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H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds

Directed by David Michael Latt
Produced by David Rimawi
Written by David Michael Latt, Carlos De Los Rios (screenplay)
H. G. Wells (novel)
Starring C. Thomas Howell
Rhett Giles
Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots
Andy Lauer
Peter Greene
Jake Busey
Dashiell Howell
Leigh Scott
Kim Little
Music by Ralph Rieckermann
Editing by David Michael Latt
Distributed by The Asylum
Release date(s) June 28, 2005
Running time 90 mins.
Country  United States
Language English
Budget $1,000,000 (estimated)
Followed by War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave (2008)

H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (also going by the title of Invasion and H.G. Wells' The Worlds in War, or abbreviated as War of the Worlds) is one of three 2005 film adaptations of H.G. Wells' 1898 science fiction novel The War of the Worlds.

Much like Steven Spielberg's film version, the science fiction film is a modernized adaptation, but was released by independent production company The Asylum, whose budget may be more on par with the Pendragon film version. No theatrical release date had been planned; instead the film was a direct-to-DVD release. All three were released in June of the same year.

The story tells the experience of an astronomer, George Herbert (C. Thomas Howell), who is separated from his wife and son when a Martian army invades the planet, driving massive "walkers". He tries to make his way to Washington, D.C. to reunite with them as the human race faces extinction.

Unlike other adaptations, The Asylum intended to make this War of the Worlds film more of a horror film. It was rated R for strong violence and gore, language and some nudity. Director David Michael Latt describes the film as The Pianist with aliens instead of Nazis, comparing the tale of one man's story of survival. He wanted no character with a plan or even a chance of defeating the enemy, but a character who is stripped away from strength, of family, friends, faith and hope until, towards the end, he is described by Latt as "just a shell".

The DVD was released on June 28, one day before Spielberg's film, and has a few notable stars including C. Thomas Howell, Peter Greene, and Jake Busey. The alternate title of Invasion is likely for the film's overseas distribution since Paramount claim to own exclusive film rights to the War of the Worlds title in the European Union. The film is one of The Asylum's most successful. Oddly, the original poster has a striking resemblance to the Independence Day poster.



The film starts (without the book's famous intro/prologue quote) with shots of the surface of Mars through the Mars Rover. Its vision is impaired by the casting of a huge light on the planet's surface. The perspective then shifts to the Herbert household. George is an astronomer, and his wife Felicity and himself are awaiting their 10th wedding anniversary. George plans to propose again to Felicity on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial, as he did ten years ago. George and his son Alex watch through their telescope in search of the planet Mars. Instead, they see a meteor-like object, which looks to be falling to the ground.

George is called up by his work, who want him to investigate the object. Felicity is angry at George for missing their anniversary for his work, ironically and sarcastically saying "Yeah, sure, it's the end of the world". She decides to take Alex to Washington without George, who promises to see them when he's finished his "important" work.

Later, at night, George is driving to work when his radio begins to make a strange sound. His car then breaks down, before he sees a large flaming object crashing to the hills ahead of him. He goes to the crash site, where a massive crater has been created by the impact of the meteor. Among several others fascinated by the meteor's arrival, George notices that the size of the object would've caused a bigger crater (which suggests that it is hollow). He also finds that all the cars and cellphones have somehow shut down at the same time. A young woman, Audrey, races to George, scared because her boyfriend, Max, has fallen into the pit.

Max can be seen, exhausted, struggling out of the pit only to fall back in. George attempts to encourage him into climbing out, but the young man is distracted by activity coming from the object. When he sees a creature emerge from the object, he panics, racing his way out of the pit. A clawed, metallic tentacle reaches out and pulls him back in, and the crowd begins to run away in terror. The tentacle emerges again to grab other humans before a large, crab-like alien walker emerges and fires at the humans with a Heat-Ray, Audrey among them, reducing them to skeletons. George manages to escape and makes his way home, where all electrical equipment is deactivated, possibly due to an Electro-magnetic pulse. Abruptly, the lights flicker back on and George's phone rings. He answers to Felicity, insisting that she calms down and waits for him at the Lincoln Memorial. He then packs his bag with a small amount of food and a photograph of himself with his family. George says farewell to his neighbour Sean, and sets off to meet his brother, Matt, at Hopewell. When he leaves his neighbourhood, he can hear the movement of the walkers and their Heat-Rays.

The next day, George finds a bridge, on which human refugees are held back by soldiers. A woman who thinks the Martians are terrorists tells George that Washington, along with New York City and Los Angeles, was invaded first. Suddenly, another meteor crashes, and a walker emerges to fight the military. The machine walks over George, closely missing his head, before it leaves, taking no notice of him. That night, George finds the dead body of his neighbour, Sean, with his chest torn open.

The next morning, George meets a soldier named Kerry Williams, who has been fighting the aliens desperately, and his whole squad has been killed in battle. He agrees to travel with George to Hopewell, where George hopes to find his brother, a ranger. Along the way, they meet Lt. Samuelson, a soldier who wants to build a resistance against the aliens. He tells George that there were no survivors in Washington, not even the President. He considers George and Kerry as cowards, so he refuses to let them in his army, leaving them on their way.

George and Kerry find a small town that doesn't seem to be in much of a hurry. George buys some supplies and medicine. He meets a man who thinks the aliens are either terrorists, creatures from under the earth or the result of the military messing with chemicals. Life in this town is very much unaffected, despite awareness of the walkers.

Later, at Hopewell, George and Kerry wait in line at a shelter for homeless and starving refugees, but then another meteor crashes. Very shortly, many walkers are seen destroying the town and killing every human in sight. A walker crouches and a "lid" on its head opens, from which the Martians emerge. They leave the machine and spit a deadly corrosive acid at fleeing humans. George and Kerry find Matt, George's brother, underneath the wreckage of a building. They are saddened and disgusted to see that he has been split in two. Matt and George exchange their feelings before Matt dies. George and Kerry are separated in a crowd, and George manages to escape Hopewell in a canoe.

After spending a day drifting downstream, George catches a terrible fever and spends the next two days in an abandoned car. He is found by an Australian Pastor named Victor. Victor doesn't seem to have much of a plan, so he follows George. Victor calls the aliens demons, and is convinced that the invasion is the Biblical Rapture. Victor is not scared; he believes he and George will ascend into Heaven and be reunited with their loved ones.

George and Victor stumble upon a crying woman, who the Pastor recognises as one of his congregates, Rebecca. Rebecca's children were recently killed by the Martians. Her loss has her screaming against God, who she names a "blind, evil child-murderer". Nothing Victor can say can give her hope, so George and his companion move on.

As the sun sets, Victor tells George about a woman he had a crush on when he moved to America, but George is distracted, finding an untouched can of beer. Suddenly, a small but significant group of walkers walk into view, which are then attacked by a squad of soldiers. A Martian launches an object that emits a deadly toxic gas, which kills the soldiers. George and Victor move to a higher altitude to avoid the gas. The aliens leave into the ruins of a city. Victor confesses about a son he hasn't seen since he came to America, and George reflects on a memory about his father that inspired him to become an astronomer. Victor then points out that "there are no stars out tonight".

The two find an untouched neighborhood, and break into the house of a doctor. Victor, starved, is pleased to find food, while George changes his clothes. Suddenly, the Martian gas is seen again, so George and the Pastor hide upstairs, where they find medical vaccines, such as a rabies sample. A sudden, huge crash causes the house to collapse. George wakes hours later to find that a meteor has destroyed the neighborhood. Victor concludes that God has forsaken them, and left them in Hell.

For several days, Victor wrestles with his thoughts about the accuracy of the Bible, while George observes what the aliens are doing in the pit; draining the blood from living humans. Later in the week, George understands that human weapons have failed to stop the invaders, and plans to use a Rabies vaccine against them, hopeful that "life fighting life" can stop them. Despite his hope, George suffers terrible nightmares. After a little over a week, Victor loses all belief in God and heavily drinks a bottle of wine. He confesses that he has been leading George away from Washington and towards the Blue Ridge Mountains, where survivors are hiding from the aliens. Suddenly, a Martian enters the room and tries to attack Victor, but George injects it with the virus he constructed. Its skin seems to have an unusual effect, and it quickly leaves, terrified. Victor's faith returns, believing that God had been watching over them the whole time, but the alien quickly returns and splatters Victor with the acid, killing him in seconds.

One day since Victor's death, George finds that the Martian pit is completely empty, so he escapes from his imprisonment. He falls asleep in a ditch, and awakens in horror that he has lost the photograph of his family, before he falls back to sleep.

That night, he is woken by Kerry, the soldier he met earlier. He tells George that Washington is lost and his family are surely dead. Samuelson also appears, who seems to have become dangerously insane, promoting himself to general. Kerry insists that George cannot fight with them, but the enraged Samuelson insists that wars have been won by scientists. He then overreacts and shoots Kerry in the head. George grabs a rock and slams it into Samuelson's head, killing him instantly.

The next morning, George finally reaches Washington, where there is complete destruction. All the monuments have been destroyed and he doesn't find his family at the steps. He spots a single Martian, and it seems to be looking back at him. He walks towards it and offers his life to it, seeing no point in living anymore. The alien stands paralysed for a few moments and then drops dead in front of George. Out of nowhere, a group of human survivors come to George and offer him water. They say that the aliens have been dying for several days due to a virus. Alex and Felicity appear among the survivors and they are tearfully reunited.

The Martians have been killed by bacteria and mankind is now left to rebuild. The film ends with a shot over the devastated city, and the reassuring image of overturned walkers.

Cast & characters

  • C. Thomas Howell as George Herbert : An astronomer and the protagonist of the film. He met Felicity at a Star Trek convention. He proposed to her on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and plans to do the same thing in celebration of their 10 year anniversary. When alien walkers invade the Earth, George journeys to Washington in search of his family. George's role is that of the novel's narrator, and his name is in reference to H.G. Wells.
  • Andy Lauer as Kerry Williams: A soldier whose unit was destroyed within two days of the invasion. He befriends George and travels with him to meet George's brother, and to find another squad of troops with whom he can fight the aliens. He is separated from George when the Martians attack Hopewell, and meets him days later with a plan. He is murdered by Lt. Samuelson. Kerry is based on the Artilleryman character of the novel.
  • Rhett Giles as Pastor Victor : An Australian Pastor who is convinced that these events are the Rapture. His church took three years to build, and was destroyed by the Martians in less than a day. During his ordeal in the ruined house with George, he wrestles with his thoughts about the Bible's accuracy, and then loses belief in God. As soon as his faith returns, a Martian kills him. Victor is based on the character of the Curate.
  • Jake Busey as Lt. Samuelson : A soldier whose family was killed by the Martians. He has become deranged, and plans to build an army against the Martians. He refuses to let George and Kerry in his army, only to recruit Kerry days later. When he is seen after George's ordeal in the destroyed house, he has become insane and promoted himself to General. Andy Lauer compares the character to Lt. Kilroy from Apocalypse Now. After killing Kerry, George kills him with a rock. Samuelson is also based on the Artilleryman.
  • Peter Greene as Matt Herbert : George's brother. He is a ranger, who is seen only briefly, left fatally and horribly wounded by the trail of destruction left by the walkers. He expresses his feelings to George and then dies. Although he has a brief appearance in the film, he can be seen alive and well on the 2007 DVD cover of the film. In the novel, the narrator's brother has a much larger role, with the perspective shifting from the narrator to his brother, a medical student living in London.
  • Tyranie Van Wyk Loots as Felicity Herbert : George's wife.
  • Kim Little as Rebecca : One of Victor's congregates, who blames God for the death of her children. Kim Little is the wife of David Michael Latt, and appeared in the sequel as Victoria.
  • Leigh Scott as Sean : George's neighbour, who is seen packing his car with valuables, ready to flee from the walkers. One day later, his corpse is seen by George, with his chest torn open. This is in reference to a character in the novel, who is met by the narrator before he is seen dead in the woods.
  • Audrey: A panicky and frantic woman whose boyfriend, Max, was trapped in the crater left by the first meteor. The first Martian walker shoots her with a Heat-Ray, incinerating her to a skeleton, possibly making her the first victim of the Heat-Ray. Max's character is similar to one in the novel, who falls into the pit of the first cylinder only to become their first victim.
  • The Martians: A powerful extraterrestrial race with technology and intellect far in advance to that of human beings. The aliens themselves appear with green, disc-like torsos and four long tentacles acting as legs. These insect-like creatures have mouths at their feet, from which they spit a deadly, corrosive acid. The Martians rely on human blood to survive, and tend to appear mostly at night. They crash-land to Earth in meteors, and drive over the planet in massive, crab-like walkers armed with a Heat-Ray. They crush all military resistance in just days, before they all catch common earthly infections and die.

Adapting the novel

Director/editor/executive producer/co-writer David Michael Latt (who admits to never seeing the George Pál version, but has been a fan of the H.G. Wells novel since childhood) has made it clear that his film has changed certain aspects from the source material outside of the shift of time and location. Most notable is that the tripods have been changed to six-legged crab-like machines called "walkers" (a conception that mainly stems from allowing the effects team creative freedom).

The aliens are indeed Martians (though the film never states this, but this is confirmed by Latt complete with an opening credit sequence over shots of the Red Planet's landscape), but bear little visual resemblance to their novel's counterparts. Whereas Wells described his invaders as bear-sized tentacle creatures, the film's Martians are insect-like in their appearance with a torso like a green disc and four tentacle-like legs. These aliens also have the ability to spit acid from mouths on their feet, which melts entirely anyone who is unfortunate enough to be attacked. Inside the Martian mouth, three tongues can be seen which closely resemble the Martian fingers from Byron Haskin's 1953 film version of The War of the Worlds and the 1988 television series version. They also have an appetite for humans as in the novel. In the sequel War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave, it is made clear that the aliens need human blood to survive.

In terms of their military action: the war machines are not tripods, but are crab-like "walkers" with six legs. A Heat Ray is built into the machine's "head", and is fired from a single eye. By all accounts, their fighting machines do not appear to have heavy protection against modern human artillery, leaving their ability to effectively crush resistance unexplained. The aliens do have a substance vaguely similar to the black smoke, which they distribute in shells, but is more of a green colored gas with a notable inability to rise above ground level due to a similar density, allowing the characters to escape by getting to high places.

The protagonist of the film is named George Herbert, an obvious reference to H. G. Wells. Rather than being a writer, as in the novel, he is an astronomer, perhaps in reference to the character of Ogilvy - in a related deviation, the film does not attempt the voice-over narration that accompanies other versions of the story. He also has a son, who is portrayed by Dashiell Howell, who is actually the son of George's actor C. Thomas Howell.

Despite these differences, George nevertheless goes through much of what befalls the novel's protagonist, even up to preparing to sacrifice himself to the Martians, only for them to drop dead of infection before he has to do so. He is also separated from his wife and son with whom he tries to reunite once the invasion begins, and, like the novel, she and their son are alive in the conclusion. George's brother, a ranger, is less fortunate; he is seen only briefly, after being fatally wounded in the trail of destruction left by the invaders. In the book, the narrator's brother has a much bigger involvement in the story, as the perspective is shifted from the narrator to that of his brother.

A major deviation from the text is that the protagonist actually tries to produce a means of stopping the Martians, but the film does not elaborate on whether their eventual downfall is due to these efforts, or whether their deaths simply coincided with his efforts.

The role played by the novel's Artilleryman is here divided into two characters, rather than being a single developing personality. The first time he is seen (as the character of Kerry Williams), he exhibits the initial, defeated status of his novelistic counterpart. He accompanies George as they move to unaffected areas, meeting soldiers oblivious to the danger they will soon face, until they become separated when George takes refuge underwater to elude the Martians. After his ordeal in the ruined house, George encounters Williams again, but the latter remains very much as he was before. Instead, the Artilleryman as he is portrayed in the novel's later stages is signified by another soldier, Samuelson (portrayed by Jake Busey), who both George and Williams encountered earlier. It is clear Samuelson has lost his mind and is under great stress. In his anger he kills Kerry, before he is then killed by George.

Though in a similar vein to the novel there is talk of recapturing the world, the plan to achieve this is by regrouping with military units in the mountains instead of rebuilding civilisation underground. In the pursuit of this plan, George is quickly realized as being more valuable to humanity than either Williams or Samuelson, as the efforts of scientists have won many wars before.

The unnamed Curate from the novel is portrayed in the film by a Pastor (portrayed by Rhett Giles) named Victor. While the two characters are very similar (the Pastor mentions his church was rebuilt three years prior to the Martians), the Pastor is depicted as being fairly calm and is sure that the invasion is the Rapture. However, his faith is deeply shaken when he meets a congregate whose loss at the hands of the invaders has her screaming against God, causing the Pastor to question events and why he himself has yet to be taken.

Unlike the Curate, the Pastor manages to keep his composure when he's trapped in the ruined house with George as he wrestles quietly with his thoughts. Whereas the Curate caused the narrator to subdue him and then taken away by the Martians unconscious, the Pastor regains his faith just before he is killed directly by the Martians.

There are also very small references to the book. In the book, the narrator escapes a Martian attack in a stream, and George does the same. However, in the book, the narrator is left horribly scalded when a Tripod is destroyed and the Heat-Ray's generator explodes in the water, boiling the stream. There is also a scene where a walker walks over George, and its foot misses crushing his head by mere inches, as in a scene from the novel. George enters a town which doesn't seem to be in any rush, as in the novel.

The chapters on the DVD are named after the chapter titles in the novel, something also done for the Pendragon and Dreamworks films.

David Michael Latt producing War of the Worlds

David Michael Latt often expresses his fascination for H.G. Wells' novel in the DVD's Audio Commentary and Behind the scenes features. He had written a script for War of the Worlds a year before production of the film, and upon learning that Dreamworks were making their own War of the Worlds film, The Asylum soon began production.

David Michael Latt based the themes of the film internationally titled Invasion on the 2002 film The Pianist, which tells the true story of a Polish Jew who struggles to survive the battle between the German army and the a Jewish resistance in the Second World War. Latt used the similar themes of a man's survival as civilization around him reduces to ruin, stating:

"I tell my friends [the film] is like The Pianist, but instead of Nazis you have aliens."

Like the protagonist of The Pianist, the main character of War of the Worlds is not shown to have any kind of resistance or plans to fight back, only a persistance to keep alive. The film is considered by some to be the darkest retelling of Wells' novel, and described by actor Andy Lauer as a "sci-fi noir".

The casting for Andy Lauer was almost sudden, himself having an interest of working with The Asylum. Latt had concerns about Tyranie Van Wyk Loots' casting, assuming she may object to her naked sequence at the beginning of the film. However, Tyranie had no objections and was more than happy in starring in War of the Worlds, being a fan of science fiction (admitting to have seen "every episode of Star Trek ever made"). The casting of C. Thomas Howell seemed to be more complicated, as he was currently starring in an American TV show. David Michael Latt and Andy Lauer were confident in getting Howell in the film, and Howell was happy to read the script and accepted. Howell offered his son Dashiell as a role to play Alex Herbert, when he found that Latt was looking for an eight year old to fill in the role. Jake Busey's audition was successful, having won the role on the first day of auditions. His scenes were all filmed in one day. He tells that one of his favorite films as a child was the 1953 War of the Worlds.

The development of "Invasion'"s plot and characters was a challenge. Adapting the characters and plot faithfully from the novel was tricky to retell for a modern audience, so there are some significant changes. For example, readers will notice that the "eve of the war" arch is almost absent from the film, skipping the novel's earlier characters and details of the "safe and tranquil" world before the invasion begins. This is, however, easy to understand because of the film's length. The film also ignores the sub-plot of Book One: The Coming of the Martians, in which the book's perspective shifts to the narrator's brother, who accompanies two women to safety and witnesses the battle between the aliens and the HMS Thunderchild. A sub-plot would violate the nature of the film, and also prolong it's length.


On April 1, 2008, a sequel, War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave, was released. C. Thomas Howell directed the film and reprised the role of George Herbert, and his son Dash Howell reprised the role of Alex. The film also starred Christopher Reid.

See also

  • The Pianist, a 2002 film that inspired this film's themes.

External links

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