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Review by C.J. Bunce

Back in 2018 we celebrated the 120th anniversary of the publication of H.G. Wells’ genre defining science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds here at borg We’ve also reviewed several adaptations and retellings over the past decade.  The latest historical adaptation is a 2019 three-part BBC series now streaming here on Amazon Prime.  Director Craig Viveiros’ The War of the Worlds may be the best yet at blending the old and the new–the end of the 19th century with the demands of modern viewers.  Suspenseful, consistent with H.G. Wells’ Edwardian themes, this short series is chock full of very British characters and concepts taking on several science fiction cautionary paradigms: warnings of the dangers of new technologies, the cost of hubris, prejudice, and colonialism, and the adventures, fear, and trials that come with the unknowable future.

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Just like we have yet to see the perfect Batman or Superman adaptation for the screen, 120 years later this is still not a faithful adaptation of the original novel.  The spirit is certainly there and the key situational beats are present.  If you’ve read and watched as many modern adaptations as this reviewer, you know the fun is seeing what the latest director or writer will keep and discard from Wells’ source material. 

The special effects are smartly underplayed, and well-revealed in those instances where the Martians emerge.  The tripods are perfectly designed and the beasties within are as creepy and vile as any insectoid monster in 21st century science fiction blockbusters–a nice surprise to find within a TV series.  Half of the film is split apart in a flash-forward story, which displays that dystopia we’ve seen in countless shows, from Mad Max to Blade Runner 2049.  If you’re a fan of bleak futurism, you won’t want to miss the cinematography here.

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The suspense of the first two episodes borders on the too-slow, the story telegraphs the ending too early, and then the entire third episode comes up short with not much of a pay-off.  But Viveiros gets more right than wrong, and ultimately it’s worth the three hours, which also could have been whittled into movie length instead of stretching to three episodes.  Adding in relationships not from the novel might have been swapped to address more Wells explained about the Martians, the novel’s unnamed protagonist, etc.  The novel lacks women characters so this version accounts for and corrects that with perhaps the show’s best character, a girlfriend taking the place of the wife from the novel.  

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The War of the Worlds stars Rafe Spall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Shaun of the Dead), Eleanor Tomlinson (Jack the Giant Slayer, Alice in Wonderland), Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later, Once Upon a Time), and Krypton and Sherlock’s Rupert Graves.  And this is only the latest TV appearance to prove Henry Melling (The Queen’s Gambit, The Old Guard, His Dark Materials, The Current War, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) is the finest young actor to come out of the Harry Potter films.  He has a brief role here, but it’s another high point.

Stream the 2019 BBC adaptation of The War of the Worlds now, here on Amazon Prime.