Relentless aliens, superb visuals, and weak characters
By Jonathan Pabico, Senior Columnist
H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic The War of the Worlds was adapted as a 2005 film starring Tom Cruise, then eventually as Rafe Spall’s three-episode miniseries on AMC. Now, CBC is featuring an eight-episode TV series of the titular book that so far presents a haunting picture of a helpless Europe besieged by a cold-hearted alien invasion.
As the episode progresses, the editing and cinematography elevate the story’s remarkably chilling tone. The gorgeous wide takes of the natural mountain ranges and urban city are edited with smaller camera shots of characters living their everyday lives. These effects perfectly set up suspense to foreshadow the terrifying phenomena caused by the invaders.
In many ways, the premiere has a visual scale like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and a narrative akin to Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day. This gives the show surprising emotional weight that gives viewers a substantial reason to tune in to the show, as well as a reason to look forward to what else CBC can bring in the future.
The cuts between camera shots gradually improves pacing, while locations become more claustrophobic to convey how frightened and confused families, scientists, and government officials are at the unknown. The gripping sound design leading up to the episode’s climax reflects just how powerless we can feel towards inexplicable events.
Unlike Wells’ book, there isn’t a series lead to follow due to the story focusing on several characters from many subplots. Some viewers may be disarmed if they’re expecting a main protagonist to spearhead the premiere. However, this approach is more realistic since it immerses you in the many different reactions to the attack.
Gabriel Byrne as a neuroscience professor is good enough for the premiere. His story arc is perhaps the only one to take seriously through his character’s distant family relationships with his wife and son before the invasion. The show could have developed his backstory more, even though it’s just the beginning of the show so far.
Because of the episode’s flaws, and even though it’s only the start of the series, Tom Cruise’s adaptation is still superior. With the legendary Steven Spielberg behind the camera, the film presents a disturbing portrayal of aliens. It also foregrounds a riveting relationship between Cruise and Dakota Fanning’s characters. Byrne and the rest of the cast are only passable in the show because they lack this same chemistry.
Overall, though, the season premiere of CBC’s War of the Worlds sets up a truly scary depiction of humanity’s threatening encounter with extraterrestrial life. With its editing, visual design, and storytelling, the show’s first episode promises an enthralling series that honours H.G. Wells’ famous novel. If zombies aren’t your thing, then maybe an alien apocalypse will provide you those scares you crave for every October.