War of the Worlds

Ever since scientists looked in the sky and theorized life on other planets, there have been writers asking the question, ‘what do they want?’

OrsonIn 1938, the planet Earth was invaded by a maverick radio personality… in the guise of Martians.

Seeking to have a bit of fun, Orson Welles tried an experiment for his Halloween edition of Mercury Theatre on the Air by staging an alien attack.

Basing his facts on the classic H.G. Welles novel War of the Worlds, Orson had listeners in a panic over the alien attack ships landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.

The radio remains one of the most talked about moments in entertainment and a key example of the effect that the media can have on the public.

1938 Newsreel footage

Director George Pal and special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen realized the invasion of Earth in an updated 50’s sci-fi blockbuster film that still holds up today as one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. From the hypnotic and eerie sounds of the Martian spaceships to the strobing skeleton raygun effect, the 1953 War of the Worlds movie influenced many a young filmmaker at the time.

War of the Worlds 1953 trailer

The concept was later revived into a TV series.

George Pal, the director of the 1953 film version, had long planned a TV series, but it took until 1988 for that to be a reality. The series, produced by Paramount Pictures, was an enormous hit in its first year and followed the events of the 1953 invasion.

In the TV series, the aliens were in hibernation rather than dead as the film showed. A number of cannisters containing Martian bodies are opened when terrorists accidentally release the invaders from their ‘cells.’ This re-invigorates the invasion started over 30 years ago. With limited resources and fighting a populace that has strangely forgotten the first attack many years ago, a small resistance group scrambles to combat the aliens.

The second season was largely different in tone and raised the stakes by pushing the time-line forward into a dystopian landscape.

Footage from War of the Worlds Season One – 1988

War of the Worlds took an odd turn thanks to Jeff Wayne, who transformed the story into a rock opera in 1978 with Richard Burton as the narrator.

The radio edited version of the album was so popular that several tracks hit the Top Ten in the UK, with “Forever Autumn”, “Thunder Child”, and “The Spirit of Man” as stand out hits. The album maintained its popularity through 2006 when a live stadium tour ran through the UK and Ireland.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds Musical

DJ Keltech’s version

Again, the popularity of Jeff Wayne‘s musical reached far and wide, including the PC game front. Rage Software developed a real time strategy video game in 1998 in which players can choose to play as the humans defending their planet or the robust Martians seeking to rid their new home of human pests.

1998 Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds PC Game

In 2005, a modest War of the Worlds film by soft spoken Steven Spielberg was released, playing in the fears of a modern world thrust into a global war on terror. Sporting some of the most impressive special effects ever seen at the time… it remains my least favorite adaptation of the H.G. Wells story.

Maybe it’s Tom Cruise, maybe it’s Dakota Fanning… I dunno. But the film was just loud and obnoxious to me… and I like Skinny Puppy.

An obvious fit, War of the Worlds has crossed over to the comic book format with Marvel Comics‘ 1970’s hero Killraven and the more recent Dark Horse series, Scarlet Traces the most notable examples.

Both have large fan followings, but the alternate timeline and Steampunk appeal of Scarlet Traces by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli have given the franchise a new and unique twist that continues to draw in more readers.Is there life in other planets?

I have no idea, but if so, our movies and comics will kick their asses.

Suggested listening/reading, etc:

The Day That Panicked America: The H.G. Wells War of the Worlds Scandal
The War Of the Worlds (1953) / When Worlds Collide (1951) (Double Feature)
War of the Worlds – The Complete First Season
Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds
Essential Killraven Volume 1: War Of The Worlds TPB (Essential)
Scarlet Traces: The Great Game


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