H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (2005)

I was thinking recently about what films I would love to see the new season of MST3K riff, and one film immediately came to mind – one that not many people have likely heard of or seen. You see, I’m a connoisseur of bad movies, and I always love collecting them in order to obliterate everyone in bad movie marathons. Gems like Manos: Hands of Fate and Robo-Vampire are my usual ammunition in such contests, but I honestly think H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds is worse. You might be sitting there while thinking “that 2005 The War of the Worlds film with Tom Cruise was alright though….” but that’s a different film that is somewhat better than the topic of today’s discussion.

Our story goes back to sometime in 2001, and some message-board I was reading at the time was keeping tabs on an upcoming War of the Worlds film. It was supposed to be a modernized re-telling of the original story and more of a horror movie than any version prior. Everything was rolling strong until the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. Pendragon films, the studio behind the picture posted the following to their ebsite in the aftermath.

 Since events of 11 September…


Pendragon Pictures’ principals are concerned over a rumour that production of WAR OF THE WORLDS is about to resume on October 8th. Director Timothy Hines expresses dismay at the rumour, “It is absolutely not true that War of the Worlds is about to resume. The reality is that we are massively reworking the script in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster and we will not be able to go before the cameras for a little over a year.”

The Pendragon principals lost a close friend and investor in WAR OF THE WORLDS in the World Trade Center attack. 

Timothy Hines goes on, “It has been a very difficult time for everyone. The whole world was touched by the WTC experience. For us personally those planes slammed directly into our lives. We lost a very close friend and have been in mourning. We also watched portions of our fictional screenplay being played out on September 11th. I knew immediately we couldn’t do War of the Worlds as conceived. It was a strange time. I found myself weeping on the phone with Michele Jeffers at Foundation Imaging. They were great in that they wrote off some of the effects work we had built for War of the Worlds. The fans of War of the Worlds will be very pleased with the direction we are taking, but I won’t just slap it out there. War of the Worlds deserves care and time and there is no other way I could do it.”

Pendragon Producer Susan Goforth adds, “The script has to be rewritten from the ground up. This new version will be a true and accurate adaptation of the Wells classic story placed in its original 1898 setting. It’s been emotionally difficult for us to see sets and thousands of preparations scrapped. But Timothy has made the right choice.”

It’s really a shame, because this was a piece of concept art:

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Timothy Hines was also posting stuff like this prior to the old film being scrapped:

“The fans of War of the Worlds will be very pleased with the direction we are taking, but I won’t just slap it out there. War of the Worlds deserves care and time and there is no other way I could do it.”

– 7th October 2001

“Everyone has come away from the script telling us that when we film this story, it will be the most frightening movie ever made.”

– 6th June 2001

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Now this wasn’t a bad thing necessarily, having a period drama version of the original story would be amazing if done well. As long as the script is there, something like this could be a huge hit. It took until 2005 for the film to finally surface in trailers and press clippings and it did not look good. due to the delay, Steven Spielberg had swooped in with his own film, and one by Asylum pictures was also in the works. it seems that Pendragon had to get the movie out there, and boy they did! Everyone knows that you can’t adapt a book 100% to a movie, because if you do it will be a horrendous borefest. If you want a case-study in that fact, look no further than this movie.

Before we get to that, I wanted to touch base on one of the most baffling things associated with the production of this film – the Amazon scandal it was part of. It seems Hines, or someone else working for Pendragon Studios (then later trolls) decided to flood Amazon.com with over 3500 fake 5 star reviews, one of which actually implied that film made a lady stop being lesbian and another that said the film was a religious experience.You see, this film was ONLY available on Amazon and Wal-Mart for some reason (probably because it’s bad) and they wanted to ensure bad reviews got buried. next thing you know, the film is top of Amazon’s film ratings and is selling like hot cakes to people that think it’s the Tom Cruise film most likely.

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Totally a real mustache guys!

This was the era of look-alike films at video stores to trick old people, a business plan championed by companies like Asylum Entertainment – the guys behind such “mockbusters” as Snakes on a Train, The Land That Time Forgot, Transmorphers, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter, The Da Vinci Treasure, Battle of Los Angeles, and Paranormal Entity. H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds fit right into the mold.

The film is basically comically bad in every way possible. Usually first time directors decide to do a small movie to get their ears wet, and if it that’s popular, go ahead and get more funding for something bigger. Hines decided to tackle an epic war film right of the bat. I could possibly handle the horrendous special effects had the acting been anything better than community theater acting. And by horrendous special effects I mean late-night Christian children’s programming graphics.

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Then we have the plotting of the film, which moves at such a glacial pace, that the film seems 12 hours long. It’s honestly VERY true to the book, but it’s true to a fault because it makes everything nearly unwatchable. The plotting can be summed up as follows:

  • Main character hears about aliens
  • main character walks somewhere for 5 minutes
  • main character talks to somebody
  • walks back for another 5 minutes
  • sees some alien thing that is completely useless to the film because….
  • MORE WALKING!
  • CGI Tripod blows up GCI houses
  • repeat for 3 hours….

 

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Another major flaw is realism. The story takes place in Victorian/Edwardian England, about the time of the Boer Wars, but everyone is either dressed as if it is an American western or in a World War II era war movie. this can be overlooked as me being a snobby history major looking for things to whine about, but the costuming is so inconsistent it almost looks like this was directed by multiple people. also, NOONE is British or able to pull off a convincing accent. Most people have some ridiculous sing-songy fake cockney accent this side of Mary Poppins or a faux Royal Accent that makes everyone sound like a bad community Shakespeare play. There is even a guy who must have a Scottish and Irish split personality, because he switches between both at will.

And don’t get me started on the main actors fake mustache that falls off either.

Here is one of the better scenes in the film if you want to see some of the glory within:

 

 

One of these days, I might have to give Pendragon Pictures another chance as they apparently took another stab at the premise with a docudrama called War of the Wolds: The True Story (2012). I’m under no impressions that the film looks amazing, but it at least looks interesting, and the special effects look marginally better. It seems to use the same footage as this film mixed with new stuff, so maybe the editing will mask any other problems the film had.

It allegedly won some awards, so it might be passable. Either that or Timothy Hines is the modern day Ed Wood.


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The Tripods: (1984) Chateau Ricordeau, France, August 2089

AKA Season 1, episode 8

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“What I can’t have, nobody else shall have!”

 

This is the ONE sentence that sums up this particular story-arc‘s mini-villain pretty well. This was, of course, Duc Du Sarlat‘s answer to Will’s simple question of “why Eloise?” pertaining to the previous episode’s climax. For those not following along at home, this general “D-bag” referred to as The Duc Du Sarlat basically cheated in order to win a prestigious athletics tournament, and was given the chance to name his own “Queen of the Tournament”. He, of course, chose the love interest of his rival, his former fiance until Will showed up. This was purely in spite, and generally because he wasn’t getting his way.

You may be thinking “I’ve seen this trope a million times before, if she’s got to marry that slime ball, Will should just…” Wait right there…Eloise wasn’t betrothed to Sarlat, no that would be easy, she won a one-way trip to the Tripod home city never to be seen again. This sort of villainy is great, because a lot of genre fiction villains fall into the problem of being “too cool to be bad”and end up being either anti-heroes or reformed villains turned heroes in the end. Unless my assumptions are completely off here, Sarlat is destined for none of that. He seems to be taking a page out the the playbook of other notable fictitious bastards (non-literal) and doing everything in his power to be vile and unlikable.

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Duc Du Sarlat is your classic literary”resenter” villain, he’s that guy that stands behind the hero and feels bad because the hero of the tale is getting good things, and he’s losing a bit of his prestige. In previous blogs, I’ve generally compared him to a Game of Thrones character named Joffrey, but If I mill over the whole thing, he’s more like Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy. Not only is he a colossal jerk, but he’s also pretty pathetic and isn’t even cool enough to be a real villain. If he were to get killed, that would almost be too good for him.

Will gets tired of his new social pressures sans-Eloise and slips out under cover of nightfall during a fancy banquet. This is really no shock since he was planning an escape anyway, but the way he leaves is sort of depressing. While riding a horse around the French countryside, in an inky cover of darkness, he stumbles onto a lurking Tripod and is taken prisoner by it’s huge metallic tendrils.

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The next morning, Will wakes up as if nothing had happened. He wasn’t capped, and it definitely wasn’t a dream, so he is puzzled why he is so lucky. After meeting back up with Henry and Beanpole it all becomes clear – the Tripods have planted a tracking beacon into his skin like a wildlife conservationist would do to a fish. Not only are they following the boys, the tripods seem to be using them to gather Intel on other like-minded people.

One quibble I had with this episode was that more than a few of the exterior scenes were nearly pitch black. I sometimes get privately annoyed when movies and TV shows film “night-time scenes” in broad daylight then lay a cheesy “oh look how dark it is!” filter over the whole thing. It usually looks like the movie is being filmed with sunglasses over the camera. Here we see why they do that, as many scenes during Will’s escape are almost entirely pitch black. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s riding a white horse, I’d think that my TV suddenly stopped working. These scenes do work in that once will almost rides his horse into a Tripod, it’s lights cast an creepy green tinge to everything that gives an other-worldly feel.

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One of the recurring themes of this show is the loss of civilization due to The Tripods, and our heroes coming to terms with a past that is so distant to them that they are completely ignorant to it. We saw a bit of this is a previous episode involving the boys walking through a Parisian shopping mall and nearly getting themselves killed with various weapons like guns and grenades.

This time we see them come face to face with a marauding Tripod trying to corner them in a small shack that the boys are using as a safe house. Henry has a great idea: starting a fire will cause smoke to surround them, and they should be able to escape through said smoke. Next thing you know, the boys have started a huge fire and are chucking all the wood they can find onto it. The camera pans over the back wall to reveal a HUGE stockpile of various petroleum-based fuels such as gasoline and kerosene! This is where they innocently discover an easy way to get a Tripod off their backs – an explosion!

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With that out of the way, this episode is the first that really starts to look into the nature of the Tripods themselves. The boys ponder if it’s a huge creature or if it’s merely a vessel by which something drives around the countryside. It’s still a while before we get the answer, but at least Will and the gang are starting to discover what they can do to defend themselves against this monstrous walkers, even if it takes the might of a while storeroom of gasoline to do the trick.

All in all, this was a solid episode, and a great injection of much needed action piped into the show after the characters were running around a stuffy chateau for the better part of four episodes. Now Will has nothing to distract him from the goal of reaching the White Mountains as fast as they can, and barring more Tripods, nothing can stop them.

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The Tripods (1984) – A village in England: July, 2089 AD

The Tripods first came to my attention a few years ago when I stumbled upon a picture of one of the titular crafts in some sort of memorabilia magazine full of garage model kits. As I recall, I had no idea that there was some sort of “sequel” to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and wondered why I had never heard of it. I was, of course, mistaken as the concept of these three-legged walking crafts is merely inspired by those similar Martian crafts, and have no relation otherwise. The Tripods was actually a series of “young reader” novels penned by John Christopher in the late 1960’s to the early 1980’s. The series was a success and was eventually adapted into the very television show that we’re talking about today. The production was a joint venture between the BBC and the Australian Seven network, and lasted two seasons. Sadly a third season died before it went into production.

The Tripods is immediately unsettling based solely on the setting alone. The juxtaposition of the words “A village in England: July, 2089 AD” and the primitive, somewhat pastoral, village setting we see right from the get-go sets up what I will be calling “The Reverse Shyamalan”- we have already seen the twist, let’s find out why it happened. We know that something isn’t right: either these people are some sort of Anabaptist off-shoot that hates technology, or something bad has happened in the past. This is answered almost immediately as we meet the main characters on their way to a village celebration. It seems that a neighborhood boy has reached the age at which everyone is considered an adult, and is to have his “capping ceremony”.

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Will and his cousin Henry are disturbed by this practice as everyone that gets “capped” comes back different. Capped individuals seem to lose any sort of creativity, drive, and imagination that made them who they were . “Adults” become bland worker drones that want no other past time than work and singing the praise of their “masters”. These masters are of course gigantic three legged monstrosities called “Tripods” and the Capping Ceremony can be surmised as a way of them controlling humans. At this point we have no idea what these creatures are or what they want with the human race, but one can see that it isn’t good.

Will strikes up a conversation with an eccentric “vagrant” named Ozymandias that talks of a land of free men in the White Mountains, a land outside of the influence of the tripods. Vagrants are those that are seen as harmless by the Tripods and regular capped townspeople, but are not allowed to mingle with everyone else. Usually it is accepted that these people were “driven mad” by the capping process and are better to be not spoken about. Will is amazed by what Ozymandias has to say, and plans to escape to the European mainland to find this utopia of freedom.

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As with many BBC science fiction productions of the time, the special effects are dated to the eighties. The hairstyles, clothes, and even set designs are very much reminiscent of other TV productions I have seen from the time. This show does appear to have a better budget than something like classic Doctor Who, in that there are location shots, outdoor scenes, and other evidence that the whole thing wasn’t just locked into a dark studio in an industrial park somewhere. The tripods themselves are done with miniatures and puppets; these look great to me and would have been poorly done had contemporary computer generated effects come into play. I sometimes look at late eighties Doctor Who and cringe at some of the special effects. For me this eighties vibe adds to the charm, and there really isn’t anything that makes it so dated that it’s hard to watch – something that is hard to say about a handful of older U.S. productions that haven’t held up. I recall renting the TV series to the landmark miniseries V, and barely making it through the season. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the boys are walking around in a post-apocalyptic world that had a vaguely referenced bad thing happen in the past. If you see them find some blatantly eighties clothes in an abandoned storefront, as we see in a later episode it makes sense because humanity has regressed to something like pre-industrialized England or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

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One thing that immediately caught me was the musical score as done by Ken Freeman. He is notable for being behind the synthesizer parts of the legendary rock opera version of The War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne.Freeman did a great job of creating a solid synthesizer-based soundtrack for the series; one that is neither overpowering nor too minimalist. I always had problems with eighties shows being accompanied by either disco music (which immediately dates it) or music that sounds like a cat running across a piano to emphasize action. Here is a video of the opening theme to give you an idea of the kind of music I’m talking about. While the show hasn’t had as much exposure, I liken this to equally catchy and iconic theme songs such as The A-Team, Airworlf, and Doctor Who.

The Tripods is a solid show, and has captivated both my wife and I all this week. Perhaps it is my love for these sort of post-apocalyptic stories that has led me to such enjoyment, but I feel any science fiction fan should enjoy it unless they are adverse to seeing the eighties. The Tripods is one of those shows that keeps you on the edge of your seat; whether it be the unraveling mystery of what happened before 2089, or the constant cliffhanger endings,I was always entertained.

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How to watch this at your house:

For whatever reason, The Tripods was never released in the United States or Canada on home media. I assume that this boils down to Disney “squatting” on the rights to making a feature film based on the license. Disney has a habit of blocking DVD releases of things until it suits them monetarily (see Tron on DVD prior to the release of the second film). If they had been released, I could have recommended you guys just ordering this on Amazon, but a tad more creativity is needed if you want to watch this show over here. If you have a region-free DVD player, you could always import the show from the UK; make sure you read my guide to region-free DVD players for more info on importing home media to the U.S. If you’d rather not deal with things like international shipping, I did find a seller with the import in America, but one still needs the special player to run the disks”

The Tripods: Series 1 & 2 [Regions 2 & 4]

Of course there are  also “other means”, but I’ll leave that up to you guys! If books are more your speed, there are four in the Tripods series:

The White Mountains

The City of Gold and Lead

The Pool of Fire

When the Tripods Came