What Happened To War Of The Worlds?


War of the worlds

Click on the above and you’ll find me banging on about this project.

When it comes to science fiction my first question is always; Why aren’t there filmed TV versions of books by Ray Bradbury, Christopher Priest, Arthur C Clarke and at least twenty other superb SF authors? Why are the only books that get made ‘brands’?

Videogames offer a further problem. The player decides where to go, so how can you have a literary adaptation with multiple endings? Kim Newman tried this with pretty much the first game/novel hybrid called ‘Life’s Lottery’, but the reading public generally wants its stories to have closure. Closure makes better stories. The more openings you have, the less powerful the tale is. Greek tragedies work because from the outset there’s one outcome, and it usually comes about because the hero/ine has a flaw they can’t see which gets exploited by enemies. So how could a book ever become a game?

A games designer told me something that made sense. He said that since side-scrollers moved on to 3D environments the player imagines having total control, but the secret of most games is that the main options are really all decided for you. So that, I imagined, was gaming’s dirty little secret, that you didn’t really get the one thing you most wanted – freedom to participate and choose your course of action, not truly.

I was appalled by the recent BBC ‘War Of The Worlds’, which fell into every dramatic trap imaginable. A few years ago when Paramount asked me to write the ‘War of the Worlds’ video game, we managed to make it surprisingly faithful to the spirit of HG Wells. I upped the ante to make more of Wells’ original point – that invasion by a terrifying, unknowable source would be more devastating than invasion from a known enemy. By setting the story in 1953 I found new postwar resonance. You could understand the fear of invasion because it was in recent memory. But Wells’ idea of a faceless alien with one simple aim, total extermination of the indigenous race, was frighteningly simple and brilliant.

There’s a Hollywood maxim that says the best movies come from short stories. Lately long-form TV has proven that the case. A game can go the distance to reflect the entire novel, with all of its loyalties and betrayals, eccentric minor characters, twists and turns of plot. On ‘War Of The Worlds’ I worked with Sir Patrick Stewart, and he was clearly excited to be involved with the project, despite me telling him to ‘tone down the Shakespearian’ in his delivery. How we laughed. He was terrifically generous to work with.

Our games was finished when it suffered from being caught in a regime change at Paramount. The new incomers always dump the outgoing team’s work. I don’t think anyone saw our extravagantly detailed labour of love. There was never a moment when we didn’t think of the project as a direct reflection of the novel, and I wish such adaptations could happen more often. I have a shortlist of books I’d love to see as games, from ‘Gormenghast’ (escaping across the rooftops! Flooding the castle!) to some of my own books. I’d have loved to take on all of the puzzle-challenges I laid out in my novel ‘Disturbia’. Now that I look at it again, the book reads like a game.

And if games designers want to know which books they should be thinking about adapting – ask us writers.

15 comments on “What Happened To War Of The Worlds?”

  1. Ian Luck says:

    Several of Ray Bradbury’s short stories have been adapted for TV anthology series, and there was the excellent ‘Ray Bradbury Theater’ show on the radio, whoch featured his, and other writers’ short stories. His short story about a huge, but lonely monster, ‘The Fog Horn’, was the basis for Ray Harryhausen’s 1953 classic movie, ‘The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms’.

  2. Ian Luck says:

    I think that there is a phrase used by TV execs who are afraid of, and still dismissive of ‘Hard’ science fiction: “Too cerebral”. I say:
    “Bullshit.” I remember enjoying a show called ‘The Martian Chronicles’ in the early 1980’s – that had an awful lot of money thrown at it. You needed to watch every second of it to enjoy it. Who wrote it? Ray Bradbury, I believe.

  3. Bob Low says:

    ‘the reading public generally wants its stories to have closure.’

    I think this observation also goes some way to explaining why short stories seem to be so difficult to sell at the moment. I have a professional colleague who is a voracious reader of fiction, including genre fiction, but who just doesn’t get on with short stories. ‘I always want to know what happened next’ is how she puts it. I’ve lent her a volume of admin’s stories in the hope of winning her round.

  4. Peter Dixon says:

    The original Star Trek shows were frequently written by top SF authors and a lot of short stories were used in The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.
    There are thousands of great SF books from the 50’s onwards that are sidestepped for mediocre copies of earlier movies. Ursula Le Guin and Andre Norton were producing inventive fantasy/SF long before George Martin glued Game of Thrones together. Michael Moorcock is an industry by himself but is represented on screen by a couple of Doug McLure Edgar Rice Burroughs movies and the early 70’s semi psychedelic The Final Programme. His Eternal Champion series knocks the armour off Lord of the Rings (which hardly reflects the nature of the books at all).
    A lot has been made of Philip K Dick but his stories are usually nothing as good as his basic ideas – he had lots of personal problems and issues with religion that make him difficult to understand. I’m amazed that Ballard’s The Drowned World was never filmed, yet the appalling Waterworld was given a ludicrous budget.

    I could go on for about 20 pages.So I’ll stop now.

    I could do

  5. Roger says:

    “the reading public generally wants its stories to have closure.”

    Not sure about that – Italo Calvino wrote a book containing nothing but the first chapters of unfinished novels.

  6. admin says:

    But Calvino’s was a cerebral exercise.

  7. Ken Mann says:

    I found myself fascinated by the BBC’s adaptation. So many talented people involved, and yet a total misfire that has probably put paid to other Wells dramatisations for years. I think the story of how it ended up so badly would probably be an interesting insight into television production, as I don’t imagine anyone sets out to make rubbish except in Springtime for Hitler.

  8. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    It would be interesting to know what the producers of the BBC version were aiming at. I don’t know anyone who liked it.

  9. John Griffinp says:

    Started well, and then……..the only remaining good bit was the downbeat finish.

  10. Richard says:

    I’d happily watch Gormenghast on the telly. Even if it was rubbish it would remind me of one of the great art teachers at my school.

  11. snowy says:

    Richard, was the four hour BBC/PBS adaptation not get shown in your region? It’s rather good, Christopher Lee plays ‘Flay’.

    [DVD copies available from about £3].

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    John Christopher’s similar The Tripods was on the Beeb, I enjoyed it at he time. They also did some very good versions of the Invisible Man.

    I must dig out Gormenghast, I have a copy somewhere.

    I remember the Martian Chronicles, very enjoyable, Rock Hudson was in it, it’s been many years since I’ve seen it. Bradbury films also include, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ and of course Fahrenheit 451 (there was a HBO version of this a year or two ago, I’ve not seen it.) and on TV The Ray Bradbury Theatre, which ran for about 60 odd episodes. there have a number of radio serials as well, BBC Radio 4 extra has repeated them.


  13. jan says:

    Didn’t Philip K Dick describe somewhere about a weird experience he had as a child where he sort of met himself? Or it might actually have been tother way round as an adult (and he did have a number of mental health issues which might have played into this ) He dreamed or had a weird delusion/ illusion that he projected himself back into time and saw himself as a young lad asleep in his bed in his old bedroom? Bloody weird old story but i’m sure i have read that somewhere (unless its just my delusions) In a way thats what makes his work so interesting theres all these weird ideas drifting through his work which are fascinating but even without knowing about his history of mental illness some part of you twigs onto the fact that this stuff is an expression of his strange mental state. Instead of making it less readable and just prompting you to put it onto one side it makes it all the more fascintating.

    Odd really how is work is so filmable and these same themes create some really good base ideas for filmscripts.
    As Peter says above its really the underlying ideas – concepts that can be really terrrifying or massively interesting that you cotton onto not so much the development of his tales.

    i like his work though its interesting always

    Also like Isaac ASIMOV, and James BLISH. Although i thiought BLISH would have created fantastic Star Trek novellas and really revelled in Spocks character, Instead as he was a medical doctor or medical practitioner of some sort he wrote from MccOYS P.O.V. and his authorised Star Trek novels weere consequently a bit naff.
    The science fiction you love as a teenager really dates you so accurately! Shocking really gets your vintage down to a decade!

  14. Ken Mann says:

    I recently reread “They Shall Have Stars” by James Blish. The last chapter is set in January 2020. It is set in an oppressive religiose United States and science is having a problem with basic physics research because the experimental equipment required is getting too large and unaffordable. Escapism, eh?

  15. jan says:

    ( i ‘d like to say) you couldn’t make it up

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