Wherein I Accidentally Review Two War of the Worlds Shows. I had been dying to get my hands on the BBC’s new War of the Worlds steampunked, retro-looking, remake of the H.G. Wells classic. Why? I don’t know why really. It just looked really really cool. Do I need more of reason than that? But! When I started watching, I ended up with a totally different War of the Worlds remake by FOX. A remake which I had never heard of before in my life. I assumed I was safe by just typing in “War of the Worlds 2019” and hitting play. But, I was three minutes into it when I started thinking it had a time traveling thing going as well? So I looked up details about the BBC version – and sure enough, I was watching a different show entirely. Here, compare for yourself:
These shows do not look anything like each other. But they are both based on the same source material. I was 30 minutes in on episode one of the Fox version of the show and now I had a fairly serious moral dilemma on my hands. Keep watching the modern interpretation of the classic, or shut that crazy down, and get out the steampunk version? Well, after barreling through three episodes of the Fox show without slowing, I eventually shut that version down and tried the other one. So, how did they differ? Which one do I recommend? First, two trailers. This is hilarious. How did this happen to me???!?
The War of War of the Worlds
See what I did there? Huh? Come on. I know, witty, right? But how do they compare – which one is worth watching?
The War of Worlds – Aliens
The most important aspect of these two shows are the aliens. 100%. Nothing else matters more than this. They are the drivers of the entirety of the conflict. They appear out of nowhere in H.G. Wells’ book, and they care nothing about humans, only death and destruction.
But what did the Fox show do with the aliens? It was actually the thing that propelled me forward, right from the start. Taking a page out of the Contact playbook, the alien pods are first discovered minutes before they hit the earth. And they also utilize brain melting waves that kill anyone above the ground, out of water, or not surrounded by metal. Boom, just like that, half way through the first episode, Fox shows that it is creating a dystopian, grass roots struggle against the invading aliens.
Now, what about the BBC version? Well, the Beeb decided to start the series with a bit of some Downton Abbey silliness (can I just point out how ironic it is to have Elizabeth McGovern from Downton Abbey play a lead role in the BBC modern day version??). Something about a man and a woman living together out of wedlock, and the craziness therein. (I’m sorry, but they would have been complete and utter outcasts – this was not done. Sure, sex before marriage. MAYBE. But living together? Hahahahah.) The aliens though take forever to get into play it feels like. FOREVER. (I do think we could do a War of the Worlds Downton Abbey crossover, and it would be epic. But a War of the Worlds with all the drama of Downton, sans Downton? That is my worst nightmare.
The screenplay does do some interesting things with the aliens though. Balls, from outer space get lodged in the ground. And curious Brits find their way to them, only to begin spontaneously combusting. Sort of the Beebs version of the brainwaves murder device.
Fox – 9/10 & BBC – 8/10
War of the Worlds Characters
Both shows have some really interesting characters. But the Fox version seemed to take the multi-thread approach to its writing, while the Beeb sort of hung everything on a few key seminal characters. And, truth be told, the Beeb definitely is the show that follows the original material closest. Not just because of the time period, but also in how it keeps the focus tight, and vantage point narrow. But in so doing, the BBC puts everything but the two main characters out of focus. Those that die nearby do not matter. The entire show seems surrounded by Red Shirt Star Trek characters. Conversely, the Fox version of the story begins the story with various threads of characters whose children, parents, extended love ones become the focus. Here we have a scientist with a missing daughter. Oh, and there goes a wife with a blind daughter and a son who have absolutely no idea how they are going to survive in this new world. There we have a brain surgeon who is desperate to protect his ex-wife who hates him. It’s the threads of these characters that insert us into this new post apocalyptic world seamlessly.
Fox 9/10 & BBC 4/10
War of the Worlds Authenticity
This is the one area where the BBC version definitely wins hands down. The Fox version goes its own way almost immediately. Instead of following a single unnamed protagonist through the chaos that is London, Fox just uses the alien attack as a prime mover for creating a band of rebels trying to fight back against our new overlords. Fox kills most of the planet with a single brain wave blast in episode one, and from here on out we, as a civilization, struggle to just survive. It’s as if the creators were looking for a cool post apocalyptic movie prime mover when they stumbled upon this old book! hahah. But with the BBC, they tried to really envision what a classic adaptation of the book would really have looked like. The period costumes and the old technology as counterpoint to the aliens was really quite fascinating a concept.
BBC 8/10 & Fox 3/10
Overall thoughts on War of the Worlds?
Tom Cruise has way too much influence where he has no business being. His movie adaptation of War of the Worlds really impacted both of these shows even though no one is admitting it. The BBC chose to stick closely to the original material, but in so doing lost a lot of potential material that would have been interesting to consider. And the Fox version definitely seems much bigger than it really has any right to be. Every shot of the Paris streets filled with the dead is really a fantastic feat to have pulled off. It definitely feels like a better version of Independence Day. A more real version of that movie. Aliens and a fight for real survival.
I’m sure there will be many of you that think that I’m daft. That the BBC version wins hands down. But, for me, it’s not even close. From a screenplay standpoint. From a character development standpoint. From a world-building, and cocked and loaded potential? The Fox (and I hate Fox – different topic, different discussion) version is hands down the better option to watch. And I had been waiting for the steampunked BBC version for over a year. I am looking at my phone, and it says I saved the reminder 13 months ago to get a hold of the BBC version. And I literally have never heard of Fox’s version. Not once.
But the thing I love most about the Fox version of this War of the Worlds remake? It’s that it isn’t afraid to dive deeply into French when it makes sense. Just let’s it fly. If the characters are French, they speak French. And in America, this isn’t done. We find ways to let them memorize one line in French, and then convert them to English afterwards. Which is lame in the extreme. So yeah, seems small, but seems so inauthentic to me. It also smacks of pandering. Awwww, the Yanks don’t like reading their entertainment…so could we not do the subtitles thing? Thanks for that. Bah.
Anyway – I went into the BBC version of their War of the Worlds, and had some fun with that. But ultimately didn’t love it. There were a few interesting tidbits here and there. But they totally could have written better character arcs (and more believable character arcs too! the worst.) for us to dive into. But I get it, they were trying to build a realistic world based in this time period. OK. But it didn’t mean everyone had to be a stick in the mud bore. It is the end of the world after all…let your characters live a little. It was a happy coincidence that it brought me to the Fox version – so thanks for that Beeb!
I’m not giving the two shows official rankings and ratings, because I CAN’T do TWO! But if I were to, I’d probably do something like this:
BBC War of the Worlds: 45%
Fox War of the Worlds: 82%
(PS – note to all of you that are still, somehow, reading this…if you are looking for a brilliant film about aliens attacking earth, and subjugating the masses, and uprising, this is the film for you. Literally perfect in every way. That tip is free. You are welcome. SEE!? It pays to keep reading long after the ratings.
Edited by: CY