I recently had the pleasure of listening to the original 1938 radio play of War of the Worlds, and watching the classic 1953 film, and I was thinking wouldn’t it be cool to pull together all the film adaptations in one place? I found seven feature-length films and a short-lived TV series. Here you go:
Starting off with a bang, the original film adaptation is still the best outing. It was a smash success, and won an Oscar for special effects. Way ahead of its peers in the “monster from out space coming to eat you” genre–this one was actually quite a believable flick. The Martian spaceship effects were recycled about a decade later for Robinson Crusoe on Mars, which is another classic definitely worth your time.
While we’re at it, check out this quick interview about the visual effects for this first outing:
After a 35-year hiatus, as far as I can tell, the next iteration was a two-season (42 episode) series that was more or less a direct sequel to the 1953 film. The opener included a couple shots of, or re-created to look like, the original film. In this iteration, we get War of the Worlds mashed up with The Thing in which the Martians are taking over the bodies of people from Earth. Two re-treaded Red Scare/Cold War allegories for the price of one!
Fifteen more years of hiatus and we get not one, not two, but three variations on the theme! Of course there was the blockbuster directed by Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. The Spielberg version is certainly a serviceable B-movie flick, though somewhat forgettable, even if nominated for a couple sound and effects Oscars.
The rip-off version, properly known as H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, is a C. Thomas Howell straight to video monstrosity with god awful visual effects–it is perhaps unfair to compare a film with a million dollar budget to one with a $132 million budget. This video was clearly aimed at exploiting the notoriety the Spielberg version was sure to get. It was shot quickly in February 2005, made it through post quickly to be released within days of Spielberg’s version. And it got a sequel in 2008.
More interesting than either of the above is the Thomas Hines version of the story, set earlier in history in the late 19th century, which is truer to Wells’ original story. This one was shot earlier than the other two–in August 2004–and represents a more imaginative, if badly executed, take on the source material (on film). Most interestingly, Hines & Co. comes back with another version of the story in 2012.
As threatened, we get to the sequel of the C. Thomas Howell version called War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave. It’s two years after the initial invasion, and “the next wave” of the invasion arrives. Meanwhile, we send a space fleet to take the battle to Mars. This sequel was made on half the budget of its predecessor, for half a million dollars. It shows all over the place–I don’t think there’s even 30 seconds of new material in the trailer, for instance.
This is easily the best year for WotW flicks, mainly due to how the two films released in this year re-imagined the original material. War of the Worlds: The True Story marks the return of Thomas Hines to this material. This time around, the story is given a docu-drama treatment: the attack happened around 1900, and the last living veteran of the invasion/war conducts an on-camera interview before his death in 1965. I love this premise, though its execution may leave something to be desired.
The other one for this year, and the latest iteration of the story as far as I am aware, is an animated version, War of the Worlds: Goliath, set in 1914 and 15 years after the original invasion. This is WotW: Steampunk Edition. Heat rays, armored blimps, steam-powered tripod walkers to fight the Martians, and flying biplane carriers abound. As does Adam Baldwin.
It is a great testimony to H.G. Wells’ original material–first penned 120 years ago–that War of the Worlds continues to fascinate and inspire new interpretations as the years go by. Countless stories of humans vs. aliens have been told over the years, especially on film, but this story more or less introduced the concept, and did it best.