One of the most influential novels in my personal development as both a writer and an obsessive SF/horror geek was H.G. Wells’ alien invasion classic War of the Worlds (1898) — a novel that created the template for such things. There have been several attempts to re-create it in various audio-visual formats, of course — the most famous being the radio drama by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air, which was broadcast on 30 October 1938 and infamously caused mass panic across the States when scores of people tuned in after the opening disclaimer and believed the fictional news reports were for real.
In the cinema the best known versions of Wells’ novel have been:
- the 1953 creature-feature directed by Byron Haskin and starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, in which the plot is moved to the States, the key POV character becomes a fairly typical 50s scientist rather than a low-level journalist, and the Martian tripods are re-imagined as flying saucers on legs of invisible energy; and
- Steven Spielberg’s much-maligned 2005 blockbuster, still set in the US, with Tom Cruise as the POV character — this time a working-class heavy-equipment operator with poor family skills who finds some redemption through adversity — and beautifully rendered Martian machines with the appropriate three legs but a rather logically flawed if visually spectacular “origin”.
Among the film versions that have appeared over the past few years, one of the more interesting was made for Pendragon Pictures by Timothy Hines in 2005 and subsequently released to DVD. It remains faithful to Wells’ novel, by setting the story in England at the turn of the century and not playing around with the Martians and their machines, or with the main characters. The film grossed US$7 million — not bad for a low-budget independent that didn’t have a major cinema release — yet the director considered it a failure. “The 2005 film was both rushed and severely over-scaled with highly compressed post-production deadlines,” Hines told SFcrowsnest.com.
As a result the same crew has taken a new approach to the material, having made a re-make of/addendum to the first — War of the Worlds: The True Story:
The movie goes the route of Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air production, adopting a mock-documentary approach, using footage ostensibly taken during the invasion — which occurred as Wells described it but knowledge of which was subsequently suppressed by the world’s governments.
“It’s not a documentary. It’s a mock-documentary, like a CNN documentary on steroids with action and horror.” (Hines)
A 1965 film crew captured the memories of the last living survivor of the war between Earth and Mars that took place c1900. The filmed memoirs, discovered in a vault in 2006, were found with hours of previously unknown footage of the alien/Earth apocalypse, the actual Martian invaders and their war machines. This is the motion picture presentation of that eyewitness account. (Source: Official website)
This looks like a potentially exciting film to me, with a rationale and an air of authenticity that takes it well beyond many of the “found footage” (camera–verité style) pseudo-dramas that have haunted cinemas and DVD stores since The Blair Witch Project was a huge, and hugely unexpected hit, in 1999.
Hines began a Special Engagement tour on 23 July this year, in Seattle, Washington. He is currently touring the film through the US and Canada — a tour that will last well into 2012. Check out the huge list of remaining engagements here. If the Martians are coming your way, think yourself lucky. The rest of us will have to wait for the DVD release.