Alien invasion films are a sub genre of science fiction. The conventions of a typical alien invasion film are habitually set in a large commonly known city in America. We normally see efficacious leaders and famous landmarks moreover the audience is commonly omniscient. However in War of the Worlds the conventions are that it is set in rustbelt America and the audience is following a broken down dysfunctional family, while they struggle through the invasion so it is almost like the audience is part of the family. A hero is always around to save the day in most alien invasion films, nevertheless Ray Ferrier is not a hero at all he is just a typical dad of two children who tries to protect them, but he does use hero qualities whilst looking after them.
Ray’s relationship with his children is deficient probably because he doesn’t see his children all the time as Ray is in a broken relationship with his ex-wife, Ray isn’t ready for his children to come to his house because it’s a complete utter mess, there is a car engine on the family breakfast table, so he obviously hasn’t made any effort to tidy up before the children arrive. He has not got a very good bond with Robbie because when Robbie first steps out the car Ray is ignored by him and Robbie also calls Ray by his name instead of Dad, which shows a lack of respect Ray has a better relationship with his daughter Rachel because she is the emotional one, she is the worrier. She is a bit wiser than Ray as well because she often knows what the best thing to do is, she is supposed to remind ray of his ex-wife. Steven Spielberg wanted to bring a human side to the film he chose Dakota because she brings empathy to the film
Ray dresses like a regular guy, a hooded sweatshirt and leather jacket. Whereas Tim, the new step-dad that’s in the picture dresses very smartly and well-groomed that just automatically shows the difference between Ray and Tim, also the difference between there cars Ray has got a big four by four that’s shows immatureness, like he’s still a teenager and Tim has got a nice, smart family car that shows safety and stability and that Tim is mature. Ray has also got a sarcastic personality despite Tim is very polite and proper.
In a modern dysfunctional family there is normally a mother with the children with a new father then the ex-husband living alone. The family in War of the Worlds is definitely a perfect example of a modern dysfunctional family. Ray is the unwanted father who has a collapsed relationship with his older child Robbie, who is the perfect archetype teenage boy. Commonly the step-dad is envied by the ex-husband witch in this case is entirely true. The mother always feels unsure whether to leave the children with the ex-husband or not and unsettled when they are with the ex-husband. The younger child normally doesn’t know where to turn, which parent to like better, but Rachel obviously likes both parents equally. Spielberg makes this social issue a major theme of the film because we are following their family, we are not an omniscient audience so we are following Ray and the children through their problems and family issues as well as they protect themselves from the invasion.
Spielberg uses clever film techniques in camera shots eg. When Robbie and Ray are playing baseball Ray throws the ball and Robbie moves out the way quickly so the ball smashes the window and make a hole with shattered fragments of glass round it, the camera zooms in on Rays face with the shattered glass frame around him to represent that his relationship with Robbie had just gone bad to worse, and that the relationship is shattered, but can be repaired just like the glass can.
Spielberg revises the representation of a traditional hero by having the villain and the hero, the villain being the aliens and the hero being Ray. But a traditional hero saves and protects everyone, has good looks, brave, usually has a wife or girlfriend and would sacrifice himself for anybody. Ray on the other hand is not a traditional hero you could say he is in fact an anti-hero because he is a killer, irresponsible and has a broken marriage, although Ray does have good looks and he is brave as well as he does put his children first but a traditional hero is a hero to everyone, Ray is only a hero to close friend and family maybe just even family.
The qualities of a hero in modern society are maybe if you stop someone from getting run over so in that respect Ray could be a hero. In modern films it’s normally the army, F.B.I, or the President but Ray is just a normal man who is protecting his children nothing more and nothing less. But this role is very different from what Tom normally plays, he usually plays the big hero involved with all the important people but ‘I want him to work against his persona’ screenwriter David Koepp says. in this film he is the anti hero. The film of this genre is alien invasion however it involves a lot more as well.
When Rachel and Ray are in the cellar of the house with the deranged ambulance driver (Harlan Ogilvy) it creates a dramatic scary atmosphere as the light shines a white light through the windows, it makes the film into a horror genre, added to this Ray murders the Harlan which is just the sort of thing you would expect to see in a horror film. When Rachel goes out of Ray’s sight and she catches sight of the hundreds of bodies floating down the river, again something you would find on a horror film.
There is social realism genre as well where all the American citizens are just roaming around trying to get away from the aliens all just following one another until they can get to safety. There is also a genre in documentary when the news reporter is reporting all the aliens attacking and killing people. It’s a film that is not just about action but an intelligent film that comments on how we live as a family in the 21st century so it could be classed as a family genre film as well.
The perception of the film is that the audience follow the events through an ordinary everyday family whereas a traditional alien invasion film the audience are omniscient. There are no well known leaders like the president or the army it is just lots of families who have been forced out of there homes in order to survive. Landmarks like the Whitehouse, commonly in alien invasion films, are not in War of the Worlds in fact there are no landmarks at all. As the film is set in rustbelt America that maybe why there are no landmarks because Spielberg wants to show a different side to an alien invasion film, possibly to make us think that’s what it would be like for us.
In conclusion to How does Spielberg revise the conventions of alien invasion films in War of the Worlds to engage a modern audience? I think Spielberg has made a successful job of revising the conventions of traditional alien invasion film. The film is successful in engaging a modern audience because of the social issues in the film. The film reflects on social issues in the 21st century like the effects of a dysfunctional family and the life threatening war around the world all the time. There are some traditional features too like the fact that it’s a happy town then they get invaded by aliens and there is a handsome hero. I think the film is mainly about Ray and his relationships with his children and how the relationships are damaged and he fights to keep them growing.