Let’s be clear, new French-US drama War of the Worlds bears very little resemblance to H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi tale.
But it’s at least more entertaining than a recent UK period miniseries of the same name.
While the original became a panic-inciting radio play by Orson Welles in 1938, and a memorable 1953 film (and even a grand 1978 musical album), it’s now the loose inspiration for a new miniseries starring Gabriel Byrne, Elizabeth McGovern and Léa Drucker.
Set in present-day France and London, simultaneous storylines of an alien invasion, make for a diluted, ensemble approach that feels like a nod to apocalypse and zombie genres.
Astronomer Catherine (Léa Drucker) works at an observatory high in the icy French Alps, where strange signals picked up from outer space may be evidence of extra-terrestrial life. But as she tells a NATO meeting in Brussels, there is no way of knowing if they are friend or foe.
In London, Bill, a lecturer in neuroscience, still burns a flame for his ex-wife Helen (Elizabeth McGovern) and endeavours to turn hero when a night of strange meteors wreaks havoc on the city.
Other disparate characters include mother Sarah (Natasha Little) and her two teens Tom (Ty Tennant) and Emily (Daisy Edgar-Jones), whose blindness brings a heightened sense of hearing and the ability to hear alien doom approaching. Sarah’s husband John (Stephen Campbell Moore) is stuck in Paris, hoping to reunite, while asylum seeker Kariem (Bayo Gbadamosi) is on the run inside a tanker.
But everybody’s lives are in upheaval and chaos when alien life reaches Earth with fatal impact. It’s a fight to survive, in empty cityscapes that must have been challenging to film.
While the Tom Cruise feature film was far from satisfying, I reluctantly feel it was more entertaining than the recent BBC series, and even more focussed than this. It’s arguably a bit of a cheat to even call this War of the Worlds when the characters bear such little resemblance (the novel is the first-person narrative of both an unnamed protagonist in Surrey and of his younger brother in London).
Writer Howard Overman (Misfits, Merlin, Hustle, New Tricks) brings a Walking Dead tone to the plot, while the co-production at least makes use of some alluring French vistas. Now released on SBS, one also has to ask whether the on-screen terror is greater than the real world reality we find ourselves in…?
At 2 hours this might have been a tighter arc, but at 8 episodes, and the need to sustain various plot threads, not all viewers will come out alive.
War of the Worlds begins with a double episode 8:30pm Thursday on SBS.