Guest Post: Lisa talks War of the Worlds!
Posted January 10, 2014on:
The War of the Worlds Broadcast, by Lisa from Over the Effing Rainbow
Lisa is a Scottish blogger and voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy in most of its forms. Tea junkie, Dresdenphile, nail polish enthusiast, nibbler of cheese, devourer of cake.
Original air date: October 30th, 1938
Aired on: Columbia Broadcasting System
Where I got it: Amazon UK – MP3 (original recording)
My rating: 4/5
This adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic sci-fi novel was performed by Orson Welles, in a Halloween episode of the radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre On The Air. There have been a good few adaptations of this story over the years, from TV and movies to a bestselling album, but for this year’s Vintage Sci-Fi Month – and given the approaching Retro Hugos event at this year’s Worldcon – I thought I’d go right back to the ‘Panic Broadcast’, as well as reviewing the original novel.
For those who might not know the story, the broadcast of this adaptation, thanks to the news bulletin-style presentation of the first two thirds, apparently caused a widespread panic among listeners who believed the events being ‘reported’ were really happening.
Facepalming aside, because while it’s certainly true that we’d find such things difficult to believe today (to say the least), nonetheless I really enjoyed listening to this, even by way of a scratchy original recording. The quality of it might appall those who are too used to crystal clarity nowadays, but for me that was part of the charm. I have a soft spot for old-fashioned things like this, and for all things 1930s in particular, so I fell right into the story – for the most part, anyway, but more on that in a bit.
In adapting the story from the novel to radio, the setting is moved from England to New York, but this doesn’t dampen the enjoyment too much. I also have a soft spot for New York, so this worked out well. Even if it was being destroyed most of the time. Most of my enjoyment, in fact, came from Welles’ narration of the events following the initial Martian invasion. He does a really good job of creating a mental picture of what’s going on, even if that picture is, perhaps unavoidably, a bit dated now, and almost certainly on the clunky side. Then again, geeks the world over have been Doctor Who fans for decades, so I’m assuming such things needn’t be a death sentence to fun.
And this adaptation IS fun. I mean, come on. Alien invasions! Widespread panic! HEAT RAYS!! Pair all of that with a very enjoyable bulletin-style presentation, and this is certainly worth listening to if you can get your hands on it.
What kept it from five stars, for me, was the switch in the final third from the news bulletins I was enjoying to a first-person, journal-style account of the aftermath that, while it’s certainly much more akin to the novel’s style, was a bit jarring and maybe not as intriguing. While the novel, written in this style, is still interesting and worth a read, I did find that approach taking away a bit of the immersive enjoyment I could otherwise have had. I preferred the first two thirds to the last, for certain. But regardless, four stars is still a win for something that’s had almost eighty years to gather dust. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who’s into vintage science fiction, so if you can get your hands on this, I say go ahead and give it a try!