The War of the Worlds

Dept. of Alien Invasions


Since that first public broadcast of Orson Welles’ The War of The Worlds in 1938, H.G. Wells’ story of invading Martians has been told and retold to fit different times and reach different audiences, with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise’s 2005 effort being (arguably) the most famous of them all.

Until 2019 when (in a very typical way for this IP, which I’ll get to later) it was announced that not one, but two different War of The Worlds adaptations will be coming to the small screens. The first, simply called War of the Worlds, a co-production between the American Fox Network and France’s Canal+, which reimagines the classic story as set in modern day Europe, was released at the end of October 2019. The second series, called THE War of the Worlds by the BBC and set in Edwardian England, is the first ever British television adaptation of the story. 

Rafe Spall and Eleanor Tomlinson in BBC's War of the Worlds.

The BBC series stars Rafe Spall as George, a journalist living with his girlfriend Amy in the English village of Woking, when a mysterious “meteorite” crashes in the woods near them. It quickly becomes clear that it isn’t a meteorite and all hell breaks loose. There’s a side story about how George is living with Amy while being married to another woman but none of that matters. The aliens from Mars arrive, kill a bunch of people, and try to take over the planet.

Unfortunately for the BBC, none of this is surprising. H.G. Wells’ story of visitors from outer space has been done and redone so many times that none of this is very new or exciting. What makes this adaptation interesting, however, is how it intercuts the Martians’ arrival and the resulting fallout to the planet several years later.

It is a novel approach to the story, but one that it doesn’t quite pull off. Telling both these stories simultaneously is unfortunately quite distracting, and fails to keep your attention (and emotional investment) on any specific group of characters.

Rafe Spall's George sees three Martian ships in the distance in BBC's War of the Worlds.

The BBC’s adaptation may be the most accurate to the original 1897 story, but being more than a century old, nothing comes off as particularly novel. There was possibly a more interesting take on the War of the Worlds story by focusing more on the aftermath of the (spoiler to a century old story) failed invasion, than the actual arrival of the Martians themselves, especially when that story is so focused on just three people.

Sidebar: War of the Worlds has found itself in a rather interesting situation in the entertainment world. In the wider consciousness of the property, it has always seemed to be released in multiples. In 2019, there are two miniseries released, one by the BBC and another as a coproduction between Fox Networks and Canal+. This follows three reinterpretations in 2012 in the form of Alien Dawn, the mockumentary War of the Worlds – The True Story, and an animated sequel War of the Worlds: Goliath. Even Steven Spielberg wasn’t immune to this, with his 2005 adaptation sharing the limelight with two direct to video releases H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds by Pendragon Pictures, and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds by the film company The Asylum (who also created Sharknado). 

Eleanor Tomlinson's Amy walks in the post apocalyptic world of War of The Worlds.

The BBC’s The War of the Worlds is “fine.” At three hours long, over three episodes, this miniseries is not terrible. It’s a little boring at times. But it’s “fine.” Really. It’s “fine.” Gun to my head, given the option of watching this or Survivor, I’d probably say the latter. But given the option between this and The Circle or Too Hot To Handle, I’d go with the former.

The War of the Worlds
BBC/Netflix, 3 episodes, 60 minutes
Director: Craig Viveiros
Writer: Peter Harness
Cast: Eleanor Tomlinson, Rafe Spall, Rupert Graves, Nicholas Le Prevost, Harry Melling, Jonathan Aris, and Robert Carlyle

The War of the Worlds is now streaming on Netflix.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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