Sunday, January 02, 2005

War Stories I

Biggest event in GreeneLand last month (most dramatic, at any rate) was presence of Paramount Pictures/Dreamworks Studios film crew. At their hands, and with liberally paid support of local builders, parts of Village of Athens were reshaped cosmetically to accommodate scenes for new version of classic H.G. Wells story “War of the Worlds.” Under Hollywood luminary Stephen Spielberg's direction, fortified by $200 million budget, four nights were devoted to shooting scenes of mob panic in face of supposed lethal invasion from outer space. For the purpose of representing the terrified populace, Spielberg agents recruited 1000 local people. Seeing Greene gathered these notes THE WANNABES. How could 3423 people turn up at Athens Community Center in mid-November in hope of serving as extras in movie scenes to be shot during three or four weekday nights running to 3 a.m. and beyond? Not many aspirants looked to be retirement age or unemployed. Were they planning to sleep on the job? in class? Well, most of the chosen thousand did show up. Withstood rain, cold, “atrocious” food. Bonded. Had fun. BIT PART. The scene: Interior corner of contemporary restaurant. The players: film executive; civilian. The dialogue: FE: Have you ever done any acting? C: Never. FE: Well, are you ready to start? C: Uh, well, uh, OK. With that bit of conversation (with Spielberg) and his signature on a contract, Peter Maassmann became an enrolled actor—not just an extra--in the "War" cast. It happened by chance. Peter, whose usual occupation is golf professional at his family’s Blackhead Mountain resort, was helping Nick Patestas provide a buffet at Dionysos restaurant in Athens, during a script run-through for supporting players. As the players were going over their lines, Peter noticed that one was missing. “In a joking way,” he recalls, he offered to read the missing actor’s part. Next thing he knew, producer Kathy Kennedy had taken him up on the offer—and not just for the run-through. Hence the dialogue with film executive Spielberg. Peter was duly transformed, cinematically, into Worried Father, dashing down Second Street in the midst of a terrified crowd, giving voice to the feeling that he doesn’t know what’s happening. His few spoken words put Peter in line to collect $700 for each of four nights of work, plus a fraction of a fraction of residuals. “An unbelievable experience,” he told a Seeing Greene reporter. “Great people. Fascinating process. Great fun. I’d have done it for nothing.” INVISIBLE MARAUDERS. When our real mid-Hudson people were stampeding down Second Street in Athens, trying to escape in a hopelessly overcrowded ferry, looking fearfully up above, there was nothing for them to see. No Martians. But the dreadful invaders were there. They existed inside a box in the Stewart House dining room: a Dreamworks digital animation gadget that projected them on what movie-goers will see as the night sky. STAR SECURITY. Unlike the invaders from above, screen star Tom Cruise was actually visible on site in Athens. And occasionally he gave the cast a glimpse of his celebrated self. But he’s a rather reclusive, nervous Earthling, who in the course of four days reposed in three dwellings: a bed & breakfast in Hudson, a trailer behind Dionysos, and two rooms in Stewart House. To get to there and back safely, he employed four full-time bodyguards. Mister Spielberg, by contrast, was flanked by just one bodyguard, although he ranks near the top among Americans who have been targets of death threats. PLOT PUZZLE. How can Well’s story be made credible to today’s Earthlings? It can’t be easy. The problem, Spielberg and his script writers (David Koepp and Josh Friedman?) must be to substantiate the premise of surprise (and hence panic and initial sweeping defeat). Back in 1897, Well’s could open his tale with a narrator who muses, plausibly, that No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century > that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences > greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied > themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and > studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might > scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of > water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe > about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire > over matter…No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources > of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life > upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of > the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men > fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to > themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the > gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the > beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded > this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans > against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment. That was then; and the idea worked even in 1938, when Orson Welles prompted panic with a radio newscast adaptation of “War of the Worlds.” But the ensuing years have brought a flood of stories, along with sober scientific speculations, about super-intelligent creatures and possible invaders from outer space. We now have radar, deep-probing telescopes, satellites, space-probing vehicles, and “Star Wars” movies. These make it hard to sell us on the idea of a massive invasion whose approach would not be detected. Spielberg & Co. can make the adjustment of bringing the invaders from deep space rather than from nearby Mars. To make credible the idea of a surprise attack (like 9/11, but massive) they will need plenty of Dreamwork. # Coming soon to this site: More War Stories. Dick May

No comments: