Adaptations of H.G. Wells’ ‘War of The Worlds’

Before I move on to the main point of this article I must state how utterly astounding this novel is.

For start it was originally published during the reign of Queen Victoria as a serial in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897. Magazines were extremely popular at the time and many novels were originally published as serials before becoming hardback novels. In the case of ‘War of The Worlds’, the book form was published in 1898.

If a marker of the start of the modern world was the production line that produced the Ford Model T (the worlds first ‘affordable’ car), then the modern world was at least another ten years away – and yet here is a story about interplanetary travel!

Tripod Sculpture – Woking, England

Apart from the era it was written in, many of the ideas and concepts expressed directly or indirectly in the story touch on subjects that are still discussed or written about in the twenty-first century (with varying levels of seriousness). It certainly laid the bedrock for science fiction throughout the twentieth century and all of this began with an alien cylinder landing on Horsell Common, just outside Woking – 32 mile south of London.

War of the Worlds introduced the idea of an alien invasion (alien in terms of interplanetary rather than merely foreign). It also established the concept that Martians were aggressive, and that Mars was an ancient and highly advanced civilisation, but probably in decay. It can be read as a comment on Victorian society, imperialism and exploitation, advanced warfare and the mechanisation of war. There is also the influence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the whole science-verses-religion debate (‘On The Origin of Species‘ was only published in 1859).

Orson Welles

There have been a number of significant adaptations for radio and film over the years and I will briefly touch on the most significant versions.

In terms of radio, the version that is most remembered is the 1938 adaptation directed and performed by Orson Welles, and which essentially made his name. The production, which went out on Halloween of that year, was startlingly innovative – it was broadcast in the form of a News Flash which appeared to interrupt another radio programme, and announced the invasion as though it was happening in real time at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Apparently the story that thousands fled their homes in a blind panic, believing it was a real news report, was largely exaggerated by the newspapers.

In 1953 George Pal produced a big budget film version for Paramount Studios, which also placed the action in America. George Pall already had hit films with ‘Destination Moon‘ and ‘When Worlds Collide‘, so was particularly associated with Science Fiction, and would later film the classic version of H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine‘ with Rod Taylor, Alan Young and Yvette Mimieux.

Yet another version to erroneously place the action on American soil, was the 2005 Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins. Obviously, Spielberg’s filmography needs no explanation!

There have been other adaptations, but these have by far been the most significant versions to date.

Although the British release date has yet to be announced (it has already aired in a few other countries), there is a new three part BBC television series of War of The Worlds which is due to be broadcast in the UK sometime before Christmas. Surprisingly, it is the first time that the novel has been adapted by a British broadcaster. I am hoping that this new version will be good enough to be considered as one of the classics and there are a couple of reasons for this.

For a start it will be the first screen version to be based close to the era of the original novel – although not set in Victorian times, it is based in the Edwardian era, so not far off. Also, it will be set geographically where the the novel was set, namely London and Surrey – not America for a change! On the whole, this appears to be the most faithful adaptation so far – I just hope it’s going to be good enough – apparently it was originally due to be broadcast last year but was delayed due to technical problems with the special effects in post production (well, I’m hoping that was the only reason!)

What I will be interested in seeing is it’s portrayal of the Curate (if he appears at all) in the BBC adaptation. In the original novel, he is more than a little unhinged by what’s going on – he believes that the Martians have been sent by God to punish us for our sins. This could be seen as a comment about the fragility of religious dogma in the face of indisputable circumstances, or, in other words, in the face of rational and scientific observation (in contrast to the curate, the narrator of the novel is portrayed as the voice of reason). When the curate looses it completely the narrator effectively kills him with a shovel for fear of being discovered by the Martians.

Confronting the Martians with religion.

It is interesting to note that in the 1953 film version of the novel the religious representative, a Pastor, believes that the Martians must be essentially good beings because they too were made by God and that they will see the righteousness of God’s word. This belief is maintained even after having seen them kill other humans. He walks towards them reading from the Bible and swiftly gets blasted out of existence. Is this the way the world saw religion in the middle of the twentieth century, essentially powerless in the face of modernity and mechanisation, or was the Pastor a martyr standing up for religious belief no matter what. Interestingly, the film also has a scene in a church at the end when the Martians are dying, which suggests mankind was saved by the work of God.

In the 2005 Spielberg version the Curate does not make an appearance, but aspects of him are amalgamated with the artilleryman from the novel, in the form of Tim Robbins’ character – a crazed individual who wants to hunker down with the hope of planning a Guerrilla attack at some point in the future. He is killed with a shovel (like the Curate in the book) by Tom Cruise’s character through fear of discovery (apparently in this version the invaders were not from Mars, but some distant unnamed planet, largely because the idea of intelligent life on Mars has unfortunately been discredited). So, where is religion in this version (and for that matter, in the twenty-first century?) and will it feature at all in the new BBC adaptation?

The interesting point about War of The Worlds and it’s relation to religion is that it suggests that Science and Technology cannot save man, anymore than the belief in a Deity can. It is Nature which defeats the invading force – or the human race is saved, as Wells puts it in the opening paragraph, of the novel, by “the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water”.

Ultimately Wells may have been suggesting that it is not a good idea to sell your soul to any one belief system, but to be more widely aware of the world and it’s multitude of ideas and perspectives, because no single theory has all the answers…

The British Library Sound Archive

Sound equipmentIn May of this year The British Library highlighted the situation regarding it’s Sound Archive (something I had not previously realised the British Library had), and that if nothing is done to preserve it we may loose chunks of our history captured in audio form.  The situation is succinctly put on the website, and reads:-

The nation’s sound collections are under threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production. Global archival consensus is that we have approximately 15 years in which to save our sound collections by digitising them before they become unreadable and are effectively lost.
Some people will recognise the problem from a similar situation – the difficulty in reading early computer programmes (see my article, here).  Once a technology is superseded, the ability to access material stored in certain formats becomes increasingly difficult, let alone the natural degradation of the recording medium itself.  To counter this the British Library has set up the Save Our Sounds web page and identified three main aims for the project:-
  • to preserve as much as possible of the nation’s rare and unique sound recordings, not just those in our collections but also key items from partner collections across the UK
  • to establish a national radio archive that will collect, protect and share a substantial part of the UK’s vibrant radio output, working with the radio industry and other partners
  • to invest in new technology to enable us to receive music in digital formats, working with music labels and industry partners to ensure their long-term preservation.

It has received a huge injection of funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund but still requires donations to further it’s work (you can find out how to contribute here).  If you would like to explore some of the archive you can gain access to 60,000 recordings which have been digitised and made available online, here.The British LibraryCurrently there is an ongoing project, begun in 2012 and recorded by the BBC, called The Listening Project.  I have heard a few of these edited conversations on the radio and they are quite fascinating.  The British Library page has this to say about them:-

The Listening Project is an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC.  People are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative, to be recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC and curated and archived in full by the British Library.  These one to one conversations, lasting up to an hour and taking a topic of the speakers’ choice, collectively form a picture of our lives and relationships today.

Whether you interest lies in Classical Music, Oral History, World Traditional Music or the sounds of nature and the environment, there should be something of interest in the archive.  There is even a section of images of early play-back and sound recording equipment and early record catalogues from 1898 to 1926!  The Listening Project recordings can be found under the Accents and Dialects section or through the link above which goes to the BBC page on the project.Sounds of Our ShoresThis summer there is another audio project, but this time it brings together The British Library sound archive and The National Trust called Sounds of Our Shores:-

What does the UK coastline sound like during the summer of 2015? What are the distinctive sounds of Scottish estuaries, Cornish beaches, the Pembrokeshire coast or a busy seafront? In what ways do these sounds fascinate us, move us or seem important to us?

Sounds of our Shores is a community-led, interactive soundmap which asks members of the public to upload their favourite seaside sounds and help build a permanent digital resource of UK coastal recordings.

If you are near the coast in the UK and fancy contributing to this sound archive just go to the website and read the simple instructions – you can contribute as many recordings as you like, but I think they want something more than just waves crashing on a beach or seagulls screeching, so try to be creative.  I happened to be on the stern of HMS Warrior when the America’s Cup boats left Portsmouth Harbour a few weeks ago and caught the vague sound of people as they watched it happen.  It’s quite indistinct, except for a woman saying “Pretty good init.  Really impressive wan’t it….all come past us like that…” (from about 1.15), you can hear the whole thing here.

BBC Archives – Do You Have Any?

The BBC is gradually making some of its huge archive of radio and television material available online.  It is a unique resource reaching back to the 1930’s and like Your Paintings, which I mentioned in an earlier posting, it belongs to all of us.

There is a slight problem though – many tapes were wiped for various reasons and there are significant gaps in the Archive.  In the early days of television and radio many programmes were broadcast live and simply not recorded, others were not thought worth preserving.  For instance, there are no remaining recordings of George Orwell, even though he regularly made broadcasts with the BBC.

Now that the BBC is celebrating 90 years of broadcasting they are calling for people to search their attics, basements and sheds to try to re-discover some of these lost broadcasts – The Listener’s Archive would like to hear of any good quality recording on any format to help fill the holes (also see this update – Listener’s Archive Appeal Update).  It may sound ridiculous that such a huge organisation is calling on its listeners to help them out (and even more ridiculous that so much material has been lost) but incredible discoveries do occur – just last month a recording of the BBC’s coverage of the Moon landing, previously thought lost for ever, was discovered by Philip London who, at the age of 12 in 1969, had recorded the broadcast from the TV on a machine his dad had recently brought back from Singapore!  It is amazing to think what treasures are still sitting around gathering dust, just waiting to be rescued…

In an attempt to make some of the existing archive available to the public there are a couple of pages on the BBC website with rarely seen material from throughout its vast history.

The main page of the BBC Archive is a little uninspiring, but rooting around reveals that it contains a wide range of material covering a variety of topics.  For instance there is a documentary on Henry Moore, the first British documentary on a living artist (originally broadcast in 1951); coverage of The Beatles arriving at London Airport in 1964; inside the clock tower of the Houses Of Parliament to see how Big Ben Is Cleaned (a part of the Blue Peter programme from 1980); and a range of clips from Tomorrows World from 1965 to 1994, as well as dozens of other oddities which would not now get an airing on traditional broadcast television.  The Archive is arranged so that if you want to look up an individual programme, a specific person, or a particular subject then you can, or you can simply browse under the Collections heading.

There is a slightly more attractive home page on BBC Four Collections – it seems to have more full length programmes rather than just excerpts, but I may be wrong there.  It’s main category is London, which has a fascinating programme on How They Dug The Victoria Line first broadcast in 1969; a look at Swinging London (Three Swings On A Pendulum) from 1967; right up to 1999 with a look at the characters who work at Billingsgate Market (Fish Tales).

Other categories offer a vast range of factual content from BBC Radio 4, programmes on the armed forces, the art of interview, and American culture.

Now get in the attic, shed or basement and start searching!

The Space

The arts – live, free and on demand.

The Art Council England and the BBC are collaborating to provide an online arts channel as a part of the Cultural Olympiad which aims to celebrate the cultural side of the UK during 2012, the year of the Olympic Games in Great Britain.  To quote The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s webpage, and answer the question what is the Cultural Olympiad:-

The 2012 London Games are not just about sport – they are an opportunity to enjoy and participate in a major cultural celebration.  Launched in 2008, the Cultural Olympiad is a four-year programme of cultural activity. It includes national and local projects as part of a UK-wide Cultural Festival.

The Space is available on the internet and as a channel on internet ready televisions.  It has a wide range of arts based content – including Film, Music, Dance, Theatre, Literature and The Spoken Word, plus Visual & Media Arts.  There should be something of interest for most people interested in the arts, unfortunately it is only planned to be available until the end of October 2012 (let’s hope it’s extended!) – so make the most of it while you can!

Here’s two related mini-documentaries I found of interest:-

Hitchcock At The Picture Palace


Seeds Of Genius: Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden

Your Paintings

Rather than write a review this week I thought I’d highlight a worthy project.

The Public Catalogue Foundation has teamed up with the BBC to digitise and catalogue all the oil paintings owned by the Nation (by us actually!), which is estimated to be about 200,000 pieces by nearly 40,000 artists.  This includes all the easily accessible ones in museums and galleries, but will also include all the paintings which cannot normally be viewed by the general public.  Apparently four in five of our art works cannot be easily seen, either because there is no room on the walls of our museums (so are kept in storage) or are in civic buildings that are not usually accessible.

Although oil is the predominate medium (due to its hundreds of years of use) the catalogue also includes tempera (egg based paint which was used up to the 1500 when oil took over) right up to acrylic paint (first used in the 1950’s).  Apparently it does not include watercolours which seems strange and their defence of the decision not to include them comes across as a little weak to say the least:-

Your Paintings focuses  on oil painting for two reasons. First, because oil was the preferred medium of  most well-known artists for hundreds of years. Secondly, whilst the number of  watercolours and drawings in the national collection is in the millions, the  size of the oil painting collection is a practical proposition to digitise in  its entirety.

That said, it is a fantastic project that will finally quantify a significant proportion of the art owned by the nation (many collections have not been properly recorded and photographed until now) and make it accessible to the people who actually paid for it.  It is also possible to take part in this project by signing up and tagging the paintings to help categorise and make them more searchable, although I believe this will only be possible until the cataloguing has been completed.  Hopefully they will move onto the nation’s watercolours after this current project has been completed.

The project has about 8% of the UK’s paintings to go and is expected to finish late 2012.


The Public Catalogue Foundation

BBC – Your Paintings