During the filming of the underwater scenes (where the ferry capsizes) Steven Spielberg played a prank on Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning by playing the dramatic music from Jaws (1975) (also one of Spielberg's films) through the massive underwater speakers on the sound stage.
While filming nearby, Tom Cruise, along with a 20-member entourage, including Steven Spielberg, visited a Lexington, Virginia, Dairy Queen. Cruise saw a jar on the counter with a photo of Ashley Flint and her story. Flint was in a go-cart accident a few months earlier, leaving her family with a mountain of hospital bills. Cruise put $5000 cash into the jar.
When the aliens are investigating the junk in the basement, one of them plays with a bicycle wheel. This is tied to the original book when the main character observes that, with all the advanced technology the aliens possess, they don't use any wheels, and wonders if the alien life form had skipped the invention of the wheel.
One scene shows Ray running out of the house to find Robbie, while dozens of people are right outside his house photographing the lightning storm. To film the scene, producers hired people on the street to come to the street at the time of shooting with a camera and film so they could get pictures of Tom Cruise for free.
As Ray and Rachel run for cover toward Ogilvy's farmhouse basement door, a flaming military Hummer rattles past. The moment was filmed in just one or two takes because the special effects flame liquid dripped onto the driver's side tire and set it on fire.
Due to Steven Spielberg's last minute post-production work, he had to drop out of a scheduled appearance with Tom Cruise to promote the film on The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986). This was the episode of Cruise's highly publicized "couch jumping" incident.
There are very few panoramic images in this movie. Almost all shots, also during the tripod attacks, were filmed with the camera set at a person's eye-sight. This manner of filming was influenced by the amateur footage of the terrorist attacks on New York City of 11 September 2001.
Tim Robbins' character is a combination of three different characters from the H.G. Wells novel: is named Ogilvy after a friend to the Narrator; the Curate who gets trapped in the ruined house with the main character, and the Artilleryman, whose behavior and dialog is the main basis for the film's character.
The tripod design for the alien machines is based on H.G. Wells' original description from his book, including the heat rays at the ends of arms. The "red weed" is also from the novel, as is the alien "need" for humans.
Ogilvy's yard was at a real farmhouse. Because the existing exterior cellar door was on the "wrong" side of the house (visually anyway), the crew built an old-looking fake cellar doorway on the opposite side - complete with edging of cast-cement replicas of the local building stone. It looked real and was used in the film, but it leads nowhere. The crew scooped out a foot of earth from under it so that Ray, Rachel, and Ogilvy (when fleeing "into the basement") could appear to descend a little after their first few steps. Action then cuts to the basement interior - filmed on a studio soundstage.
According to an interview with Miranda Otto, she originally turned down the part offered by Steven Spielberg as she was newly pregnant. However, Spielberg wanted her to play the part and changed the script to incorporate her pregnancy into the role.
Shots that were seen in the trailer were not in the finished theatrical release. The most notable of these is named "camelot" for its ethereal lighting design where Robbie, Ray and Rachel encounter a roving battalion of tripods in a deserted Massachusetts neighborhood. They watch from behind a SUV as a tripod pulls people out of a building with its tentacles.
"Fallujah" was the name that make-up technicians gave to their original new "combat grime" coloration applied to the soldiers. It was inspired by the cover photo of a news magazine showing a close up of a Coalition soldier in Iraq.
Tim Robbins's line, "It's not a war any more than it's a war between men and maggots", is a slightly modified quote from the original novel, substituting "maggots" for "ants". The line was also used in the infamous 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast. In addition, the news reporter's line, "Once they begin to move, no more news comes out of that area", is taken directly from The War of the Worlds (1953). Also taken from the original film were the scenes with the probe examining the basement, followed by the inquisitive aliens. Tom Cruise chops the head off the probe with an axe, just as Gene Barry did in the original. Also, the shot of the dying alien's arm coming down the ramp is a reference to a similar shot in the original film.
According to an interview George Lucas gave time.com ("A Conversation with George Lucas", posted Tuesday, Mar. 14, 2006), War of the Worlds is the first movie where Steven Spielberg turned away from traditional storyboarding and used a Pre-Vis system. He also stated that he had introduced Spielberg to Pre-Vis on Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005).
During the initial attack as Tom Cruise is running down the street, you can clearly see a street sign that reads "Van Buren". This is a nod to The War of the Worlds (1953) where Ann Robinson, who is also in this film, played 'Sylvia Van Buren'.
While scenes were being shot at the riverbank on the Farmington River in Windsor, Connecticut, two life-sized mannequins being used as extras had gotten free and drifted into the river. The production's water-safety crew performed a search but weren't able to recover the mannequins. Police departments along the river were notified of the missing mannequins, according to Windsor police Lt. Shannon Haynes, who said, "We just wanted them to know that if they got any calls about bodies floating in the river."
The words "alien" and "Martian" are never spoken in the movie. While it was plausible in 1898 to believe that sentient beings could live on Mars, this had been debunked by the late 20th century, so for verisimilitude, the aliens' origin point is left undefined.
Wardrobe staff obtained hundreds of slightly-used military uniforms which had old regimental patches on the sleeves from their various original units. Meticulously, Wardrobe removed the patches and replaced them with patches from the 29th Division - the "Blue and Gray" division whose emblem is a circular "ying-yang". Wardrobe also sewed a new US flag patch onto each uniform - and then prior to filming applied roll-on "stage dirt" to each flag so that it would not look too bright. Soldiers with patches other than the 29th Division are likely real NG troops wearing their own issue uniforms (and whose patches are from their own local units).
At least twenty civilian refugee / survivor extras were carefully made up to look horribly wounded. Make-up technicians simulated large bleeding wounds, third-degree burns, and melted flesh. In the final version, the wounded survivors' scenes were cut and the film earned a mild PG-13 rating.
The actors (including extras) portraying soldiers were using real military firearms rather than the usual cast-rubber prop weapons. The current-issue carbines and M-16 rifles were de-weaponized by removing the firing mechanisms, but otherwise were "the real thing".
Initially estimated to have a 2007 release date, this film was abruptly green-lighted in mid-August 2004 for a 2005 release, when director Steven Spielberg and star Tom Cruise happened to become available when other projects stalled.
Wardrobe standards were so strict that soldiers during the Virginia filming were not allowed to wear their own civilian Underarmor (tm) or GoreTex (tm) warmth clothing under their uniforms - as real National Guardsmen so often do during maneuvers. This was despite filming on what turned into the coldest days of 2004 - and wearing light-weather BDUs (BattleDress Uniforms).
There were rumors of the movie's title being changed to "Out of the Night", but was thought to produce a negative fan reaction. The title was also believed to be used as an alias to keep unwanted people away from the set.
Ogilvy's farmhouse was on a still-active real farm. The tractor shed contained real farm machinery. The barn visible in some shots was taken over by the production: lighting rigging filled the hayloft while the ground floor served as extras' holding. Background players not-needed in various scenes puttered about out-of-view in the barn's cattle stalls while drinking cocoa and munching craft service nuts.
After Ray and the kids reach dry land when the ferry is attacked and sunk, air raid sirens go off. On the day of extras casting in Athens, New York, the air raid sirens were tested, causing jokes among the extras that the Martians were coming too soon before the cameras.
The organism seen in the opening sequence is known as the Paramecium, being a unicellular pond water protozoan that is a eukaryote, shown complete with cilia, oral groove, macro nucleus and central vacuole.
Convoy Scene military vehicles were real and still had their white greasepencil convoy markings (data similar to license tag info) chalked on the driver's side doors. Either speed or special-effects rendered these markings invisible in the final cuts.
While filming in Bayonne, New Jersey, studio Paramount Pictures offered quick cash to residents who lived on First Street and Pointview Terrace to move their cars off the block, between a Tuesday and Friday. This was in order for the film crew to resume shooting.
This is the third incarnation of The War of the Worlds story that Ann Robinson has appeared in, having played Sylvia Van Buren in the original 1953 film The War of the Worlds (1953) and then reprising her role for three episodes in the TV series, War of the Worlds (1988).
Some army troops used were from the 29th Division (Maryland Army National Guard), known as "The Blue and the Gray" from their yin-yang looking shoulder patch (visible when the day convoy went by the Ferrier's and the son was getting splashed).
The wide shot of the bridge exploding, followed by a tanker crashing into a group of houses as the minivan escapes, was conceived of, and shot, only one month prior to its footage premiering during the SuperBowl spot, effects ready and all.
Ray drives a rare 1966 Shelby Mustang GT-350H, black with gold stripes. 1,001 were produced in total, with around 800 being produced in the black and gold color scheme. Also known as the "Rent-A-Racer", it was available for rent at Hertz for $17 per day and 17 cents per mile. An original example sold at auction in 2006 for $180,900, and since a crane driver would be unlikely to own such a valuable car, it is probably one of the many replicas which have subsequently been made, worth a fraction of that.
Right before the Hudson Ferry scene, Ray and his children watch in horror as a locomotive speeds by on fire, and out of control. The train is part of the MTA Metro-North Railroad, which runs in New York, New Jersey, and Conneticut. It can be identified by the paint scheme on the side.
A segment of a scene early in the film, in which people are seen fleeing from a tripod (panic-stricken crowd running along a street while buildings are being destroyed by a tripod in the background), recreates the subject-matter of the painting "Panic in the Streets" by Geoff Taylor, a print of which was included in the booklet accompanying the 1978 release of "Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of The Worlds".
The Convoy Scene used only around a dozen vehicles: mostly Hum-jeeps with a few trucks thrown in. There was one M1 tank and one self-propelled cannon (mistaken for a "tank" by most civilians). The convoy roared past Robbie, Ray, and Rachel on the roadside perhaps a half-dozen times. Editing together various shots from different angles created the impression of a much larger convoy.
John Williams scores. A short sequence of notes, repeated used as a signal to the audience. The tripods use a long, drawn out, low tone (like a foghorn), followed by a higher pitch (sounding like an orchestra), as a way of communicating to other tripods (as it was in the book). The two notes are similar to the two notes used in Jaws (1975). As in different attacks in the movie, like the beginning of the Hudson Ferry attack, it announces to the audience that something is about to happen (again like in "Jaws"). In that scene, it seems to mean "Come here, other tripods, I've found a bunch of humans." As a counter-example, though, the same tones are used at the end of the "aliens in the basement" scene, and seem to mean a rallying signal, as in "everyone, report back to your posts", as the aliens immediately leave. Note, also, that a basic 5-tone sequence was used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), as a connection to that film's aliens.
Using a sign with directions or instructions as a joke. In this case, as the first buried machine is tearing up the street in Ray's hometown, causing all sorts of damage, the camera pans past a close-up of a municipal "No Littering" sign.