“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this earth with envious eyes. And slowly and surely they drew their plans against us.”
Updated for a more contemporary audience, an introduction quite similar to the one above precedes the inevitable in Stephen Spielberg’s latest science fiction film, War of the Worlds.
I saw the new film this past week and it was the introductory words voiced by Morgan Freeman that drew me back to when I first heard something so similar. It was 1978. The words quoted above were spoken by a man who was to become one of my favorite actors, Richard Burton. They are the opening to “Eve of the War” in Jeff Wayne’s musical interpretation of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds.
I was seven at the time I heard this album. My good friend Matt had acquired it. His father had been the one to purchase the album almost immediately after it had been released and one night when I was over at Matt’s house I saw the new cover among his family’s record collection and asked to listen to it. I remember being intrigued by the cover art, and the interior artwork of the double LP album. And I remember the album. Particularly I remember Richard Burton’s haunting voice as he would propel the narrative forward in and among the various tracks.
And I was remembering it again as I watched this new interpretation unfold before me on the big screen. – It was that album that spurred me to begin reading science fiction. The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds were some of the first, followed swiftly by almost everything written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, Ursula LeGuin, Arthur C. Clarke, and countless other authors both good and bad.
With my dad’s help I made a cassette recording of the double album. I would take it with me on trips and play it over and over again. Eventually I lost the tape—most likely in one of the many moves I did after high school—and it drifted away from my consciousness. I had discovered other music by then, and other things to read, although I never have given up a love for science fiction. I still consider myself a fan today, and read it avidly.
I want to say all of this before I talk about the film, because I believe it has some bearing on my commentary. I like Spielberg’s film a great deal. I like the way it looks. I like the interpretation he gives to the story. – I particularly like the sound. Not that I would suggest cheating yourself by going to a movie and then closing your eyes, I admit I was tempted to do so. Not because I was particularly frightened, but because the sound drew me back to listening to the story that first time, of hearing it unfold. I was not alive in 1938 when Orson Welles scared the shit out of the world with his telling of this story. For me, it was 1978 and it was Jeff Wayne. And I was in awe.
There are flaws in Spielberg’s new movie. I believe, as one of my favorite science fiction authors, Dan Simmons, believes, that the movie-making process precludes a perfect result. That said, the film is quite good. The film is quite compelling. And the film gets a lot of things “just right”.