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H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Timothy Hines (director)
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   DVD released June 14, 2005
Review Date:   June 29, 2005
RevSF Rating:   1/10 (What Is This?)

H.G. Wells' 1898 masterpiece The War of the Worlds is one of the most influential and popular works in Western literature. Wells introduced the concept of alien invasions in this short novel. The story of the Martians conquering the Earth only to succumb to the common germ was wildly original upon publication but has become cliché. Even so, the book is still a fascinating read.

Oddly, no adaptation was attempted until the Orson Welles and Howard Koch 1938 panic-inducing radio play. Produced as a series of special news reports that interrupted regularly scheduled music, the adaptation caused a panic that resulted in mass hysteria sand even suicides. Besides deciding to land the Martians in Grover's Mills, New Jersey, Welles and Koch remained true to the paranoia and terror of the novel. (The possibility of a Nazi invasion was in the minds of many Americans at the time.)

It wasn't until 1953 that the first film version premiered. Produced by special effects pioneer George Pal, The War of The Worlds was unfaithful in content but spot-on in spirit. The setting was changed to 1950s Southern California. The alien tripods were replaced by sleek floating discs. The movie won an Oscar for its special effects. In an attempt to stop the invaders, the military dropped an atomic bomb outside of Los Angeles. Of course, the attempt fails and the aliens are again done in by germs. Pal's movie brilliantly examined the horrors of war and the hubris of man. The War of The Worlds is one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time.

In an apparent attempt to discredit the great movie, the 1988 TV series War of the Worlds picked up thirty years after the Pal film. The Martians had been laying in wait and planning all that time. Mercifully, this travesty only lasted two seasons.

This summer, two new film versions of the Wells book are being released. War of the Worlds, a big budget contemporary update starring Tom Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg, premieres world wide on July 29. The other, H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, a low-budget independent feature directed by Timothy Hines, purports to be the first faithful adaptation. After a limited theater run, it is currently available on DVD.

H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds starts out promising enough. After the opening credits, a black and white montage of late 19th century British life flickers across the screen while a narrator reads the opening lines of Wells' book.

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.

Black and white gives way to color as the narrator finishes. Little did I know that it would all be downhill from there.

The movie is adapted too literally. A film should stay true to the source material, but when going from a book to a movie (or any other media), some changes are necessary. Wells never names his narrator nor does this adaptation. In the book it is of little notice since every scene is from the protagonist's viewpoint. His every thought, emotion, and action are understood. In a movie, it is virtually impossible to get that intimate with a character. One of the easiest ways to develop such a familiarity is through character interactions. But in this movie, there is not enough conversation to learn the lead character's name, never mind his motivation.

Hines made several other dreadful choices throughout the film. There are a few scenes that are were not in the source material. From the way they are shot and scripted, these scenes are supposed to be humorous. They just fall flat. The acting throughout is amateurish. I can't determine if this is thanks to bad actors or a terrible director. Different color filters are used for no apparent reason. The movement of the actors is often jerky, similar to the effect when watching a movie online at low bandwidth. Both of these visual defects are distracting and degrade the film.

Comparable to the worst of the 1950s, the special effects are among the poorest in modern film making. Even on a limited budget, there is no excuse for this. Miniatures are used for the tripods, which are laughably designed. They are a horrible two dimensional mish-mash of chrome, tentacles, and a satellite dish that look only a foot tall. It appears as if the creatures are rampaging through a miniature English town. The animation is so bad that the creatures sometimes literally slide across the screen.

Making matters worse is the three-hour running time. Scenes go on way too long often featuring unnecessary and poorly rendered explosions. There is a five-minute interlude in a pub where a woman sings an entire song. It has absolutely no bearing on the story.

H.G. Well's The War of the Worlds is an insult to the legacy of such an important book. Any one who watches this travesty should expect, nay, demand an apology from Hines.

Just be glad I took the hit for you on this one. Skip this movie and re-read the original classic.

Contributing editor Rick Klaw doubts that even a gorilla or two could have saved this movie.

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