Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, War of the Worlds
by Paul Fischer.
?WORLDS? TAKES ON NEW DIMENSION.
The re-teaming of mega giants Cruise and Spielberg is always a monumentalevent, and there?s no denying that Spielberg?s take on H.G. Welles? War ofthe Worlds is one of the most anticipated events in the summer. Pair them upfor an even bigger press confererence, and, well, you get the picture. Thepair spoke to a packed press conference in New York. Paul Fischer reports.Q: Mr. Spielberg, prior to ET you began a script for a scary alien invasionmovie that you sort of turned around and made a happy alien invasion movie.At the time you said you didn't want to make a scary any more. What'schanged since then and did any elements of that film - which I think wasabout a family during an alien invasion also - make it into War of theWorlds?
SS: There wasn't anything hugely changed in my live that made me do a scaryalien movie. Maybe it was just the idea that everybody over the years saidhere was the guy who can't make a scary alien movie that goaded me intothinking why can't I try my hand at the kind of film that Ridley Scott madewhen he made the first "Alien" which is one of my favorite scary sciencefiction movies. It's just something that I always wanted to do. We've talkedabout this for a couple of years when we were looking for another project todo together. I told Tom that I wanted to do this book since I read it incollege before I was even a filmmaker. I wanted to do some version of it atsome point.
TC: So you went from ET phone home to ET gone gangsta.
SS: So no, there wasn't a conscious thing. It's just a great story. It's agreat piece of 19th Century classic literature. It began the entirerevolution in science fiction and fantasy, in my opinion - Jules Verne and HG. Wells. And it was something that I really respected the first film in1953-54 and I just wanted to make a version that was a little darker and alittler closer to the original.Q: Did any of the elements from that film from before ET, I think it wascalled Night Skies, make it into this movie?
SS: No. Nothing from Night Skies was used in this film.Q: Father figures have really become a theme in your movies (Steven). I wasjust wondering if you, Tom, enjoy putting your stamp on playing a father andto Mr. Spielberg, did you enjoy reversing the arc you had in CloseEncounters where this is a guy who fights for his family instead ofabandoning them to go with the aliens?
TC: First of all I have to say that I love how Steven Spielberg deals withfamilies in his movies. I find them to be very real, unique. That scene inClose Encounters with the son in the bathtub... I've always personally wantedto be a father growing up and when we started talking about the story westarted talking abut how it's about a father and his family, I couldn't waitto play this character and see what it was... Steven Keop wrote this greatcharacter and Steven, how he directed me. I loved when he called me and saidwe're going to have the (car) engines in the kitchen. I want the 350 GTengine in the kitchen. He has such impeccable notes. That's why I alwaysshow up early in the morning and I like just hanging out because I just feedoff?it happens very quickly creatively with Steven. His ideas. He discoversthings very quickly. We're always working on the film but it happens veryfast. Anyway, I couldn't wait to play a father in this film.Q: And Mr. Spielberg, about the (changing role of the father)
SS: It wasn't something I was consciously trying to do. Close Encounters isabout a man whose insatiable curiosity develops into an obsession that drewhim away from his family and, only looking back once, made him walk into themother ship. Now I wrote that before I had any kids. So I wrote thatblithely. Now I have seven kids. Today I would never have the guy leave hisfamily and go onto the mother ship. Today I would have the guy do everythinghe could to protect his children. So in a sense, War of the Worlds doesreflect my own maturity in my own life growing up.Q: The film speaks to me on a lot of levels, mostly about refugees and theirplight. Is that a theme in the film for you?
SS: Well, it is. It's an unfamiliar theme to all of us because we don'toften see images of American refugees unless it's after natural disasterslike a hurricane and people fleeing approaching hurricanes in the FloridaKeys. We see many images of that. And of course, the image that stands outin my mind the most is the image of everybody fleeing Manhattan across theGeorge Washington Bridge in the shadow of 9/11, which is a searing imagethat I will never get out of my head. This is partially about the Americanrefugee experience because certainly Americans fleeing for their lives beingattacked for no reason and having no idea why they're being attacked or whois attacking them. Now we went to great lengths not to explain or give anyreason behind these particular attacks.
TC: One of the things that Steven, when we first started talking about thestory I get the great pleasure of hanging out with this guy. And I get thepleasure of making movies with him. The things he does and the choices hemakes, like the subjective choice to never let the audience look over thathill (in the battle scene) and see what is happening.
SS: And that was a huge temptation, by the way. When I first though of thatsequence, I imagined them going over the hill and seeing the actually War ofthe Worlds and I had to pull back and not commit to that because I though itwas much more personal to the point of view of this family not to be able tosee everything Hollywood lets you see in most science fiction movies.
TC: I'll give you the actor/fan's point of view, because I'm always a fanfirst of what Steve does. Seeing him develop these ideas and working fromthe script that David Koepp -who did an astonishing job - but you take thatscene in the basement which lasts maybe 20 minutes... to be able to choreographand sustain that level of tension is something.when I'm working withdifferent filmmakers, I'll always go back to Steven's pictures and study hisediting to see how he's telling that story because he gives you theenvironment, but from a character point of view and story it's always onthat story line. So I often go back and study his stuff and I'll go back tothis again and see how he developed that story line in the basement. Eventhough he created that stuff, there was stuff on the day that he just cameup with and changed the whole think.Q: How much did the political situation today have to do with your situationto do this film and was the happy ending kind of your thoughts for hope forthe future?
SS: I have hope for the future. I'm probably not the best person to tellstories that leave you with nothing to hope for. There are all sorts ofmetaphors you can derive from this story and I tried to make a film that wasas open to those interpretations as possible. I wanted to make it suggestiveenough so that everybody could have their own opinion. Q: This is the second time you've worked together including Minority Report.I want to know which one was easier for you?
TC: I have to tell you that it just gets better. The experience of workingwith Steven gets better.
SS: This one was 100 percent character. Minority Report was certainly 50percent character and 50 percent very complicated storytelling with layersand layers of murder mystery and plot where if any of the actors had evensuggested to the audience that they knew what was going to happen next theaudience would have picked it up like that because audiences are so smarttoday. They pick up things that are, you know, so far out of left field thatwe the filmmakers can't believe the audience has picked up on them. So we'realways concerned about giving away too much of the plot in Minority Report.This was a character journey. Everything we talked about was character andwho these people were and in a sense, that made it simpler. It freed us upmore to explore the behavior of the characters more than we had in MinorityReport.Q: Picking up on something Mr. Spielberg said earlier, I wonder if you couldtalk about the unique ability of science fiction to put across social andpolitical ideas in a more oblique way.
SS: Science fiction to me is a vacation. It's a vacation away from all rulesof narrative logic. It's a vacation away from physics, basic physics andphysical science. You can leave all the rules behind and just kind of fly.As a race human beings can't fly so we envy the birds. Science fiction givesyou a chance to soar. That's why I keep coming back to science fictionbecause there are absolutely no limits to where the imagination can go. Nowthe challenge of science fiction is that to tell a credible science fictionstory you have to then turn around and impose certain limits on yourself.You can't let the story get too fantastic. This movie could have been muchmore like Independence Day or Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. It could havebeen much more about the army versus the extra terrestrials with lots ofbattle scenes and soldiers blowing things up. I didn't want to do that. Iwanted to, in a strange way, a kind of a cousin to Saving Private Ryan, butin the genre of science fiction. It's much more of a personal point of viewand we worked hard to make all the characters to b as realistic and normalas we are. That was very important to me. But science fiction as a genre isthe great escape for movie makers. I just think that the whole field ofscience fiction and science fiction stories inspires young people to reallythink and imagine that anything is possible.Q: I'm sorry, but I have to ask a Katie question,Tom you had such a totallyromantic proposal and had a press conference at the Eifel Tower to talkabout it, I was just wondering how you are going to top that for thewedding?
TC: Do I have to top that? We haven't decided on anything yet.
SS: 20 minutes went by. (Holds up his watch) That's great. 20 minutes wentby before it happened. (big laughs)Q: What do each of you believe is real when it comes to alien life forms onother planets. Is it out there?
SS: Sure it's out there. You now that. I think we all know that we're notalone in the universe. I can't imagine anyone believing that we're the onlyintelligent life form in the entire universe. He universe must be teemingwith life.
TC: I think it would be pretty arrogant to think that we're all alone in theuniverse, but personally. I'm a pretty practical person so unless I meetthem some day, I don't know.Q: What was the most difficult scene for both of you, for you as an actorand for you as the director?
SS: Physically the most difficult scene for me was the scene that I worriedabout the most because it involved the safety of thousands of local extraswhen we shot the ferry scene at the Hudson River. That was the mostdifficult for me because we had to have thousands of people running and Iwas terrified of someone falling, tripping, being stepped n or run over andthank God we had such a great stunt coordinator. We had so many extra stuntpeople inside the crowd and safety meetings with the crowd, so nothing badhappened. But I was on edge for four days because of the vast amounts ofcrowds at night running on very narrow streets. So for me that was the mostanxious time during filming and I couldn't wait for those scenes to be over.
TC: For me the most difficult...I don't know really. Honestly I had a lot offun making the movie, I can't say...there wasn't a day. The most difficult daywas the last day of shooting because it was over. That was a tough daybecause I really do, quite sincerely, love working with Steven. I have greatadmiration for him so I just knew I was going to miss him.Q: You've both worked with children before, Talk about working with DakotaFanning. Steven, does she remind you of a young Drew Barrymore?
SS: I think we can all agree that Dakota Fanning has a gift. She has anincredible, extraordinary gift and thank goodness she does not question andshe actually doesn't know how to answer questions about it. That is also hergift, that she is unaware of how talented she is and how quickly sheunderstands a situation in a particular sequence that she is in and how shesizes it up, makes her decisions as to how she would really react in realsituation and then gives me the absolute truth every time I say action. Shejust tells you the truth. It's extraordinary to see how consistent she is inher pure, unadulterated honesty. And you talk to her like you would anyoneelse on the set. You don't talk to her like a child. I never talk tochildren like they were children, especially in my professional work.
TC: She's lovely and she's just enormously talented and is so much fun towork with, also. She's a very unique talent and a really terrific person.She has impeccable manners, too. She writes thank you letters.Q: Tom, are you stunned or puzzled by criticism that love and religion mighthave distracted from the movie?
TC: No. I really don't pay attention to it. It doesn't bother me. Therereally isn't anything else to say, I do my work. I live my life. It's neveraffected anything before. It's what I do. I male my movies and I live mylife the best way that I feel that I can. I can't control what people say ordo. And it's not going to change how I live my life.
WAR OF THE WORLDS OPENS JUNE 29
Cruise stars as Ray Ferrier, a divorced dockworker and less-than-perfect father. Soon after his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) and her new husband drop off his teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) for a rare weekend visit, a strange and powerful lightning storm touches down.
Moments later, at an intersection near his house, Ray witnesses an extraordinary event that will change all their lives forever. A towering three-legged war machine emerges from deep beneath the earth and, before anyone can react, incinerates everything in sight. An ordinary day has suddenly become the most extraordinary event of their lifetimes - the first strike in a catastrophic alien attack on Earth.