H.G Wells’ The War of the Worlds is one of my favourite books. Since I became an adult and started reading comics and graphic novels rather than traditional novels (I’m fully aware of how backwards that sentence sounds) I don’t have many books that get into the coveted “favourite list” but alongside One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The War of the Worlds will always be there.
It is a terrifying book. I once read it in one sitting (it isn’t very long) when I was locked out of my house on a (luckily) sunny day. There is nothing terrifying about my back garden but The War of the Worlds managed to give me creepy chills and quick-page turning terror as I read the tale of one man’s desperate journey to find his beloved amidst a Martian invasion.
The reason the book is so scary – The setting. The War of the Worlds is set in Victorian London and that adds to the terror. Our nuclear technology and advanced weapons today being hopeless against alien invaders is one thing but when you know that a society has no chance from the beginning, it adds to the hopelessness. The death-ray versus a steam-boat. No contest.
The most recent adaptation of The War of the Worlds was the Tom Cruise movie directed by Steven Spielberg. It was ok. I don’t hate it, in fact there is a lot I really like about the movie. I love that it isn’t “Cruise versus The Martians” and the film captures the journey aspect rather than a gung-ho hero. I also liked the way Spielberg brought the aliens to the screen, feeling quite faithful to how I pictured them in the book.
Unfortunately, he didn’t keep the Victorian setting. Bringing The War of the Worlds up-to-date meant that it became another faceless alien invasion movie in amongst Independence Day, Skyline and any other movie trying their hand at space-creatures blowing up landmarks. It lost the thread that made it feel so original.
The same can be said with Tom Cruise’s character. Making the main character, known purely as “the narrator” in the original novel, a desperate family man means we get personal baggage and distraction from what should just be one desperate man’s attempt to find his wife. In the novel we find the man going slowly crazy as he meets crazed, desperate individuals in the same position as himself.
I think now is the time to rectify The War of the World’s story. To set the story in the Victorian period and bring it back, more faithfully to it’s source material. Have it be about one singular man, desperate to find his wife and slowly losing his mind out of desperation and the impending doom of his situation. The recent stage show actually cast the perfect person for this role in the form of (a holographic) Liam Neeson.
Overall, I think it’s time we had the most faithful version of The War of the Worlds brought to the big screen. Special effects, cool, tripod riding aliens but in a Victorian setting following a desperate man on a futile journey. It is a different approach to an alien invasion movie and in my experience, a terrifying one.