Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The War of the Worlds reboot on Epix feels like The Walking Dead with no money spent on computer effects or makeup.

This is probably the best effect in the entirety of the first episode. As you can see, this show is made on the cheap. This is just a person standing on a street, which filming on was probably free, and then they added that shiny star thing for one of the spaceships landing on Earth during the initial invasion. You never get a closeup shot of a spaceship.
The new War of the Worlds series that is on the Epix streaming service doesn't actually feel like it's a War of the Worlds adaptation. Rather, it feels like its The Walking Dead. Most people are familiar with the H.G. Wells story either through having read that story or having seen one of the many movies. With respect to my bias, I've always been a fan of the Spielberg version of War of the Worlds, primarily due to the director's ability to keep a thumb on Tom Cruise and tell a story that Spielberg wants to tell. This as opposed to a story that is written around Tom Cruise who obviously sees himself as "Ethan Hunt" these days. If you want an example of what this looks like, please watch Tom Cruise's The Mummy, and you will see that this is what happens when a story is wrapped around an actor as opposed to a story being true to itself (and then the actor gets to be a part of it). I much prefer the latter, as I don't take too much stock in actors and actresses these days. As the Academy Awards and the many social media accounts point out, all actors and actresses are in modern times are regular people like you and me that have a lot of money and interesting jobs, which they probably got because they got lucky. It's like a winner and a loser at the casino game of roulette: one person is a winner and one person is a loser, but no one honestly can tell you why it happens. It just does.

Spielberg's War of the Worlds feels epic in scope. It has amazing scenes like a train that's on fire speeding toward some unknown destination while people gawk at the horror of it all. It shows planes falling out of the sky, people blown to ashes, and huge tripod spaceships raining terror down upon the human race. The human race is so impossibly outmatched that any conflict between us and the invaders is similar to a grasshopper attacking a tank. That story never ends well, but it's also something that commands a lot of money to do (I'd imagine), which is probably (in part) why the Epix streaming service has opted for low key storytelling similar in vein to The Walking Dead. In the Epix streaming service version, they don't even have to worry about excessive makeup and prosthetics to make people look like zombies. So there's that too.

But does it work? I kinda/sorta like it, but I'm not quite sold on it as something that I'll continue to watch. I think I need to absorb a few more episodes before I can tell you that. What I can tell you is that deciding to present the alien invasion as an apocalyptic event, staging it in Europe, and using subtitles in long stretches because the actors are talking in French...does appear different. But it also feels made on the cheap, as the alien invaders used an invisible pulse to kill all humans who were not either 1) underground, 2) under water, or 3) encased in metal. So like more than half the world's population instantly died, but they just had the actors lie down on the ground. There's no "ash" effect like you see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and there's no expensive C.G.I. like Spielberg might use. And because the people were just "turned off" there's no makeup needed either. People can just lie down and look like they're napping.

By the end of the second episode, there was an introduction to something that actually seemed otherworldly: a dog or canine made of metal that you only see in glimpses that basically chases down survivors and butchers them. These are obviously servants of the invaders. So that adds a scary tension to the show, which I like. And the show does play effectively on the anxieties of a post-apocalyptic world in which the survivors embrace the epitome of selfishness. But how quickly this happens is surprising. Almost immediately after the "Big Death," the survivors are already treating each other pretty much like garbage.

Because I like big epic alien movies, I do hope that the show eventually gives us something like this...something that brings a kind of awe to it that you never get from many post-apocalyptic tales, because these kinds of stories are generally comprised of "one small band of people on a deserted road looking at the wreckage of a once vibrant world." This is exactly how this series is right now. And this is also why I feel like what I want is "never gonna happen." Most of that "epic" stuff that I crave in stories like this is the shock and awe that happens during the initial invasion, which is pretty much handled with a whimper. The "survivors" of the silent but deadly brain wave that kills off the majority of the population are probably just going to be pushed into hiding and to the point of extinction by the aliens before the "virus" trope is played and the aliens all die out because they have no immunities to Earth's diseases.

So...yeah, I'm basically looking at watching a series where there's going to be no real or impressive C.G.I. and where everything is going to be "makeup lite." Being filmed on location in Europe and keeping the story on a very personal level with no name actors is just money in the bank for the streaming service. And they don't have to pay money for a lot of extras because in this story, Earth is mostly dead now.

I guess we'll see what happens and whether the showrunner can win me over with cheap but effective storytelling. At least the acting (so far) is decent. Maybe I don't notice bad acting because I'm busy reading subtitles? I'm going to keep watching, and I'll try to keep you apprised of the situation as it evolves.


  1. Not the ringing endorsement that would make me want to sign up for Epix. The Spielberg movie was OK until the deus ex machina at the end that harkened back to the previous year (or 2 years) deus ex machina alien invasion movie Signs. Wouldn't an advanced race of alien invaders be prepared for bacteria? Just like why would advanced aliens invade a planet that's 75% something that would kill them? It'd be like Kryptonians invading a planet that's 75% Kryptonite.

    Anyway, did you watch season 4 of The Expanse on Amazon yet? I'm almost done with that and Book 6. When I finish the books I'll have to go back and read your blog entries on the characters and stuff.

    1. Oh yes! I blazed through the Expanse season 4 in December right after it hit Amazon. That show is incredible, and a very good adaptation of book four "Cibola Burn," which (because it's an adaptation) skillfully knows where the story is headed and borrows/weaves tidbits from their short stories and novellas into the narrative to make the viewers ready for the HUGE events coming in season five. I'm so happy with Amazon's treatment of The Expanse, and it's truly about to go epic in a big way.

    2. Also, Pat, who's your favorite character thus far in the story? I like Amos probably followed by Bobbi Draper. However, Doctor Okoye (now that she's been introduced) is another favorite that I really like. And of course there is Avasarala, who gets many of the best lines. I think she's going to really shine in seasons five and six.

    3. I like Amos and it's nice how they wrote Bobbi a much bigger part than in the first 4 books. Avasarala is funny even if maybe she doesn't cuss as much as in the books. Though did they actually get to drop f-bombs on Syfy or were those bleeped out?

    4. The cuss words were not in the SyFy broadcast, but if you bought the aftermarket DVD or streamed from Amazon, they feature different cuts that have her swearing. So they filmed both, if that makes any sense. And the Bobbi part is much bigger than in the first 4 books. However, they didn't just make it up for the show. Those things were pulled in from the novellas and short stories. So they mined those and did a great job integrating it all.

  2. Sometimes low budget works, but for a story like that, it needs more. And I also really liked Spielberg's version.

  3. You lost me at post apocalyptic. I never could get into any of the other adaptations, and I definitely won't read the book. I hope it turns out to be something you enjoy.