting, using the theme of the moment as a mere pretext to force you to listen to my opinion. Do not mention it.

The historical cover of The Battle of Dorking, the first book of Invasion Literature, based on specific human fears
The historical cover of The battle of Dorking, the first book of Invasion Literaturand, based on specific human fears

La Invasion Literature: the Other as an enemy

Before cinema there was literature. It is in this field that, in the period between 1871 and the First World War, the so-called Invasion Literature, the invasion literature.

Its progenitor, The battle of Dorking by George Tomkyns Chesney, from 1871, also represents an important precursor of science fiction, but not of any science fiction. We are talking about all those stories in which the protagonist, one of we, is opposed to a invader, human or extraterrestrial, the other, who year after year has dressed the most disparate clothes.

Moving forward in time, the Nazi and Japanese soldiers who have populated countless American fiction since the 40s are simple enough to explain. I don't think Marvel was aiming to be thin, when in 1940 he gave it to captain America a punch to Hitler in full snout.

The question, however, becomes more interesting when dealing with creatures from other planets.

I cite only two macroscopic examples. First of all, the Martians de War of the Worlds by HG Wells, released in 1898, represent what the reader of the time could have been more afraid of. That is, a situation over which you cannot have any kind of control, an alien race so powerful as to be able to subjugate what was the most powerful Empire on Earth. Secondly, the Body Snatchers de The Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, born in 1954, are children of McCarthyism. Hence, they would not exist without the phobia of brainwashing by Soviet forces.

A frame of the tripods in The War of the Worlds of 1953
A frame of the tripods War of the Worlds Part 1953

War of the Worlds: as the same story tells different human fears

Speaking about how invasion literature and science fiction can mirror the concerns and anxieties of a people at a particular historical moment, War of the Worlds offers a particularly juicy example. HG Wells' novel has been taken up and reinterpreted on several occasions, showing how the same story can have a different taste.

The first and most famous adaptation of the novel is lo radio drama whereby Orson Welles terrorized the Americans in 1938, giving birth to one legend that still circulates today. And if perhaps the panic and hysteria caused by the transmission are only a myth, the tension that was felt throughout the West in the years preceding the Second World War are pure truth.

Tripods (although with magnetic beams instead of the more well-known mechanical legs) appeared for the first time in cinema in 1953, even winning an Oscar for special effects, masterful for the time. There film by Byron Haskin he is one of the many children of the Cold War, but with one addition: the theme of religious guilt and the relationship between God and man. Wanted by the producer George Pal, this theme is absent in the original novel, in which the priest appears mostly as a fool. Could it be a sign of attachment to a tradition that, as the 60s approached, began to creak under your feet?

War of the Worlds VS Independence Day: the catastrophe told before and after 11 September

The film version of Steven Spielberg of 2005 is considered the most faithful to the book. What changes, Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning aside? Obviously, the historical context.

Comparing the film with Independence Day, of a similar genre and released just 9 years earlier, it is impossible not to notice the impact of the collapse of the Twin Towers on the narrative of catastrophes. Independence Day focuses more on destroying cultural monuments and symbols, showing us that not even the most fearsome alien race can resist Will Smith's punch. Instead, War of the Worlds of 2005 highlights the loss of human lives, fear and despair.

The film is also among the first new attempts to approach the genre catastrophic after 11 September, an event that, understandably, had made the public want to see buildings explode. The excellent Lindsay Ellis made a whole videoage on these topics, in which he tells us which of the two films is the best (Independence Day, were there doubts?).

Independence Day, which has a completely different approach to human fears of the time
Independence Day, which has a completely different approach to the human fears of the time

Post-pandemic science fiction: new stories for new human fears?

We can expect to see a new adaptation of War of the Worlds Coming soon? If I had to answer on the spot, today as today I would not bet on the release of a film in which the part of the hero is up to the viruses.

Rather, given the already much commented war framing, I imagine a future full of protagonists intent on actively fighting their battles. So from the classic and easily adaptable invasion of zombies to more insidious problems, perhaps psychological ones. Themes like solitude, isolation, trough o claustrophobia could they become recurring in the productions of the next years? And the slowdown in the economy could translate into more budget filmsor, perhaps with the adoption of techniques left aside or even unexplored?

What is certain is that, as in the past, we can count on many fantastic worlds to feel less alone, to face fear and to escape from everyday life. For the moment, we hope to see you again in line for the cinema very soon.