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War of the Worlds!
December 11, 2004 3:33 PM   Subscribe

The new War of the Worlds movie will premiere in June '05. Based on H.G. Wells book, (e-text), the story terrified thousands of American radio listeners and caused a panic on October 30, 1938. That night, a series of increasingly alarming breaking news reports (narrated by a young Orson Welles) about an invading force of Martians interrupted the Mercury Theater show on WABC radio in NYC. Welles had announced at the start of the hour that he was reading a story, but most of the audience tuned in late and thought it was all real. More information can be found here and here. Wav files of the original broadcast can be downloaded (or purchased) from here. "They're bombing New Jersey!": Check out a picture of the NYTimes front page and full text of the article they ran the next day. War of the Worlds has been made into several films, including this one from 1953.
posted by zarq (69 comments total)

 
"Intellects vast... and cool... and sympathetic"

The trailer looks really bad. I saw it in the theater yesterday, without knowing what it was for, and about 1/2 way through, and then again at the end, I really expected some sort of wacky alien (like Howard the Duck) to pop up and dazzle me with hijinx.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:40 PM on December 11, 2004


War of the Worlds has been made into several films...

...each descending a bit further into the depths of king crap's cesspool, and each time finding hordes of tasteless cretins willing to part with actual money for the dubious distinction of suffering through it.
posted by quonsar at 3:52 PM on December 11, 2004


You think the invading little green guys (and gals?) with "intelligences greater than our own" will bring along some flu vaccine this time?
posted by redneck_zionist at 3:58 PM on December 11, 2004


Errp. Where are the aliens?
posted by xammerboy at 4:02 PM on December 11, 2004


there is nothing, not one thing, so great that the hollywood monsters of Cruise and/or Speilberg can't crap it up. i just wanted to see a tripod, a disintegrator/heat ray and a creepy martian hand. wotta letdown.

be nice to squeeze Buckaroo Banzai in there.
posted by zombiejesus at 4:03 PM on December 11, 2004


23skidoo:

Good call. This would have been the perfect trailer for a new Alf movie, without the explosions at the end.
posted by bdk3clash at 4:06 PM on December 11, 2004


I also thought trailer was poo.

a new Alf movie

Waitaminute... there's an old Alf movie? Say it isn't so.
posted by dobbs at 4:13 PM on December 11, 2004


Thank you thank you thank you for that NYT clip! Marvelous!
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:20 PM on December 11, 2004


I think it's disgusting that Spielberg, the man responsible for countering the cliche "aliens are evil and only want to kill you" meme with Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind and ET is now lowering himself to remake the progenitor of the other side. I guess he really IS mostly about marketing..."let's capitalize on the current climate of fear in America and make a movie about evil terrorists aliens trying to kill us!" I've given the man the benefit of the doubt up until now despite his various slips, but no more. I won't be seeing this one...or possibly any of his future films either.
posted by rushmc at 4:22 PM on December 11, 2004


Waitaminute... there's an old Alf movie? Say it isn't so.

Well, it was made-for-TV, but still... Project: ALF.

Oh, yes, and the trailer is, indeed, poo.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2004


Well, maybe I'll be the sole person excited about this while you all think of ever clever ways of snarking at Cruise and Spielberg. Hell, it could be a big return to form for the Beardo. Martian fighting machines kick ass in whatever form they take.
posted by mikeybidness at 4:28 PM on December 11, 2004


rushmc, what about The Day the Earth Still"?

Sure there's a threat from the aliens, but it's becaue we're the bad guys, not them:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043456/
posted by 1016 at 4:35 PM on December 11, 2004


Bah, I'd much rather watch World War 3.
posted by wah at 4:37 PM on December 11, 2004


The best version of the radio story I've heard (other than the real thing) is: 'Doctor Who: Invaders From Mars' in which Orson Welles helps The Doctor repel a real alien invasion. Just an excellent, excellent thing. Written and directed by Mark Gatiss from 'The League of Gentlemen' and the new series. Features Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson from 'Spaced' and 'Shaun of the Dead'.
posted by feelinglistless at 4:42 PM on December 11, 2004


War of the Worlds has been made into several films, including this one from 1953.

Apart from that George Pal production of 1953, to which films do you refer?

Martian War Machine, War of the Worlds has some nice big stills from that movie, by the way.
posted by y2karl at 4:59 PM on December 11, 2004


Um, this is a teaser trailer folks, not the finished product. They're still filming the movie.

As for the original War of the Worlds (only filmed once), it's one of the best sci fi movies ever made.
posted by braun_richard at 5:11 PM on December 11, 2004


Spielberg excels in placing normal individuals in extraordinary situations. sure, lately he's gone for the weepy-eye crowd and made some easy choices. but let's not forget, this is the man who gave us 'Amazing Stories', the most exciting reason for my young ass to sit in front of the television.

i'm hoping ol' Stevie returns to his 'E.T.,' 'Close Encounters,' and 'Poltergeist' roots to show normal citizens dealing with extraordinary situations. he's been there before...i hope he returns.
posted by NationalKato at 5:16 PM on December 11, 2004


There’s also an independent company Pendragon Pictures making a period version of The War of the Worlds
posted by Tenuki at 5:26 PM on December 11, 2004


NationalKato, you probably already know this but Spielberg did not direct Poltergeist. Tobe Hooper did. (SS co-produced it.)
posted by dobbs at 5:30 PM on December 11, 2004


No discussion of WOTW is complete without a mention of Volume II of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:37 PM on December 11, 2004


NationalKato, you probably already know this but Spielberg did not direct Poltergeist. Tobe Hooper did. (SS co-produced it.)

I've read gossip that Toby Hooper was just a puppet director for Poltergeist. There were lots of reports that Hooper would be sitting on the sidelines while Speilberg took over the whole thing.

And yes, this was just a teaser trailer, Speilberg possibly had no hand it it at all. I'll withhold judgement for now, though after AI and Minority Report, I have little faith these days with Speilberg's ability to do good SF. Close Encounters was a damn good movie, though.
posted by zardoz at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2004


Cruise? Spielberg? Why... why...

*cries*
posted by Krrrlson at 5:54 PM on December 11, 2004


Apart from that George Pal production of 1953, to which films do you refer?
Perhaps Zarq was thinking of the truly execrable TV series using the name. That one was a disgrace. Including Alf would have improved it.

The original WotW, Forbidden Planet, and The Day the Earth Stood Still are the three best scifi films of the Fifties.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:19 PM on December 11, 2004


Dobbs, yeah...but at the same time (and knowing how producers have a big say into what ends up on screen) i think Spielberg was a driving force behind the success of that film. not taking away from Hooper's obvious talents, that is...

as well, Spielberg was really just an Exec. Producer on the Amazing Stories series, but he did step in and write a few.

i guess i just hope, knowing his love for the era that spawned WotW, he decides he can do a fun picture for the love of it.

i guess we'll just see...
posted by NationalKato at 6:22 PM on December 11, 2004


"Watching us with envious eyes.... drawing up their plans against us...."

They hate our freedom.
posted by jokeefe at 6:41 PM on December 11, 2004


I still reckon this kicks ass.
posted by Thoth at 7:07 PM on December 11, 2004


I liked Tom Cruise better when people handed him scripts and he spit out the words on camera. Now that he's a serious ack-tuh who picks and chooses his movie roles and squeezes himself into controlling parts of the productions he appears in, I pretty much hate him.

Spielberg I don't get. I'm the vapid fan who appreciates an entertaining big budget B movie (Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park.) I can whip out the Kleenex of emotional manipulation when ET falls into the hands of the Evil Government Scientists, Whoopi finally gets to read her letters, or Schindler makes some speech about his gold Nazi pin.

But how to explain crap like Saving Ryan's Privates or Minority Report? Or, god forbid, Hook?

And now, War of the Worlds. I've read on various trade type sites that they expect the box office on this movie to put Cameron and Jackson to shame, and that Cruise negotiated 10% of the take. I just don't see it. WotW was cool because it scared real people listening to the radio. The story itself was forgettable. So making a movie out of it makes no sense to me.

Then again, the world spent a billion on Titanic.

So what do I know?
posted by xyzzy at 7:14 PM on December 11, 2004


In related imagery, let's not forget the 1955 Classics Illustrated War of the Worlds, either. That was iconic.

A fanboy homage to that cover: Frank Daniel's recreation of the 1955 Classics Illustrated cover using models and photoshop.

Those both come from the Other Images page of the exhaustive War of the Worlds Cover Gallery from Dr. Zeus.
posted by y2karl at 7:19 PM on December 11, 2004


but let's not forget, this is the man who gave us 'Amazing Stories', the most exciting reason for my young ass to sit in front of the television.

This, by the way, is truly a frightening sentence on so many levels.
posted by y2karl at 7:22 PM on December 11, 2004


Obligatory link to Richard Burton's reading of War of the Worlds, with an insane prog-rock/disco soundtrack.
posted by velacroix at 7:26 PM on December 11, 2004


This is the man who gave us 'Amazing Stories', the most exciting reason for my young ass to sit in front of the television.

Which was terrible, save for a great episode with Kevin Costner as a Bomber pilot trying to land a plane with no wheels. Yeah, you heard me. Kevin Costner. What are you gonna do about it?
posted by Arch Stanton at 7:48 PM on December 11, 2004


The original WotW, Forbidden Planet, and The Day the Earth Stood Still are the three best scifi films of the Fifties.

And let's not forget the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

after AI and Minority Report, I have little faith these days with Speilberg's ability to do good SF

Huh. I thought Minority Report was a good movie...
posted by braun_richard at 8:22 PM on December 11, 2004


Is there a definitive answer on how much panic was caused by the War of the Worlds radio program?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:22 PM on December 11, 2004


But how to explain crap like Saving Ryan's Privates or Minority Report? Or, god forbid, Hook?

Minority Report had some nice visuals, which was about all I expected from it. As for Hook, I really liked that movie. I saw it again last year and I still liked it.

This trailer may be lame, but it is too early to tell anything about the movie. It may very well be a fun flick. From what I read about it, I expect to see tripods for certain.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 8:26 PM on December 11, 2004


The original WotW, Forbidden Planet, and The Day the Earth Stood Still are the three best scifi films of the Fifties.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:19 PM EST on December 11


Here-here! I totally agree. I wish George Pal could have done tripods in '53, but...

As for the trailer under review...it was a bit portentous, but I really dig the fact that it used the novel's opening paragraphs for it's narration. Suggests a seriousness about the source material that runs deeper than simply putting Wells's name above the title. [and, at the risk of incurring the wrath of someone-one-or-other:] "I for one welcome our Martian Invaders."

The Costner-starring [episode 1.5] episode of Amazing Stories was very, very nicely done until the left-over Roger Rabbit effects started. Whatta letdown. Even my sixteen-year-old-self was thinking, "So, this is The Twilight Zone for saps and idiots..."
The episode before that, 1.4 "Mummy Daddy" was hysterical...but I don't think they released that one on tape.
And Brad Bird [of "Iron Giant" & "The Incredibles" fame] did a great send-up of family sitcoms with the "Family Dog" episode. I've seen it dozens of times and still laugh my ass off. Try watching it, then NOT calling someone a "stupid dumb-head Nong-Nong!" The other episode on that tape, "Go To The Head of the Class" is obvious and not-very-scary, but the effects are pretty good for a half-hour weekly television series.
Also, check out this list of talent that Amazing Stories attracted.
posted by Al_Truist at 8:50 PM on December 11, 2004


I hope it's not as bad as the Time Machine remake.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:04 PM on December 11, 2004


> Is there a definitive answer on how much panic was caused by the War of the Worlds radio program?

Not as much as is celebrated: the Skeptical Inquirer's take, for instance, is that there is only scant anecdotal evidence to suggest that many listeners actually took some action after hearing the broadcast, such as packing belongings, grabbing guns, or fleeing in motor vehicles. The panic was famously "studied" using a ridiculously small outlier sample. Still, one must keep in mind that this broadcast came to a world primed for war in Europe: it was six months after the Anschluss, and one since the occupation of Sudeten Czechoslovakia.
posted by dhartung at 9:18 PM on December 11, 2004


I, for one, do not welcome more insipid destruction of fond childhood memories.

Now, I will confess I enjoyed Minority Report, but found AI very disappointing (excepting Jude Law, whom I found quite amusing and sad), but I think the only thing we will see here will be a saddening conglomeration of claptrap and gratuitous CGI.

shrugs

Well, as soon as my plans for complete and total unchallenged world domination come to fruition, I plan a talk with Hollywood...
posted by Samizdata at 9:40 PM on December 11, 2004


after AI and Minority Report, I have little faith these days with Speilberg's ability to do good SF
Huh. I thought Minority Report was a good movie...


I thought that both AI and Minority Report were three-quarters of good films and fell apart totally at the end. Also the tone of MR just jumped all over the place, part of it seemed like a serious attempt at futurism and then parts like the jet packs and the eyeballs and the stupid magnetic freeway were just goofy and cartoonish. Not that goofy and cartoonish are bad but it seemed like such a mismatch with other parts of the movie.
posted by octothorpe at 9:42 PM on December 11, 2004


As for the trailer under review...it was a bit portentous, but I really dig the fact that it used the novel's opening paragraphs for it's narration...

Well, um, the 1953 George Pal War of The Worlds began with the very same words. Just sayin', as they say...
posted by y2karl at 10:25 PM on December 11, 2004


Hmmmm, I actually enjoyed AI, sorry to say. I like movies with themes to that end.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:53 PM on December 11, 2004


Still, one must keep in mind that this broadcast came to a world primed for war in Europe: it was six months after the Anschluss, and one since the occupation of Sudeten Czechoslovakia.

Note the story to the right of the WOTW story:

posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:53 PM on December 11, 2004


The television series from the late '80's was what I remembered and referred to. A quick check of imdb shows y'all are right. Only one movie adaptation made, one tv show and one documentary. My bad. :)

As was pointed out by Al-Truist above, the language in the preview is from the book's opening paragraphs. Also, the 1953 version is a bit dated by today's standards, but is still considered a great sci-fi classic.

Looks like Wells fans are in for a double treat in '05: an additional adaptation was just completed by Pendragon films in England.
posted by zarq at 10:57 PM on December 11, 2004


The radio listeners, apparently, missed or did not listen to the introduction, which was: "The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in 'The War of the Worlds' by H. G. Wells."

They also failed to associate the program with the newspaper listening of the program, announced as "Today: 8:00-9:00--Play: H. G. Wells's 'War of the Worlds'--WABC." They ignored three additional announcements made during the broadcast emphasizing its fictional nature.


"They" thought Saddam had WMDs and was in cahoots with Al Qaeda.
posted by 327.ca at 11:07 PM on December 11, 2004


I was 12 when Amazing Stories premiered. I remember enjoying the first season, then giving up on them in subsequent years. They were aimed at kids, after all.

Fans of the short stories published in popular sci-fi 'zines like Astounding Science Fiction and Fantastic Universe in the 50's and '60's would have recognized the style and feel of the show immediately. Why? "...the series title was taken from the pulp fiction magazine 'Amazing Stories,' which Spielberg's father Arnold had read since he was a child."

The stories weren't meant to be perfect -- they were supposed to stimulate a kid's imagination. :)
posted by zarq at 11:11 PM on December 11, 2004


CunningLinguist: You're welcome. :)

dhartung: Thanks for the Skeptical Inquirer article. Pretty cool. :)
posted by zarq at 11:15 PM on December 11, 2004


As was pointed out by Al-Truist above, the language in the preview is from the book's opening paragraphs.

Not really... It's a mangled adaption. A grating one, at that.
posted by Thoth at 11:20 PM on December 11, 2004


Thanks Steve. I can't believe we almost forgot Poland again!
posted by Tuatara at 11:52 PM on December 11, 2004


It's a mangled adaption. A grating one, at that.

It's more reminiscent of the opening to Welles' radio adaptation:
We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's, and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood which, by chance or design, man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space.
Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
In the thirty-ninth year of the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.
Which, I suppose, you could call mangled as well. But it's probably the best known version of the Wells' words, and I think has real resonance. Those vast, cool and unsympathetic intelligences always send a shiver down the spine, even if they're spoken by Mr. Standard Gravelly Voice Trailer Guy, as they are here.

I quite liked the trailer. As a teaser, it did its job - it teased. Understated, a bit menacing, much better than just a jump-cut mess of explosions and running away from things. The finished product could still be crap, but equally it could be the exact kind of story Spielberg needs to get back to his old form. Which would be nice.
posted by flashboy at 3:30 AM on December 12, 2004


But when are they going to make a film of the space machine

Any MeFites after MP3's of the original '38 broadcast should get in touch with me by email. It's about 8Meg so I can't just dump it on my website.
posted by seanyboy at 4:07 AM on December 12, 2004


zarq, thanks for that link to Pendragon's production. I'm more excited about that one than Speely-boy's.

I think Amazing Stories' testament is the number of people who remember it so vividly. (I also immediately thought of the episode of the bomber landing without wheels (though I didn't know it was Kevin Costner))

AI should have been left for dead when Kubrik expired.
MR was weakest at it's fundamental level. Max von Sydow's character was supposedly going to take 'pre-crime' national. With only three gimps in KY pools? That's a lot to expect from them, don't you think?

He peaked with Jaws/Raiders, two of the best movies ever.
posted by Busithoth at 5:57 AM on December 12, 2004


They hate our freedom.

"And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the same spirit?"

Irony!
posted by queen zixi at 6:34 AM on December 12, 2004


I hope it's not as bad as the Time Machine remake.
posted by Captaintripps at 12:04 AM EST on December 12


oh, gawd...thanks for dredging that up...
not that the original 1960 version was all that great, either.
posted by Al_Truist at 6:40 AM on December 12, 2004


Steve_at_Linnwood: That leaped out at me when I clicked on the Times link. OUSTED JEWS FIND REFUGE IN POLAND... that's a hell of a lot more frightening than any Martian invasion story.
posted by languagehat at 6:41 AM on December 12, 2004


Yes, zarq, thanks for the Pendragon link. Since Speilberg's version is set in modern times, I have to wonder how much the aliens will have to be punched up in order to make them suitably threatening.
posted by Sangre Azul at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2004


There was scifi on TV in the '50s
Science Fiction Theatre
The Man and the Challenge
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:32 AM on December 12, 2004


I also immediately thought of the episode of the bomber landing without wheels

As did I, thinking What a piece of crap that was!

It's a mangled adaption. A grating one, at that.

It's more reminiscent of the opening to Welles' radio adaptation:


And, as an updated version of it was used in 1953, a certain homage is paid to Pal and Welles in the new version, which is something a nostalgist like Spielberg would do.

As for AI,I understand that Kubrick would have lingered much longer at the Flesh Fair and Rouge City, earning the movie an R rating--as the Richard Corliss noted in Time,

Even when A.I. meanders or stumbles, it is fascinating as a wedding of two disparate auteurs. Kubrick took five, seven, a dozen years to make a movie; he optioned Brian Aldiss's short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," on which A.I. is based, in 1983. Spielberg has shot multiple films in one year, and in his spare time he helps run the DreamWorks film studio. Spielberg has the warmest of directorial styles; Kubrick's is among the coolest. One aims to seduce the audience; the other wanted to bend moviegoers to see it his way, or to hell with them. The resulting fugue is like a piece composed for brass but played on woodwinds, a Death Valley map on which Spielberg has placed seeds, hoping they will somehow blossom.

AI was uneven but well worth watching.
posted by y2karl at 9:14 AM on December 12, 2004


Here, by the way, is Brain Aldiss's Super Toys Last All Summer Long,
the story that was the source of A.I.
posted by y2karl at 9:31 AM on December 12, 2004


AI was uneven but well worth watching.

AI had a character say, without sarcasm or irony and with deep weebly emotion, "I'm sorry I never told you about the world."

Any movie that hits you with a bag of saccharine that hard is pure crap of the most craptastical order of crappiness.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:59 AM on December 12, 2004


There was far worse lines than that in AI. And I was amazed by the movie, for the reasons Richard Corliss cited above. I'm amazed that so many intelligent filmgoers misunderstood it.
posted by ghastlyfop at 12:02 PM on December 12, 2004


y2karl, you've obviously become so much more mature than you might have been at age 10. congratulations on your pop cultural superiority.
posted by NationalKato at 2:02 PM on December 12, 2004


Ugh. AI. I can't even think about that movie without my mouth twitching into an involuntary sneer of loathing and disgust. That was the day my respect for Spielberg died (though Amistad should really have done it a few years earlier). Kubrick and Aldiss would've been a perfect pair. Kubrick would've kept the tone chilled without getting all insipid and would avoid being so blatant with the mind-numbingly obvious Pinocchio parallels.

War of the Worlds won't be any better. He's become a sentimental fool, that Spielberg, unable to detach himself from the shiny parasites like Cruise. Somehow he'll turn the story into something heartwarming, when it should be anything but.

That said, I'll probably go see it anyhow, because I have an unhealthy appetite for sci-fi, the worse the better.
posted by picea at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2004


y2karl, you've obviously become so much more mature than you might have been at age 10.

Well, I'm not pouting because people didn't like AI, John Q. Sensitive.
posted by y2karl at 2:36 PM on December 12, 2004


i thought AI was crap. i think you're confused.
posted by NationalKato at 2:59 PM on December 12, 2004


Thank you for sharing.
posted by y2karl at 3:23 PM on December 12, 2004


it could be the exact kind of story Spielberg needs to get back to his old form.

Except, of course, for the pushing the precisely opposite message part.
posted by rushmc at 6:33 PM on December 12, 2004


am I the only one that can't wait to see this movie?
posted by mcsweetie at 11:34 PM on December 12, 2004


languagehat : Yeah, that was the first thing I saw when I looked at the image. Much more frightening.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:00 AM on December 13, 2004


after AI and Minority Report, I have little faith these days with Speilberg's ability to do good SF

Amen. AI had a jive-talking robot. Case closed.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:21 AM on December 13, 2004


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