Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Sci-Fi Stories That Inspired Classic Sci-Fi Films: “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells

Science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds was written by H.G. Wells and was first published serially by Pearson's Magazine in the UK. and by The Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. in 1897.

The War of the Worlds is set in the late 1890s in England and is one of the earliest stories to feature an alien invasion of Earth and the subsequent conflict between humanity and the invading extraterrestrials

Wells’ novel is a first-person narrative of both an unnamed protagonist in Surrey and of his younger brother in London as southern England is invaded by Martians.

Wells may have used the British impact on indigenous Tasmanians as a model or template for his own story which offers a consideration of what could happen if the technologically advanced Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians. 


Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds was part of CBS’s "Mercury Theater on the Air" program and was based on the H.G. Wells’ story of a Martian invasion. It achieved notoriety through the widely reported effect it had by frightening many listeners who thought Martians had really invaded and were attacking.

During the broadcast, Welles was to interrupt a music performance with apparent news reports of a Martian invasion in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. Many startled listeners missed the broadcast's opening, which mentioned that it was a work of fiction. The show was supposed to have caused widespread panic and hysteria across New Jersey and the country. More than likely it generated a lot more anger and annoyance!

War of the Worlds 1938 Broadcast

The year 1953 saw producer George Pal's and director Byron Haskin’s film adaptation of Wells’ novel. In the film, a small town in California is attacked by Martians as a prelude to a worldwide invasion. At first the residents of the town are thrown into a bit of a flap when what looks like a flaming meteor lands in the hills. Scientist Clayton Forrester and Sylvia Van Buren are among the first to arrive at the site of the meteorite crash. Soon after, an alien war machine emerges and begins killing and destroying with a death ray. The aliens possess machines that fly and hover and are protected by force fields. Even the military is no match for these alien invaders. The race is on to discover the aliens' weakness – if indeed they have one!


In 2005, Steven Spielberg released his adaptation of War of the Worlds. The film can be seen as being a reflection of the time and events surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath. The story begins in New York City, and this is where the alien attack first begins. The scenes that follow the destruction of the city would remind audiences of the horror and trauma that accompanied the events of 9/11.


The new BBC One three-part series is set in Surrey at the turn of the 20th century, in keeping with Wells’ original story. Although I haven’t as yet seen it, I’m hoping that this adaptation does not follow the trend that has been evident in many of today’s film and TV efforts and depictions: an infusion of feminist effluvia, modern PC / inclusiveness check box criteria and inappropriate grafting of 21st century concerns on to a past historical setting. Then again, despite recent sci-fi on-screen disappointments I probably ought to reserve judgment! In the end, it's a testament to Wells' story that it keeps re-emerging so long after its original publication.

The War of the Worlds BBC (2019) Clip

Additional Note:

I have indeed since been fortunate enough to watch BBC One’s War of the Worlds and I must say that overall, it is quite well worth watching. It is good to see yet another well-made science fiction TV series coming out of Britain.

There do seem to be a few references being made back to HG Wells’ original story from the opening narration, setting and time period, to the nature of the alien tripod machines through to the consideration of the effect of British colonialism. I felt that this last point could’ve been made in a far more considered and reflective manner than was the case.

The treatment of the story is not surprisingly made with modern audiences in mind. For instance, unlike Wells’ story, we have in addition to male characters, a central unconventional female protagonist who tries to make her way through a rather admonishing conservative patriarchal society. At least it is not laid on too thickly and rammed too forcefully down audiences’ throats as has often recently been the case in other films and series.

Instead of focusing exclusively on the carnage and destruction being visited on the earth by the aliens, the series almost uses that as a backdrop to an exploration of the relationships between the characters and the kinds of choices they find themselves forced to make depending on the circumstances they find themselves in.

I must say that I had to modify my original preconceptions about the series and found myself being pleasantly surprised. My recommendation is that you should go ahead and enjoy it for what it is and try not to be too nit-picky about it.


Just to whet your appetite......

Here’s a link to a full-length presentation involving a fictional Martian (based on War of the Worlds) invasion of the earth in 1913 in the style of a docudrama. The Great Martian War 1913–1917 is a 2013 Canadian/UK made-for-television science fiction presentation, that appears as if it is an episode from the History TV Channel. WOW!

©Chris Christopoulos (2020)

Sunday, 12 January 2020

The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)

A very thought provoking end-of-the-world tale dealing with matters that are more than just black and white or merely skin deep. 

Directed by Ranald MacDougall
Produced by Sol C. Siegel, George Englund, Harry Belafonte (uncredited)
Written by Ranald MacDougall
Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall
Based on novel The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel and
story End of the World by Ferdinand Reyher
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography: Harold J. Marzorati
Edited by Harold F. Kress
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Running time: 95 minutes
Budget: $1,659,000
Box office: $1,085,000 


as Ralph Burton 

as Sarah Crandall 

as Benson Thacker 

The title of the film comes from the Litany in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: "From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, spare us, good Lord." In Christian theology, the world, the flesh, and the devil has been viewed as being the three enemies of the soul, the sources of temptation, and as standing in opposition to the Trinity.


As the end of one decade and the beginning of the next approaches, “negro” coal mine inspector Ralph Burton finds himself in the bowels of the earth conducting a preliminary structural inspection of a disused section of 3rd level, tunnel 8.

Read on for more......