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Trivia / The War of the Worlds

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The novel:

  • Science Marches On:
    • At the very least, there's no Martian civilization invading Earth, and much of the speculation about how the Martians' technology and biology works is based on outdated science. Wells does future-proof the story to some extent, though, by constantly stating that the characters' scientific speculation is just that, and they could be entirely wrong.
    • In some ways that makes our technological advancement over the last 100 years or so quite scary. These machines were pretty much the most deadly things that the author could think up, and yet put them against modern weapons and they would be obliterated in seconds.
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    • The Martians' main advantage is that their weapon is point-and-shoot accurate, whereas artillery of the day required that the target be 'bracketed' in order to reliably place fire on the target. So the artillery would open up with their initial shots to try and find the range, and the Martian Heat-Ray would immediately and accurately destroy them. The Thunder Child was so effective because it closed to point-blank range before opening fire.
      • Also because it was by no means clear to the Martians that this iron ship was anything to do with the humans, or had any aggressive intent.
    • The Martians are described lacking a true digestive system, instead draining blood from other creatures and replacing their own with it, thus gaining the necessary nutrients. Needless to say, the understanding of blood transfusions hadn't developed very far when the book was written. And there's also the issue of No Biochemical Barriers, although they did all die from interaction with Earth's ecosystem...
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    • Modern science would agree that extraterrestrials with no familiarity with Earth's biosphere would indeed have little or no resistance to Terran microbes. But neither would we against microbes they would invariably bring with them. So the Martian's succumbing to the diseases of our planet would be grimly counterbalanced by scores of humans dying from "martian smallpox," possibly resulting in Mutually Assured Destruction. (This is handwaved in some cases where it's stated the Martians wiped out anything resembling disease years ago, bringing nothing with them to Earth).

  • Technology Marches On: The awe that the humans experience upon seeing the Martian flying machine is somewhat dated, especially considering that human flight would be achieved within the next 5 years. In contrast, every other piece of technology the Martians use has aged surprisingly well, as walking machines and directed energy weapons, though beginning to appear in real life, have yet to become subject to the industrial precision and mass-production shown in the novel. One big exception is their defenses, or lack thereof; while they move fast enough to be hard targets for British artillery, any shell that actually connects will destroy one.
    • The scene where the protagonist describes the Martians' aluminium refining technology. A modern reader may think "So what? Big deal". At the time the book was written, however, aluminium was extremely difficult and expensive to mass-produce, it was even considered to be a precious metal with a higher value than gold, so being able to mass-produce it was used as proof of the Martians' technological mastery.
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    • Even then, today mass production of aluminium isn't exactly cheap or easy, at least not compared to something like iron. It's cheap today in large part because we recycle it far more than we do other metals.

The 1938 radio program:

  • Throw It In!: As to be expected in a live broadcast, several actors (inlcuding Welles) flubbed lines on the air, but it actually added to the realism of the show.
  • What Could Have Been: Before deciding on the H.G. Wells novel, Orson Welles considered using The Lost World or The Purple Cloud as the story to be adapted in a fake news bulletin format.
  • The mass panic associated with the radio broadcast? Not as massive as we've been led to believe, but not entirely faked or over-reported, either. Most people would have reacted as most probably would today: call the police or friends and find out. CBS got an unusually high volume of calls, as did police and fire stations, so people were trying to verify one way or the other. Caches of letters to CBS, Welles and the FCC have been found, from people who had believed it — many congratulating Welles for a job well done. The listening audience size was six million, and it's estimated that about a million of those, however briefly, believed the program. (Because it was Halloween, some stupid things were bound to happen anyway; a lot of extreme reactions came from people who hadn't heard the show, but heard of a "Martian invasion", or a "deadly meteor crash, from friends or neighbors; and others who thought it was real simply tuned in late, heard "invasion" and "poison gas", and thought "Nazis".)
  • The idea that a lot of the panic came from people who'd switched over late from The Chase & Sanborn Hour on NBC is based on the idea that Chase & Sanborn was "lowbrow" comedy with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, so researchers assumed that anyone who believed in a Martian invasion must be dumb or naive. Letters and telegrams revealed listeners who'd had CBS on as background noise; others were fans of Mercury Theatre who had tuned in late or didn't hear the first couple of minutes and thought Mercury Theatre was being interrupted.note  Still others were listening on faraway static-ridden stations and could only hear parts of what happened. Many heard "invasion" without the "Martians" which would have told them it was a play. Others heard "meteor crash" and thought it was a natural disaster. Brad Schwartz in his book Broadcast Hysteria writes:
    Above all, what late listeners heard and understood were the references to real organizations and figures of authority. Their ears pricked up at the mentions of the governor of New Jersey, the Red Cross, the vice president of CBS, and Princeton University. This, more than perhaps anything else, made the broadcast seem real to those that it deceived.
  • Welles was deeply involved in producing a theatrical play at the time and was only peripherally involved with the preparation for War of the Worlds; but he emphasized that it must be as realistic as possible because the story was an old classic and he feared listeners would be bored and tune out. Many did recognize the old tale: children, who wrote Welles enthusiastic fan letters.

The 1953 Film:

  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains:
    • #27 Villain, Martians
  • Hey, It's That Sound!: The sound effect of the green disintegrator rays would later be reused for the photon torpedoes firing in Star Trek: The Original Series.
  • Science Marches On:
    • While preparing to make the movie, producer George Pal talked to military representatives who let him know in no uncertain terms the tripods of the original novel would be cut to pieces by modern weaponry before their drivers would suffer so much as a sniffle. Hence the movie Martians came equipped with nuke-proof force fields.
    • The 1953 movie opens with the narrator explaining why none of the solar system's other planets were suitable for invasion, and getting most of his information completely wrong. Which is kind of a shame, because the shot of erupting volcanoes on Jupiter is pretty well done for the time.
    • The movie opens with Chesley Bonestelle paintings of the other planets of the Solar System except for Venus. In 1953, the nature of what lay beneath that world's clouds was unknown – deserts, swamps, and global seas of carbonated water or petroleum were all considered possibilities. Ironically, the grossly inaccurate description of Jupiter is far more telling of Venus' surface conditions, and Venus was the first planet examined by a probe, in 1962.
  • Technology Marches On: Back in the source novel the alien war machines were vulnerable to artillery fire and a torpedo ram, which were the most powerful weapons available at the time. In this film the aliens can survive an atom bomb blast, because otherwise they would be defeated very quickly. Reportedly, George Pal asked a Pentagon representative how contemporary armed forces would do against the Martians from the novel. He replied in no uncertain terms it would be a Curb-Stomp Battle for humanity.
  • What Could Have Been: Ray Harryhausen apparently always wanted to take on the story, but never got the chance to do so.

The 2005 Film and 1988 TV series:

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