Sunday, July 10, 2005


Science fiction

The War of the Worlds was a science fiction novel written by H.G. Wells in 1898 describing the invasion of Earth by aliens from Mars, who use laser-like Heat Rays and chemical weapons (the Black Smoke) to overcome any resistance. The invaders devastate much of eastern England, including the city of London.

On October 30, 1938, as a Halloween special, Orson Welles presented a live radio adaptation on CBS. The announcer began by explaining that what was to follow was based on the famous H.G. Wells novel. Then the program itself started as an ordinary music show, only occasionally interrupted by news flashes. Initially, the news is of strange explosions sighted on Mars. The news reports grew more frequent and increasingly ominous after a meteorite--later revealed as a Martian rocket capsule--lands in New Jersey. A crowd gathers, and the events are related by the on-the-scene reporter Carl Philips up until the Martians incinerate curious onlookers with their "heat ray".

Many people missed or ignored the opening remarks of the program, and in the atmosphere of growing tension and anxiety in the days leading up to World War II, took it to be an actual news broadcast. Panic ensued, with people fleeing the area, and others thinking they could smell the poison gas or could see the flashes of the fighting in the distance.

Several people rushed to the "scene" of the events in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey (a small farming community northeast of Trenton) to see if they could catch a glimpse of the unfolding events. A couple of astronomers from Princeton University went out looking for the "meteorite" that had supposedly fallen near their school. Some people, who had brought firearms, reportedly mistook a local farmer's water tower for an alien spaceship and shot at it. The size of the crowd increased as more and more people rushed to the area. Eventually police were sent to help control the panicked crowds. To people arriving later in the evening, it really did look like the events being narrated on the radio broadcast, with panicked crowds and flashing police lights streaming across the masses.

Because of the panic caused by this radio play, TV networks have deemed it necessary to post bulletins directed to their viewing audience to inform them some TV stories are in fact fictional-drama, and not really happening. Disclaimers of this sort were shown during broadcasts of the 1983 television movie Special Bulletin and most recently NBC placed disclaimers in an October 1999 TV movie dramatising the possible disastrous effects of the Y2K bug.

The Los Angeles CBS affiliate radio station, KNX, re-broadcasts the radio program every year on Halloween.

Tom Cruise: Ray Ferrier, a crane operator on the New Jersey dockyards
Justin Chatwin: his 16-year-old son Robbie
Dakota Fanning: Robbie's 10-year-old little sister Rachel
Tim Robbins: a cellar-dwelling survivalist, Ogilvy Fox

As disaster movies go, this is one of the best. The story is compelling enough to keep you riveted to the screen most of the time, although it does get a bit repetitive here and there. The acting is excellent and the special effects are fantastic.

for frightening sequences of science fiction violence and disturbing images.

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