I was so excited when the Beeb decided to film H G Wells’ War of the Worlds, set as he wrote it in late nineteenth century England with the Martians landing on Horsell Common. But the ‘improvers’ got hold of it, and in my view squandered some excellent sets and CGI effects (and precious BBC budget) by vandalizing the plot.
There were some brilliant sequences of the Martian fighting machines on their great articulated tripods, but they were supposed to have been manufactured and the producers gave them hairy legs … Admittedly it made them look far more sinister, but they were mechanisms not insects. The Martians themselves were shown as great three-legged spider-like creatures, but no-one seems to have told the BBC writers that such an organism would have found it impossible to use tools without hands, claws or tentacles to manipulate them …
And then there were the longueurs – seeming to occupy most of the final episode – set in a scarlet and misty post-apocalyptic landscape, the legacy of the Martians. They had died out by this time of disease for which they had no defence (the original plot), but their ‘Red Weed’ had poisoned the earth preventing crops from growing. This was, I suppose, an allegory of climate change. There was even a nod to colonial guilt: “The Martians are just doing to us (The British Empire) what we have done to so many countries – invading and killing people!”
This cannot have been a cheap production, but having gone to all the trouble of simulating the fighting machines rather well – with the exception of the legs – why were there so few scenes in which they figured?
I read the original book quite recently and it illustrates HG’s enormously fertile imagination. Quite enough material there for a very good ‘creature-feature’ with all the charm of the period and even the opportunity for some fin de siècle decadence. And, by the way, the substitution of a woman as the heroine worked really well; such a pity that much of the rest of it was, frankly, boring. A real missed opportunity.
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