A Blast From The Past: Orson Welles’s 1938 Broadcast of The War of the Worlds


Since it’s Orson Welles’s birthday and everyone’s kind of nervous about going outside right now, why not experience the live radio broadcast that panicked America in 1938?

Actually, there’s some debate as to just how panicked America got when they heard the Mercury Theater On The Air’s adaptation of War of the Worlds.  There was definitely some panic but there are differing reports on just how wide spread it was.  For our purposes, let’s assume that the entire country was terrified at the same time and that everyone was loading up a shotgun and planning to go out and look for aliens.  One thing is for sure.  With his adaptation of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles managed to invent the whole found footage genre that would later come to dominate horror cinema in the late 90s and the aughts.  Every Paranormal Activity film owes a debt to what Orson Welles accomplished with War of the Worlds.  We won’t hold that against Orson.

H.G. Wells, the original author of War of the Worlds, and Orson Welles only met once.  Interestingly enough, they were both in San Antonio, Texas in 1940.  They were interviewed for a local radio station.  H.G. Wells expressed some skepticism about the reports of Americans panicking while Welles compared the radio broadcast to someone dressing up like a ghost and shouting “Boo!” during Halloween.  Both Wells and Welles then encouraged Americans to worry less about Martians and more about the growing threat of Hitler and the war in Europe.

I’ve shared this before but this just seems like the time to share it again.  Here is the 1938 Mercury Theater On The Air production of The War of the Worlds!

An October Film Review: The Night America Trembled (dir by Tom Donovan)


Today is the 79th anniversary of Orson Welles’s infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.

In 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air performed a radio adaptation of H.G. Welles’s War of the World.  Presented as a live news program, it was one of the first mockumentaries.  It also caused a panic.  How big the panic was is open for debate.  Some say only a few people took it seriously.  Other sources say that it was a nationwide crisis.  But, regardless, Welles made history on that night.  Not only did he illustrate the power of the media but he also scared the Hell out of a lot of people.  All in all, a pretty good night…

Filmed in 1957 for a television program called Westinghouse Studio One, The Night America Trembled is a dramatization of that night.  For legal reasons, Orson Welles is not portrayed nor is his name mentioned.  Instead, the focus is mostly on the people listening to the broadcast and getting the wrong idea.  That may sound like a comedy but The Night America Trembled takes itself fairly seriously.  Even pompous old Edward R. Murrow shows up to narrate the film, in between taking drags off a cigarette.  (I enjoyed the show but, whenever Murrow showed up, I was reminded of a grumpy old teacher complaining that none of his students cared about the Spanish-American War.)

Clocking in at a brisk 60 minutes, The Night America Trembled is an interesting recreation of that October 30th.  Among the people panicking: a group of people in a bar who, before hearing the broadcast, were debating whether or not Hitler was as crazy as people said he was, a babysitter who goes absolutely crazy with fear, and a group of poker-playing college students.  If, like me, you’re a frequent viewer of TCM, you may recognize some of the faces in the large cast: Ed Asner, James Coburn, John Astin, Warren Oates, and Warren Beatty all make early appearances.

As I said, it’s an interesting little historical document and you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

10 Sci-Fi Films That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Picture


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Over the past few years, it’s gotten a little bit more common to see science fiction films nominated for best picture.  While a sci-fi film has yet to win best picture, it is no longer as much of a shock to see a science fiction film nominated.  At least not as much as it is to see a horror film nominated.

That said, it’s still an uphill fight.  Here are 10 science fiction films that I feel could and should have been nominated for best picture:

  1. Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang’s expressionistic silent epic remains one of the most influential films of all time.  Metropolis was eligible to be nominated during the first year of the Oscars, a year in which not one but two awards for best picture were handed out.  That Metropolis was nominated for neither Best Production nor Unique and Artistic Picture was a huge missed opportunity.

2. The War of the Worlds (1953)

This film may be over 60 years old but it’s still one of the best alien invasion films ever made.  And yes, I prefer the original to the Spielberg version.

3. The Time Machine (1960)

Morlocks, Eloi, and war … oh my!

4. Planet of the Apes (1968)

“A planet where apes evolved from man?”  No, not quite.  “YOU BLEW IT UP!  GODDAMN YOU TO HELL!”  Yes, that’s better.  Today, Planet of the Apes may seem more than a little bit campy but it’s still an unusually intelligent social satire.  Charlton Heston’s persona has never been better used.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Can you believe that this classic from Stanley Kubrick was not nominated?  Kubrick got a directing nomination but, when it came to picking the best films of the year, the Academy nominated Oliver! and Rachel, Rachel.

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6. Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner is today recognized as a classic but it originally received mixed reviews and was ignored by the Academy.  At the very least, Rutger Hauer deserved a nomination.

7. Never Let Me Go (2010)

This underrated clone drama was sadly overlooked.  Andrew Garfield’s performance is heartbreaking.

Film Review Under the Skin

8. Under the Skin (2014)

This enigmatic film was probably too bizarre and unsettling for the Academy but Jonathan Glazer’s direction and Scarlett Johansson’s performance make Under the Skin a classic.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Whenever I rewatch Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m happy to discover that it still holds up as a wonderful piece of entertainment.  It remains my favorite film of 2014.

10. Ex Machina (2015)

Quite simply an amazing film, this is a Metropolis for the 21st Century.

 

Happy 100th Birthday, George Orson Welles!


Orson+Welles+Early+CareerToday is the 100th birthday of the great filmmaker and showman Orson Welles!  And what better way to celebrate than listening to the famous 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds?  Reportedly, this caused mass panic when it was originally aired as people tuned in late and were convinced that the Earth actually had been invaded by Martians!

(Like Martians would want this dump!  Seriously….)

Enjoy and join us all in wishing Orson Welles a happy 100th!

Falling Skies (Official Trailer)


It looks like while vampires and zombies may be battling it out as the “monster of the moment” the past couple of years there’s an oldie quietly sneaking up behind them to try and take up the general public’s attention.

The first shot was a little film from South Africa called District 9. I think more than a few people saw that little film. Then last year we had a film from two special-effects brothers called Skyline. That particular shot wasn’t as good as the previous title mentioned. In fact, it was godawful though not without it’s perverse entertainment value one gets from watching a very awful film that still manages to entertain (though probably not in the way it’s creators intended to).

In less than a couple of months a film called Battle: Los Angeles will hit the bigscreen and will hopefully be a tad better than the similar plotted Skyline. This one has another South African directing it so that may be a good thing.

Coming this June is a tv series that also follows a similar theme of “alien invasion” with the DreamWorks Television series Falling Skies from producer Steven Spielberg and screeenwriter Robert Rodat. The show will premiere on TNT and stars Noah Wylie, Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton and Dale Dye. From what brief snippets of information that has been released about it the show looks to be similar in tone to Spielberg’s own War of the Worlds where it’s about the human armed resistance trying to retake their cities and the planet back from the alien invaders.

It definitely seems to be a very ambitious show and one that hopefully has a much leaner and efficient take on the alien invasion story than the current remake of V: The Series on ABC. That one had many hoping for a sci-fi to make a great return to network tv and instead we got aliens meets True Blood.

Here’s to hoping Falling Skies doesn’t have aliens wanting to have sex with humans and instead aliens just wanting to kill and/or eat humans instead. I think that would make for a much better show.

 

 

Review: War of the Worlds (dir by Steven Spielberg)


Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds shows that he hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to creating blockbuster spectacle. While he has spent much of the 2000’s creating dramatic films (The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can and Munich) he hadn’t made a film which spoke epic in both spectacle and themes. He had made two unique films with sci-fi themes with A.I. and Minority Report, but still they lacked the size and oomph of Spielberg’s past blockbusters. It took him remaking for the current generation a classic sci-fi story to bring us back the Spielberg many grew up with. His take on H.G. Wells tale of aliens invading Earth was both grandiose in it’s set-up, but he was also able to deftly weave a very personal story within the larger scheme of the narrative.

Working from David Koepp and Josh Friedman’s adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells novel, Spielberg goes back to his roots as a maker of thrillers that first showed his talents as a director. War of the Worlds has its spectacular CG moments when the alien Tri-Pods first rise up and out of the ground to the look of awe and fear from people witnessing the event. Spielberg begins the film’s unrelentless tension from these scenes and never lets go. Once the Tri-Pods start unleashing their death-rays on the populace and whatever else is in their way the film starts moving at breakneck speed. It’s these same apocalyptic scenes of the alien’s extermination of humans that has prompted critics (both positive and negative) to bring up Spielberg’s use of 9/11 imagery. From the clouds of ash and floating pieces of clothes to the sight of people running in panic as destruction rains upon them from out of nowhere.

Some critics have labeled Spielberg’s film as exploiting the horror of 9/11 and its aftermath, yet when a film like 28 Days Later use the same imagery and themes these same critics applaud the director of this film as daring. Its an unfair criticism of Spielberg and just shows how some people just seem to use the events of 9/11 as a crutch. Yet, it is this same use of people vaporised into nothing but ash and clothng that adds to the tension and horror. It is easy to use blood and gore to bring up a feel of horror, but Spielberg one up’s this and forgo grand guignol scenes. His technique actually brings an inhuman and alien quality to the death and destruction on the screen. From the moment the aliens arrive Spielberg lets us know that this is a war that has not been seen on Earth.

Spielberg and his writers have stuck pretty close to what Wells’ wrote in the original novel, but have decided to look at the story through the eyes of a father and his son and daughter. This gives the film a more personal, disjointed and chaotic feel. There’s no scenes of the government powerbrokers debating and deciding how best to combat the aliens and their machines. No scenes of scientists trying to figure out how best to fight and get through the aliens’ defenses. In fact, War of the Worlds is the anti-Independence Day. What we get instead is a story of a man and his children trying to just survive the apocalypse occuring around them as best as they can. This choice by Spielberg and his writers to go this route is best shown in a scene where Tom Cruise’s character with his kids run into a convoy of military vehicles heading towards the frontline. We see Humvees, M1A2 Main Battle Tanks and other assorted military hardware and hundreds of soldiers. We can hear the sound of the battle just over the ridge of a hill, but just like Cruise’s character we do not actually see the battle happening. We hear snippets of commands and reports from the soldiers around Cruise. Spielberg could’ve easily panned the camera up over the ridge to see how the battle was progressing, but he stays his hand focuses instead on the dad and his family. It’s easier to go the route that Bay or Emmerich would take and show the sturm und drang, but that wasn’t the story Spielberg was trying to tell.

ILM’s work in creating the alien Tri-Pods and the subsequent terraforming the aliens begin were some very good work from an FX company with a history of impressive work. The Tri-Pods kept the original H.G. Wells description from the novels but gave them a modern take. While the George Pal version of the alien ships remain classic sci-fi icons these new Tri-Pods in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds definitely conveyed alien menace and destruction the moment they began to come out of the ground. It was a joy as a sci-fi fan to actually see that Spielberg and the writers decided to show just how menacing the alien invaders were in the way they began to terraform the planet to suit their needs. It definitely put a new definition to the term “the blood is life”.

The acting is what you expect from a Spielberg/Cruise collaboration. Cruise is actually very believable as a loser father who seem to look at his kids as more of a hindrance and a scheduled paternal duty than something he actually enjoys and looks forward to. Some of the best scenes Cruise has in the film are quiet ones between him and his daughter (played by Dakota Fanning) where he realizes that he really doesn’t know his daughter that well and can’t even remotely figure out how to calm her down and make her feel safe. When his daughter asks him to sing her a lullaby, the look of incomprehension at not knowing any showing on Cruise’s face is just brilliant. The one misfire in terms of characters in the film is Tim Robbins. The sequence in the film where they meet up with his paranoid and slowly going nuts character is actually very good in terms of ratcheting up the tension, but Robbins’ performance was more funny than anything else. Spielberg had created such a doom and gloom atmosphere that Robbins’ character’s appearance ruins it abit.

One other thing which kept me from calling this film an outright great film are the kids of Cruise’s character. While the performances by Dakota Fanning as the daughter and Justin Chatwin as the son were quite good the way they were written left them annoying and baffling. Either the daughter was a shrieking and emotional mess or the son was written as a rebellious teen who wanted to get into the fight despite knowing he was his sister’s lone protector to begin the film. It made Cruise’s character seem less of an unattentive father and boor, but more of a parent who tried his best with children who defied and talkbacked at every turn. If the writers just made the kids even remotely sympathetic it definitely would’ve rounded out their characters as real people.

Overall, I think Spielberg’s War of the Worlds succeeds in what it set out to do despite some flaws with some of the characters. It entertains and it also shows that when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking he is still the master and everyone else just pretenders to his throne. As for the ending that some think as being short, abrupt and just a tad deus ex machina in execution, well I suggest they read or reread the book again. The ending fit the film perfectly. If the film was an all-out blast to the senses then a different one may be a better fit, but for the type of story Spielberg decided to film the ending made sense in its execution.