In this case: War of the Worlds, post-apocalyptic fiction in general, and closeted gay celebrities.
So, I quite enjoyed War of the Worlds. I thought it really captured the paranoia and just general sense of impending doom that was much of the book's appeal, while effectively translating it into modern times. I really loved how it's framed with narration that's the opening and closing paragraphs of the book, with only the dates changed. I didn't mind at all the changes in plot and characters, feeling that it still had the spirit of the original with a more accessible story for modern viewers. I quite loved that they didn't make it Mars or say at all where the aliens came from, just leaving it mysterious. I found some of it cheesy and thought Dakota Fanning was just as annoying as advertised, but mostly I think it was a fine show.
It's a favorite genre of mine, post-apocalyptic fiction. Mostly in novels and short stories, but to some extent in movies. I've always loved it and been fascinated by what different authors do with that theme - how they envision the apocalyptic event, the variety of societies they imagine afterwards, etc. I particularly like those set (unlike War of the Worlds) well after the apocalyptic event, where the people in the story really don't know what life was like before. We as the reader try to understand their society from a perspective of knowing our own society, its precursor, and I think that can be fascinating.
Beyond that, what is the appeal? I'm not sure. One thing my son suggested is the simplicity of life that shows up in a lot of these stories. As he said, "Life isn't easy, but it is simple. You don't have competing demands on your time. You only have to do one thing: escape aliens, kill zombies, find unradiated food, whatever. The task is hard, maybe impossible, but it's not complicated." Maybe that is part of it.
As you can see from the above, I have passed my love of post-apocalyptic fiction to my kids. This became embarrassingly clear one morning last year while taking my nine-year-old to school. We commute by public bus and often read or chat en route. "Tell me a story," she said this particular morning. I agreed and asked what kind of story she'd like. "Oh it doesn't matter," she replied. "Anything really. It could be a family story, it could be an X-Men story, it could be post-apocalyptic fiction." I was dying of embarrassment as the other commuters were stifling laughter.
So, before we went to see War of the Worlds I imposed a rule that there was to be no ruining it with snarky remarks about closet case scientologists who don't believe in PPD during the movie. My son was puzzled, saying that Tom Cruise is far from closeted about being a scientologist. I said that he's not closeted about being a scientologist, just about being gay. Which got to the question of how do I know he's gay.
Of course I don't really. No matter how many FOAFs keep spreading the rumor, no matter how many times I hear that his marriage to Nicole Kidman broke up because he had sex with her male cousin or that there's an endless stream of attractive young men in and out of his trailer when he's on a set. I still don't know. I've changed my mind a whole lot on the whole Gay Celebrity thing, though, and I'm less skeptical than I used to be.
Okay, so this dates back to the mid-1980s. There was this set of celebrities that "everybody knows" are gay. I never believed any of them except Leonard Bernstein. I wasn't sure they weren't gay; I just didn't believe they were. If someone told me that he knew that Soandso BignameActor was gay, I'd say, "Oh. Have you fucked him?" I mean if these people were really so closeted and so careful not to reveal their sexuality, then how is it that I and all my friends knew their big secret, yk?
So, I developed the Wish Fulfillment Theory of Gay Celebrity. It said that people we "know" are gay aren't really. We just want them to be. Maybe because we find them particularly attractive; maybe because (in the case of actors) of a particular part they played that appeals to our queer selves. Maybe because they're homophobic and we'd rather think that's self-hatred than just hatred of us. So we make them gay.
My Wish Fulfillment Theory was contrasted by the Charles T. Edwards, Jr. (my friend Chuck)
Triangulation Theory of Gay Celebrity. Chuck said that if you heard from 3 people that a celebrity is gay and you can establish they didn't hear it from each other, then it's true. I scoffed, openly.
Well, I never quite embraced the Triangulation Theory. Still, my two prime examples of the Wish Fulfillment Theory were Rock Hudson and Roy Cohn. When the facts conflict with the theory, I believe you have to change the theory. I'm kind of old school that way.
I think what I was missing was that these very closeted people are having sex. And the nature of being very closeted is that you're not having a relationship - you're tricking. There are a lot of people to tell and it makes a kind of a good story. So somebody tells somebody who tells somebody and eventually I and all my friends know. I don't automatically believe it if I hear it from 3 people, but I think there are a lot of closeted gay celebrities out there, and I no longer feel I have to hear it from someone I trust who had sex with them (which was the case with Leonard Bernstein) to think the preponderance of the evidence suggests it's true.
So, in conclusion I say: Tom Cruise is a big fat homo. Everybody says so.