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
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
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.