nyone who knows me knows I love H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds. It was a book that opened up the world for younger me and showed me things I really didn’t understand. So nobody was more excited than I when I found out that BBC was doing a miniseries on WOTW, set (for once) in the actual timeframe of the book (1900 or so). Finally!
What a disaster.
We were finally able to watch it on Vudu. Yeah, so commercials every few minutes. But that wasn’t the worst of it. It was this fact: The writers thought that they were better than Wells, that they could change the story in minor ways and ended up making a mess out of it.
First off, Ogilvy the astronomer does not get his poignant and telling moment when he advances on the Martians with his white flag, only to get slagged by the heat ray. No, he goes on the live in the hellscape of afterwards, inventing the vaccine that will permit plants to grow in the altered environment the Martians left us with their black smoke (what? This has more alternations than a poorly tailored suit!)
The Martians don’t bring their tripods with them. No, while in the pit, the ball they came in lifts up and just randomly explodes people here and there. The tripods come from beneath the pit. So the Martians dug down, to smelter, cast and assmble their tripods from scratch in a day? (what?)
There is none of the Martians advance on London, the duel between tripods and artillery, bows and arrows against the lighting. It was all left out so we can have more interpersonal drama between the narrator and his wife (stigmatized by the townspeople for being unmarried and with a child on the way) and between the wife and the narrator’s brother (for reasons above) and the narrator and his current wife (for reasons above). Shit, wasn’t there an invasion going on in this time, a danger of racial extinction or something like that?
The black smoke? Not a simple and methodical way of countering artillery, no. It was a plan to alter Earth and make it into Mars (oh, and it melts humans into blobbering piles of vomited blood, not simply choking them). Remember how the death of the red weed forshadows the death of the Martians? No, the invasion was a suicide attack to just puff out black smoke and change Earth for the worse. Even through we win, we are left with a big red ball of nothing in the end, doomed except for the efforts of Ogilvy (see above).
The Thunderchild? Nope. The time in the ruined house with the mad curate? The artilleryman’s mad plans? Nope. No, the entire third episode was taken up with a summer teen horror movie about the narrator, his wife, his brother and some woman trapped in an orphanage with creaky boards, dark shadows and skulking Martians that didn’t show us anything about them, their tools, all that. Just a lot of stabbing sucking stuff that was, in itself, true (but Wells did it better with the Martians collecting humans like game in cages on the sides of their tripods for later snacks).
So, those are the major changes. There were so many other things – the oversized tripods, the over-personalization of the characters (as opposed to the sweeping events they were part of), dozens of little details whose absence made this a clunker of a series rather than a golden remake it could have been.
So, yes, in conclusion: writers, you aren’t better than H.G. Wells. If you want to do something different, do so. But don’t dress up your story in the skin of a classic and expect me to like it.