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H G Wells and The War Of The Worlds (Delta 2005)


War Of The Worlds documentary, Delta.

There is clearly a need for a good documentary outlining the history of The War Of The Worlds and the life and times of H G Wells, but sadly this production does not do as much as it might to fill that gap. As a factual endeavour, it may stand light scrutiny as a reasonable outline of Wells' life but one suspects that budget and copyright problems forced some less than creative fudges. Most tellingly and given that some considerable prominence is given to the Orson Wells broadcast, the absence of any actual clips from the show borders on the perplexing. (Perhaps with the arrival of the Spielberg/Cruise movie, the cost of material like this has gone through the roof.) Alas, the terribly dry and earnest narration cannot come close to plugging that yawning gap. We don't need a description of events, (and not a very good one at that) we expect to hear the words of Welles and his cohorts. This documentary would give the incorrect impression to a layman that a recording of the broadcast simply no longer exists.

In general, the script does the production very few favours. It plods in weary fashion from one event to another in such a passionless way that my attention really began to wander and early on takes a rather odd detour to explain the historical roots of Halloween. Yes, for sure Orson Welles broadcast his War Of The Worlds on Halloween eve, but I doubt that anyone would find this additional historical subtext that interesting. It feels like padding, and indeed some images are repeated over and over and there are some desperately lacklustre location shots that looks like they might have been provided by the local chamber of commerce. A riveting picture of a wall of flowers brings to mind the words paint and drying.

The complete absence of any extra features is also disappointing. Surely DVD is a documentary makers dream come true? The broadcast in full would have been great, and what about book covers, or illustrations and stills and clips from the 1953 movie? How about the Orson Welles news conference the day after the broadcast, or his meeting with H G Wells? There really is a wealth of material out there that could have elevated this production from the merely worthy-but-dull to something a great deal more essential.

It distresses me to be so negative about this production especially as I was kindly supplied a review copy, but while I'm sure there were good intentions, the fact is that it is not particularly well written (the dialogue is painful to listen to on occasion) and the production values are less than stellar. The latter could easily be forgiven, but I can't be so charitable about the way this documentary has been fact checked. I am for instance a little perturbed at the section on the Welles broadcast. People most assuredly did not take pot shots at invading Martians at Grover's Mill as is suggested. The one famous photograph of a resident armed with a rifle (not reproduced in this documentary) was a fabrication, set up the following day by the newspapers who were keen to tar and feather Welles. Equally the comment that Welles admitted to purposefully engineering the panic in years later is only true in so much that he said it, but it is not difficult with a minimal amount of research to discover that Welles was a consummate liar. This vitally important caveat is missing. I'm not enough of a H G Wells scholar to say if the errors relating to Orson Welles presage more of the same, but it certainly lays a seed of doubt.

I suspect some students might like this DVD as it will save them a lot of reading but given the above misgivings, I'd be hesitant about relying on it for a good grade.

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