Streaming / Television

War of the Worlds 1.1 review: An intriguing start to a potentially great sci-fi drama [Fox TV]

Howard Overman‘s reinvention of War of the Worlds seems oddly-timed, arriving so soon after the dreadful BBC One adaptation from Peter Harness, but it’s hard to imagine two more different adaptations of H.G. Wells‘ seminal science-fiction novel. Whilst Harness’ adaptation was arguably closer, sticking to period accuracy, the writing was terrible, the direction all-over-the-place and the whole thing felt like it had been cut to shreds in the editing room. Overman’s adaptation, from this first episode, bares virtually no resemblance to the novel, sets itself in modern day and employs the Heroes/The Walking Dead serialised drama format, setting up a large ensemble of characters all around the world to give the story more of a global feel.

Financed by Studiocanal and Fox, War of the Worlds has strong production values that wouldn’t seem out-of-place in a feature film. Thanks to the large ensemble cast, the pace never drags, as the script constantly keeps the audience up-to-date on where the characters are, what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. It might seem a little gimmicky but if the rest of the series handles this concept well, I think that it will massively improve the show. Say what you will about other iterations of this story, but they are mostly very limited to one country or area, not showing what happens in different countries and how each set of characters react to the events unfolding.

There’s a lot of intriguing ideas in Overman’s script as well. In England, Emily Gresham (Daisy Edgar-Jones) can feel the arrival of the mysterious aliens; Bill Ward (Gabriel Byrne) quickly works out how they will attack humanity; while Catherine Durand (Léa Drucker) connects the extraterrestrial signal to one previously discovered two years prior, and works with the military to understand the potential threat. The characters all have specific sources of information to help guide the story along, and if Overman employs these devices efficiently over the next several episodes, I think that the ensemble cast idea will pay off brilliantly. It’s hard to tell what is superfluous at this point, and my entire perspective on this series could change if the show doesn’t pay-off all of these set-ups well, but this first episode was very intriguing, and the build-up to the alien attack was brilliantly tense.

Unfortunately, there’s the elephant in the room. Or, in this case, the tripod.. Despite the fact that the tripods are the iconic image from H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, despite the stunning artwork on Jeff Wayne’s album of a tripod looming over humanity, despite the fact that even the terrible BBC One adaptation had pretty good-looking tripods, this War of the Worlds opts instead for the aliens to just blast humanity from the sky. Now, the show could introduce the tripods to destroy the last vestiges of humanity, but somehow I severely doubt that. Prove me wrong, Mr Overman, but it looks like the rest of the series will be a post-apocalyptic survival story with no tripods rampaging through the streets, which is a bit of a shame really.

Tripods or no tripods, this series isn’t really War of the Worlds when I think about it. There’s no war to speak of – humanity is mostly wiped out in one attack from the unspecified alien species – and this very clearly isn’t intended to be a proper adaptation of Wells’ book, so why call it War of the Worlds? It seems to be name recognition more than anything. That’s not to say that this series is automatically terrible because it’s named after a seminal piece of science-fiction that it bares no resemblance to, but it’s a great first episode to a potentially great science-fiction series with a name that ultimately brings the wrong connotations to mind.

It’s hard to tell exactly where the series will go from this first episode and there is a lot going for it, as Overman’s script does a good job at introducing all of the characters, but this first episode is a setup to the series and so it’s difficult to make a full assessment of the show, so far. Saying that, it ‘s well worth watching and I’m very much interested to see how the show unfolds over coming weeks.

War of the Worlds comes to the UK on 5 March on Sky channel 124, Virgin Channel 199, NOWTV and TalkTalk: www.foxtv.co.uk/special/war-of-the-worlds

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