Happy Halloween! What better way to celebrate Throwback Thursday then to talk about one of the greatest pranks science fiction has ever pulled: ‘War of the Worlds’!
Though the famous radio play was broadcasted on October 30th, 1938 (yesterday being the 75th anniversary of its airing), it was billed as a Halloween special… or really, a “prank” of epic proportions.
How epic? Well, hundreds, if not thousands, of people thought there was, in fact, an alien invasion happening and acted accordingly. Unfortunately, all the really cool stories that we know about the event, like heart attacks, riots, and miscarriages, turn out to be urban myths. None of these were substantiated, and more likely misreported by newspapers who saw a chance to take their news rivals on the radio down a peg.
To be fair, the disclaimer “The Columbia Broadcasting and its affiliate stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air with the ‘War of the Worlds’ by HG Wells” was broadcast before the show, so no one really should have been fooled. Oh except, you know, anybody who would be tuning in after the ten-second announcement. Add that to America’s razor-thin nerves on account of a second world war brewing, Welles’ very real depiction of current radio breaking news coverage, and the speed in which scientific progress was assailing Americans, and what you had was a public who was very ready to think the worst.
‘War of the Worlds’ is one of the most well-love pieces of science fiction. Starting as a book by H.G. Wells which was published in 1898, it has been remade into radio plays, movies, comics, and even video games.
The radio play is probably the most famous of which, though it is interesting to note that it, and most of the other remakes, don’t actually follow the original H.G. Wells vision… like… at all.
Firstly, it should be admitted here that the original book is as dry as Wells is typically known for, with a main character that is flatter than a piece of paper. It also took place during the Victorian era, which is altogether too terrifying to imagine. So nearly all adaptations, with the exception of the comic released by Darkhorse Comics, are always contemporary with a significant shift in geography and with a main character that actually has a name with some sort of history.
The 1938 radio play had 1938 technology and took place in New England. The movie in 1953 added atom bombs, romantic subplots, and moved the whole affair to California. The 2005 movie, which I am unashamed to admit is a favorite of mine, added kids and a pretty poor dad into the equation.
Still, the plot generally remains the same. At the end of their civilization on Mars, the Martians come to Earth to feed on our blood, and then die out due to a bacterial infection. I would say spoilers, but come on. It’s been 110+ years. Get with the times!
If you’d like to see what the fuss is about, and start packing your family up for the impending alien invasion, you can listen to the radio play here.
Happy Halloween, and Happy 75 years of not having our blood sucked by aliens intent on our destruction!