Monday, February 26, 2007

Spielberg: 30 Years of Blockbusters part III

Politics play a large role in motivating the characters and events that occur in Jaws. Brody’s decision to leave the beach open after the first attack goes against his morals. Rather, he is motivated by pressure from the Mayor, who fears the town will “be on welfare the whole winter” if they close the beach. This results in a second attack involving a young child. However, the Mayor and local business owners yet again force Brody to keep the beach open. By the Forth of July, beach goers refuse to enter the water. An interesting scene unfolds between the Mayor and a local: worried about the fear stricken tourists, the Mayor assertively tells the man, “No one is going in! Please, go in the water!” The Mayor holds significant pull within the town, and though his plea sparks a rush of tourists into the ocean, his denial of the shark also results in another death, and endangers the life of Brody’s son. This vilification of the Mayor presents a post-Watergate assessment of corrupt authority, disdain towards the elected official, and reinforces the approval of the average American.

Politics are present throughout War of the Worlds as well; however, they do not function as character motivation. Rather, Spielberg uses the backdrop of an alien invasion to create a post-911 allegory. Images throughout the film recall the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center: mass destruction of buildings, raining clothing, people in large groups running down city streets, a destructive plane crash, clouds of dust comprised of human remains. In once scene, Ray Ferrier actually gets covered in thick layers of this dust, quite like those who witnessed the real attacks first hand. Later, a fence is erected with photos and memorials, signs searching for missing people, just like the ones established at Ground Zero. Blunt dialogue works to reinforce the post-911 themes as well:

Rachel Ferrier: Is it the terrorists?

Robbie Ferrier: What is it? Is it terrorists?

Perhaps Spielberg is attempting to counter balance the lack of audience alignment with the film’s characters by paralleling the effects of the invasion with 9-11. Following this logic, a sort of direct, “this could happen to you” form of horror similar to that of Jaws could be argued, particularly regarding the progression of imagery. As the characters move outward from city to suburbs to farmland, the violence and carnage of the attacks grows increasingly more graphic. For example, people simply burst into dust when attacked in Jersey City, while bloody dismembered bodies litter the rivers and farmland. This could be interpreted as an attack on the comfort of Middle America, dispelling the misconception that only cities are in danger by showing that even the heartland is not safe from destruction. However, these overt references to 9-11 do not add depth to the story or motivate characters, but rather justify the extravagant special effects that overrun the duration of the film.

Part IV Coming Soon!
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