Sunday, 24 December 2017

The war of the worlds

Herbert George Wells, more popularly known as HG Wells, was a prolific English writer of novels, short stories, works of social commentary, satire, biography and autobiography. He is best remembered for his science fiction novels and I remember reading the abridged version of The Invisible Man during my schooldays. Apart from this story orf invisibility, his other science fiction works imagined time travel (The Time Machine), alien invasion and biological engineering (The Island of Dr Moreau). But it was for The War of the Worlds, written in 1898, that Wells is now most famous for.

The War of the Worlds spawned seven films, various radio dramas, comic-book adaptations, video games, a television series and sequels or parallel stories by other authors.

One of the most notorious adaptations of the science fiction was the 1938 radio broadcast that was narrated and directed by George Orson Welles, an American actor, director, writer and producer. The first two-thirds of the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a news bulletin and was often described as having led to widespread panic by some listeners who, not having listened in to the programme from the start, believed that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was actually taking place. However, there are some sources that claimed these reports of panic were mostly overly exaggerated.

The first The War of the Worlds film was produced in 1953 and it starred Gene Barry. In 2005, Tom Cruise was the leading actor in a Steven Spielberg version of the story.

In 1978, Jeff Wayne was inspired enough to produce a musical version of the story. It was a concept double album with its main format being progressive rock and string orchestra, using narration by Richard Burton and leitmotifs to carry the story. The vocals in the album were provided by Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), David Essex, Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann's Earth Band), Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) and Julie Covington. Wayne himself provided some narration at the end of the album.

I remember first hearing Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds (to give the work its full title) in 1980 and, like many other people then, owned a pirated audio cassette version of the album after requesting it taped by the local record store. Later, I "progressed" to owning a copied version of this album on a compact disc. It was only very much later that I managed to lay my hands on an original but second-hand copy of the vinyl record. Having owned all three formats - cassette, compact disc and record - I can assure you that there is nothing comparable to holding the records in your hands and listening to the music loud through the hi-fi system!

By the way, the late Richard Burton's voice is super-superb on this record. His doom-ridden but brilliant reading really brought out the drama and the atmosphere in the recording.

Side One: The eve of the war, Horsell Common and the heat ray
Side Two: The artilleryman and the fighting machine, Forever Autumn, Thunder child
Side Three: The red weed (Part 1), The spirit of Man, The red weed (Part 2)
Side Four: Brave new world, Dead London, Epilogue (Part 1), Epilogue (Part 2) (NASA)

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