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War of the Worlds: Script by David Koepp & Josh Friedman (2005)

War of the Worlds: The Shooting Script by Josh Friedman and David Koepp

Shooting scripts can be deadly dull. After all, you've seen the film, so what more can the script really tell you? Often not a lot, but despite the fact that this book quite clearly presents itself as a "shooting script" and places itself last in a long chronology of drafts, the fact is, what was eventually put up on the screen diverges quite significantly from the written word.

The surprises start right at the beginning. In the film, we really saw nothing to explain where the aliens might have come from or indeed why they were invading. That's all different in the script. Here we get a look at the alien homeworld, a place of twisted and blasted landscapes, covered with the crumbling remains of buildings. The clear inference is that nothing lives above ground and the planet is no longer able to support life. These scenes intertwine with the opening narration, and then switches as it did in the film to the introduction to the character of Ray on the dockside where he works.

The next interesting scene of note is one that did make into the film in a manner of speaking, but you have to watch closely for it and the original scope and intention have been much diluted. I think it fair to say that quite a few people were uncomfortable with the emergence of the War Machines from underground. Some called into question the possibility that they could have remained hidden under our feet for so long, some were just upset that the original "Martian" cylinders were discarded. In an interview with Koepp contained in this book, he explains that Spielberg had been against the idea of the aliens arriving in spaceships, arguing that in this day and age, we would see them coming. It is a fair comment that this would have ruined the element of surprise and required a lot of build-up as the "invasion" was discussed on television and the military mobilised. (For an idea of what this version would have looked like, check out Best Sellers Illustrated War of the Worlds.)

What you may not have realised watching the film is that Koepp fitted in a really neat homage to the Cylinders, and specifically, the unscrewing of the lid. Watch the film again and look at the scene where the street starts to buckle as the War Machine stirs. Its not terribly obvious and I missed it on a first viewing, but the "plug" begins to rotate. In the script this is far more clearly stated.

"as ray climbs to his feet, that entire circle starts to rotate again, like a big turntable, causing tremors that ripple out from its centre.

It's a shame this was downplayed in the final cut, as it works very well on the written page and is a great connection to the original novel.

These are the two big differences between the shooting script and the finished film, but you will find a lot of minor points that together add up to quite a different film. For instance, Rays race home in the script is over very quickly and the scene with the elevated highway getting ripped apart as the family flee in a stolen car is completely absent. In that regard, if you watch the extra feature documentaries on the DVD release, you'll actually see that this was a last second addition by Spielberg. The book is nicely presented, with an introduction by Koepp, an extensive interview with him at the end and a good selection of photographs and pre-production paintings in the middle. Given that we have been really starved of any books on the making of the movie (which really should be addressed), the sum of the elements in this publication add up to a pretty enticing package for any fan of the film or indeed anyone with an interest in the way scripts make their way into production.

My only remaining question relates to Josh Friedman. Who you might well ask? Well, he is co-credited on the cover for the screenplay, yet poor Josh never gets so much as a mention in the text. What did he do, who is he? All I can turn up is that he wrote the original first draft. Now that is a script I would like to read. As a final aside, there is another name associated with a War of the Worlds script. One Naven Bradford seems to have written a script in 2001 that bares some similarities with the Friedman and Koepp script. These similarities might have arisen simply because the source material is the same, but I think there is a clear lineage. Similarities include, the frying of electrical systems, the lead character having a family to protect and a scene where ferryboats are attacked that is very similar to the one we see in the finished film. Where things do change considerably is in the portrayal of the lead characters. Our hero is even called Clayton Forrester, in a direct homage to the 1953 George Pal movie. If you'd like to read the Naven Bradford script you can click here, or if you'd like to see a slightly earlier (undated) draft of the Friedman/Koepp script, I have a copy available for download here.

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See also

Books

2002
Mapping Mars by Oliver Morton

Mapping Mars by Oliver Morton. Telling the history of attempts to map the surface of Mars. The book includes detail on fictional Mars.

2005
The War of the Worlds: Fresh Perspectives

The War of the Worlds: Fresh Perspectives. A collection of intriguing essays by some of the best science fiction authors in the world.

2005
Dying Planet by Robert Markley

Dying Planet by Robert Markley. A detailed and in-depth exploration of the planet Mars in both fact and fiction, and how the two have become intertwined.

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