The Journal Gazette
Saturday, February 15, 2020 1:00 am

Famed Wells story revamped for EPIX series

Jay Bobbin | Zap2it

Look out: Martians are coming to invade earth. Again.

At least on the screen, that is. A classic H.G. Wells story has fueled various projects on television, in movies and even on radio ... and it strikes again as EPIX premieres its series version of “War of the Worlds” on Sunday. With a script by award-winning British writer Howard Overman (“Misfits”) and an international cast headed by Gabriel Byrne and Elizabeth McGovern (“Downton Abbey”), the new take on the tale – set in modern Europe – holds to the basic premise of making Earth's residents the targets of alien attackers.

The viability of the saga in mediums other than print began to prove itself quite memorably on the eve of Halloween in 1938. The ever-inventive Orson Welles used it as the basis of a “Mercury Theatre on the Air” broadcast on CBS Radio, sending millions of listeners into a panic when its realism convinced them that enemies from Mars actually had landed at a New Jersey farm.

The sensation stirred by the radio “War of the Worlds” made a deal for a movie version no problem, and the first eventually came in 1953 from veteran sci-fi producer George Pal. Southern California was the setting as Gene Barry starred as a scientist on the run while also trying to determine how to stop the invasion ... with the animated Woody Woodpecker visible (we're not kidding) when the first meteorite/spaceship crashes to Earth. The picture won an Oscar for its visual effects.

Next came a syndicated late-1980s TV series that played off that movie 35 years later, proposing that the aliens hadn't died but were in suspended animation. Of course, the show woke them up, and they proceeded to overtake human bodies in their bid to make Earth their new home base. “Dallas” alum Jared Martin led the cast of the Canadian production.

Tom Cruise and director Steven Spielberg put a big-budget sheen on “War of the Worlds” in 2005, with the original movie's Barry and Ann Robinson making cameo appearances. An admittedly cheaper movie was made the same year with C. Thomas Howell as the star, and another TV version was made in 2019 by England's BBC, with Rafe Spall and “Poldark's” Eleanor Tomlinson as a couple trying to evade the aliens.

A second season already is planned for the new “War of the Worlds,” so as the entire history of the story suggests, those not-so-friendly extraterrestrials will be with us for a while.

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