War of the Worlds (TV, 2012)

These reviews of the continuation of George Pal’s brilliant movie were originally published in SFX #222 and #226. Hailing from a time when modern TV SF was struggling to be born, it is one of those series that encapsulates the struggle between syndicated and serialised telly. In the War of the World‘s case, serialisation lost out.

Season One
Two stars
Extras: One Star
1988 1080 minutes
Director: Various (Created by Greg Strangis)
Cast: Jared Martin, Lynda Mason Green, Philip Akin, Richard Chaves

 80s continuation of George Pal’s 50s flick

Hailing from the time when syndicated telly took the risks which led to today’s US goggle-box excellence, War of the Worlds was groundbreaking in its way, but has dated badly.

A continuation of the 1953 George Pal flick, the show posits that the alien invaders were not killed by earthly bacteria, but put into suspended animation. When a terrorist attack on a nuclear dump revives them, a small team of heroes is recruited to stymie the ET threat.

The series’ links with the film are so strong it includes Sylvia Van Buren, played again by Ann Robinson, as a recurring character. Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast is also referenced. But the show’s faithfulness to WOTW mythology is undone by the clumsy employment of UFO lore; its aliens are either secret or widely known of as the story demands, and it never strikes a plausible balance. The government take the threat very lightly. Rather than the full weight of the FBI, we have a maverick, proto-Mulder scientist backed up by an eclectic crew of ethnically balanced SF staples as Earth’s only hope. If you remember the series as dull, your memory does not deceive you, pointless disagreement and tired dialogue such as “Let me do my job!” pad episodes up to the requisite three-quarters of an hour. There are some surprising gore effects, and the characters are well played, but they’re not enough to keep one’s interest engaged.

Season Two
Two stars
Extras: One Star
1989 * 15 * 913 minutes
Director: Various
Cast: Jared Martin, Lynda Mason Green, Adrian Paul

War of the Storylines, more like

The second year of this TV sequel to George Pal’s War of The Worlds saw radical changes. Out went creator Greg Strangis, in came in exec producer Frank Mancuzo Jr. Fan faves Norton and Colonel Ironhorse are offed in the first episode and replaced by Kincaid, a US soldier with a heart and an inexplicable British accent (it’s Adrian Paul, of Highlander fame). We’re even introduced to a new bunch of aliens, who execute the earlier lot en masse.

It’s standard SF, semi-episodic stuff – stories cover time travel, aliens with divided loyalties, cyborgs, adventures for the resident moppet… Lead Blackwood (Jared Martin), even gets his own alien romance. All far from original, and the baby-out-with-the-bathwater approach of the new creative team wrecks what charm the show did have. None of the more interesting subplots are continued, the through-storyline contradicts season one, and in the hurriedly filmed finale also much of what happens in season two, while quirky, wry, gun-hating Blackwood has a massive personality change to become a miserable, bearded revolutionary type.

Most perplexing is the inexplicable decision to make the world into a shadowy dystopia, without ever telling us why, and pitching a lot of the action in that tedious stand-by of SF shows: the “exotic” street market.

Add this frustrating, careless confusion and a decline in brains and gosh-wow-yuk moments to the series’ already somewhat underwhelming pacing, direction and acting, and this is a show on the skids.

Did you know?

Not many people remember the 1953 invasion in the series, a mystery that was being addressed in season one, but dropped in season two.


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