Hello my Beautiful Watchers and welcome to Lost in Adaptation, a review show about comparing
the plot and theme accuracy of film adaptations to the books that inspired them.
The War of the Worlds was the work of a turn of the 19th and 20th century British author
by the name of Herbert George Wells or HG Wells as he’s more commonly referred to.
I usually try not to gush too much in these reviews, but the impact that HG Wells had
on writing and the genre of science fiction in particular cannot be overstated.
I mean you can’t really say that any one person invented something like a genre but
he sure as fuck was a massive factor in it. He’s been dubbed both the “father of science
fiction” and the “Shakespeare of science fiction” since his death. I mean, he’s
considered up there with the likes of Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback.
His predictions were so visionary and ahead of their time that people believed that they
actually advanced real life science. Robert Goddard, the man who invented the liquid fueled
rocket and jump started the space age claimed that he was a huge fan of Wells and was inspired
in part by his ideas.
The War of the Worlds was originally a serialised story released in multiple magazines throughout
1897 then published in hardback a year later.
You can totally tell when you’re reading it that the different parts of the story are
It was not Wells’ first foray into the realms of science fiction as he had published the
also extremely popular and much adapted The Time Machine a few years earlier.
Judging from the Patreon survey a plot synopsis of the book might be in order for this one.
If you are already familiar with it and for some bizarre reason don’t want to listen
to the sultry tones of my voice as much as possible here’s the point to skip to.
Set in the then contemporary 1890s the book centers around an unnamed protagonist who
appears to be living in fairly comfortable wealth in southern England with his wife and
In this version of reality Mars is just as inhabitable as Earth, though it’s starting
to become less so because it started its life cycle much sooner and is therefore reaching
the natural end of it.
The Martian inhabitants, being an older race had evolved far past humans and developed
their technology to a much higher level, so when their world started to become decidedly
sucky they decided to help themselves to ours.
To this end they smelt a giant gun, filled some large canisters with a ton of machine
parts and half a dozen Martians and fired a bunch of them at Earth over a period of
A few months later, they all landed in England and the first happened to come down quite
near the village that the protagonist lived in so he got a good look at the Martians coming
out. His description of them put me slightly to mind of a deformed grey oily skinned octopus,
but with a much bigger head, smaller, more delicate tentacles and a hideous face on the
As the Martians seemed to be having trouble moving around in Earth’s stronger gravity,
so much so they couldn't seem to climb out of the pit their crashed cylinder spaceship
had made humans didn’t consider them much of a threat at first, even after they killed
several people trying to talk to them using a heat ray blast.
It wasn’t until they finished building their giant three legged death machines to ride
around in that people realised what deep doo doo they were in.
During this time the lead, being smarter than the average gawker had taken his wife to stay
with his cousin in another, slightly further away town.
Upon his return he discovers that a army of soldiers had been sent to deal with the Martians
but they’d all been wiped out and now the invaders were strolling around the countryside
laying waste to everything.
He teams up with one of the very few surviving soldiers, an artilleryman who helps him flee
Along the way they see that the British army is setting up massive gun batteries to combat
the Martians, and at first they do put up an impressive defense, even successfully destroying
a single tripod, however once the Martians start using not only their heat reay but also
a long range gas attack all resistance is quickly swept aside.
The lead narrowly escapes death yet again as he gets caught up in a massacre as the
aliens attack a large group of people attempting to cross a river by boats. Shortly later he
meets up with another survivor, a town curate.
I have to confess... I had to stop reading at this point to look up what a curate is.
Apparently it's a religious occupation. Basically a priest’s assistant.
The narrative switches slightly at this point as the lead puts his story on hold to describe
his brother’s experience with the invasion.
His brother lived in London so you see how city dwellers dealt with the news of the alien
invasion, which is to say that they also completely underestimated the threat until they were
basically walking their tripods down the Thames. Then they all tried to evacuate at once in
a mass of panic.
The lead’s brother fairs better than most, making it all the way to the coast and paying
an extortionate price to a steam ship captain to take him to France.
His ship and a fleet of other escape vessels might have met a sticky end as three tripods
arrived to stop them escaping, but they were saved by the sacrifice of a navy ironclad
named Thunderchild that sacrificed itself to kill two of them.
Returning to the lead, he travels with the curate for awhile, though he finds him cowardly,
selfish, slow witted and has limited patience for a man so weak minded as to lose his head
in a situation like this.
They have the very bad luck to take refuge in a house that gets partially demolished
by the arrival of the last alien cylinder and end up trapped in the cellar.
Through a hole in the rubble they get to watch the aliens building a big machine using small
machines, much to their distress, them using machines to suck all the blood out of some
human prisoners to transfuse into themselves.
This is apparently how the Martians sustain themselves. The lead thorises that they evolved
away their need for a digestive tract by taking pre-nourished blood from other creatures.
Huh… I wonder if that technically makes them vampires.
At this point the curate completely loses what’s left of his mind and starts bellowing
scripture. The lead, concerned that he’s going to alert the nearby Martians to their
presence strikes him about the head, killing him.
The Martians make a somewhat half-assed cursory investigation of the cellar with a robotic
tentacle but don’t find the lead, who later escapes and wanders the now decimated countryside
of England alone until he happens to come across another survivor, none other than the
artilleryman that he met earlier in the story.
He seems to have thought out some big plans for starting an underground society with everyone
who’s tough enough to escape the Martians. Building a world in the basements and sewers
until they’ve learned enough about the Martians to steal their technology and reclaim the
The lead is initially impressed with how quickly he’s adapted to the new situation and is
swept up in his optimism for an outcome in which the human race is not completely exterminated,
however he quickly realises on seeing how little progress the former soldier has made
towards this ideal that the man is all talk and lacks the stamina and commitment to see
any of his plans through.
Disappointed, the protagonist takes his leave of the artilleryman and having given up hope
entirely wanders into London and towards the first tripod he sees in the hopes of ending
To his surprise the war machine is completely shut down and the Martians within are super
dead. He learns later that either through Martian meddling or some freak of evolution,
Mars is devoid of any pathogens so the Martians, possessing no immune system had all died of
the viruses a human body would easily fight off.
The lead goes a bit mad after this and has to be looked after by some other survivors.
When he regains his senses he is heartbroken to be informed that the town he left his wife
in for safekeeping was completely destroyed so she and his family members are surely dead.
However, returning to the ruins of his home village and what's left of his house he is
surprised to meet them there alive and well against all the odds so the book ends on a
slightly happy note.
It's mentioned in the epilogue that humanity doesn't expect the Martians to return but
are keeping an eye on the red planet anyway, and astronomers noticed strange activity on
Venus so they think there’s a chance that the aliens chose to settle there instead.
I stand by my statement that Wells was an absolute visionary, but as you can see, he
did not get everything right. Most noticeably, believing that all the planets in the solar
system have the potential to support life and assuming that being fired out of what
is essentially a giant cannon would be the most effective way of leaving a planet’s
Some essential scientific discoveries that later dictated how space travel would actually
work just hadn’t been conceived of yet in his lifetime so if he had been bang on the
money I would probably be calling witchcraft right about now or assuming that he did in
fact invent a time machine.
It’s the fact that he got people thinking about it that’s so amazing. You have to
understand that Wells published this book theorizing extraterrestrial invasion almost
a decade before the Wright Brothers left the soil of North Carolina on their first powered
It seems slightly weird to me that he wrote that only England was attacked. Presumably
the Martians were going to move onto the other parts of the world once the greatest empire
of the time was crippled but it still seems odd to me that they initially limited themselves
to assaulting one island nation out of the whole planet.
The ending is admittedly somewhat anticlimactic in book form. Things get worse and worse and
worse and worse and worse and worse and then it’s all just…over.
You can feel the tension of turn of the century Europe with its the superpowers that are starting
to butt heads dangerously within the pages of this book. I think at one point Wells says
that the arrival of the Martians initially caused significantly less of a stir than a
declaration of hostility from Germany would have.
Anyways…. In 1938 another man by the name of Welles, this time with the first name of
Orson, adapted the story into a radio drama that essentially pretended to be a collection
of emergency news broadcasts, military communications and interviews with witnesses that took place
during the alien invasion that’s described in the book.
The first half of this drama, rather than focusing on HG Wells’ lead character or
his storyline mostly stuck to the major world shaking events of the plot.
The second half is a single survivor recounting exactly what happened to him and as a result
is much closer to the experience of reading the book, adapting the lead’s second meeting
with the artilleryman and discovery of the unexpectedly dead Martians very closely.
This particular adaptation is notorious for the claim that some people, tuning in after
the intro explaining it and not realising that the broadcast was fictitious were under
the impression that there really was an alien invasion in progress and were moved to panic.
Disappointingly, from what I’ve been able to discover this claim is at best hugely exaggerated
and at worst completely made up by the newspapers of the time for sensationalism reasons and
in an attempt to attack Welles for his foolish and most unorthodox attempt at entertainment.
Oh yes, this bizzare man will amount to nothing in the future you mark my words.
Another famous adaptation of the story took the form of a film in 1953, created by producer
George Pal, and director Byron Haskin.
The modernisation that took place with every retelling of the story, became more noticeable
here as the difference in human society between when the book was written and the 50s was
The science, fictional and real is advanced along with the time period. Human weapons
had become massively more deadly so the Martians had to as well.
The canister delivered gas attacks are replaced by electromagnetic blasts that render most
human technology inert.
And the alien war machines now pack energy shields that no human weapon can penetrate,
not even the fearsome atomic bomb.
Said war machines hover in this version instead of walking around on three legs. I suspect
because it's much easier to use models with no moving parts.
As I mentioned, the A-bomb is deployed against the aliens in this version of the story though
its effect on the plot is pretty minor because it is utterly useless.
Another interesting change is this film’s attitude towards religion. While the lead
in the book was pious enough to occasionally pray to God for salvation in very dire straits,
the only representative of organized religion in the story was a sniveling short sighted
The film not only included a brave priest who sacrificed himself for the greater good
trying one last time to communicate with the aliens before all out war broke out, it also
basically gives God full credit for stepping in and defeating the Martians using microorganisms
at the end which is…. a bold statement.
Wells did say that God put bacteria on the Earth but I’m pretty sure he was just talking
poetically and I don't think he ever intended to imply that the aliens died because people
prayed for it super hard.
In 1978 a composer called Jeff Wayne released his own adaptation of the story in the form
of a musical album that I cannot play you one note of for copyright reasons.
It combined a narration of a very condensed and paraphrased version of the book into what
I’m told is progressive rock and a string orchestra. I’m not really a music guy so
I’m a bit out of my depth here.
There's a talking narrator, a singing narrator and then from track 7 onwards some of the
characters start performing their own songs. Both the artilleryman and the curate, now
a pastor have their own solos and they are ridiculous. The artilleryman sings for 12
fucking minutes about living in the sewers.
Considering this unusual medium this adaptation is surprisingly plot accurate, covering a
lot of the main events of the novel.
Major deviations include combining the lead’s brother’s part of the book into the lead’s
and a song where he makes his way to the coast and sees his significant other on a ship he
can’t quite get to before it leaves.
There's also a second epilogue that skips forward in time, presumably to the 70s where
Nasa is attempting to send a probe to Mars and gets signs that another invasion might
Interestingly, the Martians death wail, described as a Ullaaa sound in the book is repeatedly
used in the album’s songs.
This album is on the list of bestsellers of all time in the UK. Again, I’m not much
of a music guy but I’m told if you enjoy Pink Floyd you’ll probably like this.
There have been multiple video game adaptations of Wells’ novel over the years and even
one that’s technically an adaptation of an adaptation because it specifically claims
to be based on Jeff Wayne’s interpretation.
The reason I bring that up is there’s a cinematic in it involving a train being set
aflame that might actually have been referenced in the film we’re about to talk about.
In 2005 a bloke called Steven Spielberg decided to take another swing at The War of the Worlds,
making full use of the massive advancements in computer generated imagery that had occured
over the last decade. This film is the main subject of this episode of Lost In Adaptation.
As a film it was…. Ok… Ok seems to be the general consensus. It received good reviews
but no one seems to remember it as a masterpiece.
The two younger characters that Spielberg introduced received some hate at the time,
becoming the go to punch bag punch lines in parody movies like Scary Movie 4, but on re-viewing
I’ve become strongly of the opinion we were all too hard on them.
The LEAD is the real jackass in this story, these kids are just acting appropriately freaked
out by the situation as far as I can see.
Considering this film is about 14 years old now the CGI has actually held up incredibly
well. I’ve seen newer films that have aged much worse than this.
I have to confess, I went into this one expecting this adaptation to be In Name Only and it
was VERY close to it. Super borderline.
I flip flopped on the decision to declare it such like a dozen times but I finally landed
on it including just enough of the book to escape such a designation.
So with that in mind, let's talk adaptation.
Plot wise the film stuck to… Well it's kind of hard to put an estimate on it to be honest.
Let me just list it and let you decide for yourself.
Extraterrestrial invaders attempting to wipe out humanity using giant three legged robot
fighting machines so they could claim the Earth for themselves and the human military
being completely ineffective at stopping them, there being such a huge disparity in their
Civilians attempting to flee from the invaders with unfortunately limited success in most
The aliens eventually switching from just killing everyone they come across to capturing
them so they can suck out their blood later..
The aliens spreading a red root around, possibly to reverse terra form the plant to make it
nicer for them.
A tense moment of the lead hiding from a robotic tentacle looking for him in a basement he’s
taken cover in.
And the classic ending, despite their vastly superior war machines, the aliens eventually
all dying from the viruses and bacteria of Earth to which mankind has built up a immunity
over the course of our existence but to which they have no defense.
These things, and stuff like the panicked masses stampeding over each other in an animalistic
desire to prioritize their own survival over everyone else's is pretty much universal to
every adaptation. However… despite having the biggest disparity in things like setting
and time period, I think Spielberg captured some of the book’s original spirit in a
way few others even tried to.
First and foremost is the fact that this is very much a story of one man’s personal
experience with the alien invasion. This film is not a story about how the how the world
as a whole, any government or armed forces command dealt with the situation, it's about
this one entirely unexceptional person who happened to be at ground zero, several mass
exterminations and military confrontations and survived by the skin of his teeth mostly
through insanely good luck.
Along with this is the story spanning fixation with protecting a family member. In the book
it was the lead’s efforts to get his wife out of danger then his continued attempts
to return to her, in the movie it's primarily the protagonist’s attempt to protect his
estranged children, but the sentiment is the same I think.
An aggregate representative of both the artilleryman and the curate appears in the film in the
form of the survivalist that he father and daughter briefly hide with in the basement.
He talks a big game about long term plans for counter attack from below just like the
artilleryman, and subsequently loses his mind, forcing the lead to kill him for fear that
he’s going to give away their position to the aliens, the very fate of the curate of
It's also interesting to me that the film paid homage to the aliens attacking during
an attempted river crossing and the desperate partially submerged chaos that ensued.
The imagery of the boat making an emergency castoff, abandoning people to their doom is
also very reminiscent of the escape across the channel, the end of the lead’s brother’s
part of the book.
And the final plot twist of a relative believed lost miraculously turning up at the end with
no explanation as to how they survived is also a nice tie into the book.
To list all the differences between this film and book would require a 7 part series so
I fear I must restrict myself to the changes I personally found the most interesting.
It's almost goes without saying that all the same things I said about the 1953 version
regarding the alien science and technology being upgraded applies doubly to this film.
In fact, Spielberg borrowed heavily from the 1950s adaptation it seems, like really really
heavily in some places.
Most notably in regards to the aliens, he incorporated the electromagnetic pulse that
knocked out human communications and technology and the energy shields that protect the tripods
from human counterattack.
The shields are even more necessary to the story now because it's much harder to miss
with 21st century weaponry and they make sizably bigger explosions even when compared to the
This film goes even further, as the Martians’ original heat ray is replaced with a…. Well
I’m not entirely sure what that is. Its seems to be whatever is most dramatically
convenient to the plot, a light that evaporates biological matter while leaving clothing behind
or a force that can blow the roof off a house or an incineration beam that can set a bunch
of AVs on fire.
I just don’t get why the aliens would want to keep human clothing intact. Is their plan
to put our defeated trousers on their heads as they perform their victory parade?
The electronics frying pulse is now delivered by an artificially created lightning storm
which isn’t all that relevant but I wanted to mention because I thought it was cool.
I think the setting of the story being moved from Britain to America is also tied into
this modernization which is why I’m not adding this particular thing to my Amerians
always need to be the center of attention list.
A big part of this story is how shocking that it's supposed to be that the most powerful
military on Earth is swept aside in a matter of days. When the book was written the country
deserving that title was arguable, now it's undeniably America’s.
Because we know now that Mars is definitely not inhabited by an advanced race of douchebags
the aliens that come calling so rudely uninvited are interstellar instead of just extraterrestrial.
In this version of events their tripedal war machines were buried and waiting for them
on Earth for an unknown number of years. Almost certainly put there long before humanity started
developing civilization. How and why is never really addressed in the film.
While the blood theft is in the movie, its use is radically different. Instead of being
the Martian’s source of sustenance it’s sprayed around as fertilizer for their red
In the flesh, the aliens don’t bear much of a resemblance to the Martians of the book.
Gone is Wells’ belief that if given enough time a highly intelligent race will eventually
evolve away their need for anything other than a brain, eyes and manipulators, leaving
behind what is essentially a very smart blob, replaced with…. These guys. I think Spielberg
wanted to downplay the grotesque and ramp up the intimidation factor but he ended up
with a cheap knock off of the Independence Day chappies and I personally thought they
were kinda lame.
As you undoubtedly noticed, in addition to not naming his lead, Wells had a habit of
not giving away the names of any of the big players in his story, so we heard a lot about
the artilleryman, the curate, my wife and my brother.
This would have been different but not impossible for the film to recreate but I can see why
they didn’t bother.
Everybody gets a name. The protagonist, played by Tom Cruise is called Ray though… that's
probably a bad example because in my experience when Tom Cruise plays a character in a movie
most people will forget his name and just say “oh yeah Tom Cruise’s character.”
Ray is a blue collar dock worker, a far cry from the upper class published philosopher
of the book who was so keen to congratulate himself for his intelligence all the time.
As I said there is no great climax to the book. The Martians just drop dead in the final
chapter with zero funfair.
Again though I can kinda see why this wouldn’t fly with the film so they added in the kerfuffle
with Ray personally killing a tripod from within using hand grenades and him noticing
an alien’s shields were down so some soldier boys can kill it with a rocket launcher.
The parallels to a much more popular Spielberg adaptation, Jurassic Park are very strong
here. In both movies Spielberg kept to the premise of the book but added in a massive
fatherhood subplot for the lead that was certainly not there before, in the case of Jurassic
Park because Grant actually liked children and in The War of the Worlds because the lead
was originally childless.
I don’t object to the idea of using the hero's desire to protect his family to drive
the plot, in fact as I said, that's actually kind of book accurate as the lead spent a
lot of time traveling with his wife or thinking about her safety.
However what I do object to is the plot grinding to a halt again and again and again for Spielberg
to spell out to the audience exactly what dysfunction this family is going through at
that particular moment.
After awhile you have to start to wonder if the aliens are being treated as a background
menace to drive the family related plot forward. To much Steven. Too much.
You and me?
I don’t think we’re on the same page.
There’s no battle between the tripods and a naval warship like in the novel so the Thunderchild
gets no representation which is a bit of a shame. The song about it from the 70s album
is pretty good.
Because the aliens come out of the ground fully locked and loaded and immediately start
wrecking things, a large and interesting part of the book, humanity demonstrating its hubris
by insisting on underestimating the Martians right up until the moment they marched into
London is left out.
This could be considered one of Wells’ key points of the novel so it's arguably a large
sin of adaptation omission.
In the same way that we now know that Mars is regretfully not going to be a fashionable
vacation spot any time soon we also know that Venus is a hellhole of sulfuric acid and deadly
high pressure so obviously that was not the aliens’ plan B in the film.
The Dom’s Final Thoughts:
So obviously by my usual stringent standards this isn’t a very accurate adaptation at
all but I have to confess to being somewhat charmed by the way that they worked these
things that were book accurate into the modernized setting.
However I really don’t want to set a precedent for making excuses for film adaptors that
clearly wished to impress their own vision onto an incompatible story, as I’ve been
very harsh on that sort of thing in the past and will no doubt be again when confronted
with the work of a less talented director.
Spielberg and his crew clearly had their own story that they wished to tell and it kind
of elbowed the book their film was supposed to be based on aside almost completely which
is a shame if not a surprise.
Pretty much every adaptation that ever got made changed it so the whole world got attacked
so I guess I wasn't the only one who thought it was weird that the aliens picked on the
English in particular.
Most adaptations also chose to focus on the bigger picture in some capacity, introducing
either more characters or having the protagonist rubbing elbows with army generals calling
the shots on Earth’s defense so as I said I do have to give the 2005 version props for
bringing the story back to its personal story roots.
So yeah, more tie-ins than I expected but a far cry from being an accurate adaptation
of the novel.
So, my Beautiful Watchers, you might have noticed that this episode of Lost in Adaptation
was a little bit different than usual. I concentrated less on naming every last detail that was
changed in the film and tried to be a bit more comprehensive about the the author, the
book and the other incarnations of the story.
I’m probably going to start doing this more with books that have had multiple adaptations
but if you really didn’t dig it let me know in the comments I don’t take feedback as
gospel but I of course wish to take the opinions of my audience into account when I plan future
Thank you for joining me my Beautiful Watchers and please remember that no one would have
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That as YouTubers busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized
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transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
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See you soon.
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