H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds Becomes a New BBC Miniseries Set in Edwardian England

H.G. Wells began writing the novel that would become The War of the Worlds in the England of the mid-1890s. As a setting for this tale of invasion from outer space, he chose the place he knew best: England of the mid-1890s. Staging spectacles of unfathomable malice and fantastical destruction against such an ordinary backdrop made The War of the Worlds, first as a magazine serial and then as a standalone book, a chillingly compelling experience for its readers. Orson Welles understood the effectiveness of that choice, as evidenced by the fact that in his famously convincing 1938 radio adaptation of Wells' novel, the hostile aliens land in modern-day New Jersey.

Subsequent adaptations have followed the same principle: in 1953, the first War of the Worlds Hollywood film set the action in 1950s Los Angeles; the latest, a Steven Spielberg-directed Tom Cruise vehicle that came out in 2005, set it in the New York and Boston of the 2000s. But now, set to premiere later this year on BBC One, we have a three-part miniseries that returns the story to the place and time in which Wells originally envisioned it — or rather, the place and very nearly the time. Shot in Liverpool, the production recreates not the Victorian England in which The War of the Worlds was first published but the brief Edwardian period, lasting roughly the first decade of the 20th century, that followed it.

In a way, a period War of the Worlds reflects our time as clearly as the previous War of the Worlds adaptations reflect theirs: television viewers of the 2010s have shown a surprisingly hearty appetite for historical drama, and often British historical drama at that. Think of the success earlier this decade of Downton Abbey, whose upstairs-downstairs dynamics proved gripping even for those not steeped in the British class system. This latest War of the Worlds, whose trailer you can watch at the top of the post, uses similar themes, telling the story of a man and woman who dare to be together despite their class differences — and, of course, amid an alien invasion that threatens to destroy the Earth. It remains to be seen whether the miniseries will rise to the central challenge of adapting The War of the Worlds: will the emotions at the center of the story be as convincing as the mayhem surrounding them?

Related Content:

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Ray Harryhausen’s Creepy War of the Worlds Sketches and Stop-Motion Test Footage

Edward Gorey Illustrates H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in His Inimitable Gothic Style (1960)

Things to Come, the 1936 Sci-Fi Film Written by H.G. Wells, Accurately Predicts the World’s Very Dark Future

Stream Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, a BBC Production Featuring Derek Jacobi (Free for a Limited Time)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Appeal of UFO Narratives: Investigative Journalist Paul Beban Visits Pretty Much Pop #14

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TV news reporter Paul Beban (ABC, Al Jazeera, Yahoo, and now featured on the Discovery Network's Contact) joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the public fascination with UFOs, both at the peak of their popularity in the 50s and in the current resurgence. Do accounts of sightings necessarily make for good TV? Do you have to believe to be entertained? Is belief in UFOs related to religious belief? To beliefs in conspiracy theories and anti-government venom? To humor?

We get into the mechanics of Contact, the Area 51 hubbub,and also touch on the show Project Blue Book, films like Arrival (2016) and UFO (2018), the documentary Unacknowledged (2017), the short story "Roadside Picnic," and more. To learn more about UFO lore in America, check out some of these podcasts.

Some of the resources we used for this episode included:

Plus, here are some stats from Gallup about UFO sightings and belief, you might want to pick up the book Nostalgia for the Absolute that Paul refers to, and here's the 2014 talk by Robbie Graham that Brian referred to describing "hyper-reality" and the Hollywood UFO conspiracy. Here's a list of UFO documentary series.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Is It Really Ever a Good Idea to Revive an Old TV Show? Pretty Much Pop #13 Considers

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An appalling number of shows are now being continued long after their deaths. Revivals (not to be confused with reboots) bring us back to the comfort of old friends, who are now really old. What can a revival's success tell us about why the show was appealing in the first place? Wouldn't you rather see a new work by the same creative team than more of the same? Mark, Erica, and Brian consider some successes, failures, and hypotheticals.

We consider Arrested Development, The Twilight Zone, X-Files, Twin Peaks, Will & Grace, Deadwood, Full House, Gilmore Girls, Queer Eye, Doctor Who, Veronica Mars, and talk too much about The Brady Bunch and Alf.

Some articles we looked at:

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Pretty Much Pop #10 Examines Margaret Atwood’s Nightmare Vision: The Handmaid’s Tale

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt take on both Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel plus the Bruce Miller/Hulu TV series through season 3. There’s also a graphic novel and the 1990 film.

We get into what’s needed to move a novel to the screen like that: The character can’t just remain passive as in the novel in order to keep us suffering with her past the first season as storytelling beyond the book begins. We talk about Atwood’s funny neologisms (like “prayvaganza”) that didn’t make it into the show.

How does race play into the story, and how should it? Is the story primarily a political statement or a self-contained work of art? Given the bleakness of the situation depicted, can there be comic relief? How can we have a nominally funny podcast about this work?

Some of the articles we drew on or bring up include:

Plus Erica brings up this video of Bill Moyers interviewing Atwood about religion. We also touch on Shindler’s List, Jean-Paul Sartre’s NauseaDavid Brin dissing Star Wars as anti-democratic storytelling, and the many conservative dismissals of the show as hysterical propaganda.

Buy the bookthe graphic novel, or its new sequel The Testaments.

You may be interested in these related Partially Examined Life episodes (Mark's long-running philosophy podcast): #181 on Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil, #139 on bell hooks  and her historical account of conditions for black women not terribly dissimilar to the ones described by Atwood, #90 interviewing David Brin about the connections between speculative fiction, philosophy, and political speech. PEL has also recorded several episodes on Sartreand Mark ran a supporter-only  session that you could listen to on Nausea in particular. Also check out Brian’s Contellary Tales podcast #2 talking about another breeding-related sci-fi story by Octavia Butler.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Monty Python’s Eric Idle Breaks Down His Most Iconic Characters

When I first saw Monty Python’s Flying Circus, late at night on PBS and in degraded VHS videos borrowed from friends, I assumed the show’s concepts must have come out of bonkers improv sessions. But the troupe’s many statements since the show’s end, in the form of books, documentaries, interviews, etc., have told us in no uncertain terms that Monty Python’s creators always put writing first. “I’m not an actor at all,” says Eric Idle in the GQ video above. “I’m really a writer who just acts occasionally.”

Likewise, in the PBS series Monty Python’s Personal Best, Idle discusses the joy of writing for the show—and compares creating Monty Python to fishing, of all things: “You go to the riverbank every day, you don’t know what you’re going to catch.” This idyllic scene may be the last thing you’d associate with the Pythons, though you may recall their take on fishing in the second season sketch “Fish License,” in which John Cleese’s character, Eric, tries to buy a license for his pet halibut, Eric.

Idle’s protestations notwithstanding, none of the show’s writing would have worked as well as it did onscreen without the considerable acting talents of all five performers. (Idle modestly ascribes his own ability to being “lifted up” by the others.) Above, he talks about the most iconic characters he embodied on the show, beginning with the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?” guy: a character, we learn, based on Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band crossed with a regular from Idle’s local pub named Monty, from whom the troupe took their first name.

We also learn that the character was so popular in the States that “Elvis called everybody ‘squire’ because of that f*cking sketch!” Presley's’ penchant for doing Monty Python material while in bed with his girlfriend (“if only there was footage”) is but one of the many fascinating anecdotes Idle casually tosses off in his commentary on characters like the Australian Bruces, who went on to sing “The Philosopher’s Song”; Mr. Smoketoomuch, who delivers a ten-minute monologue written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman; and Idle’s characters in the non-Python mocumentary All You Need Is Cash, which he created and co-wrote, about a parody Beatles band called The Rutles.

Idle is steadfast in his description of himself as a competent “caricaturist,” and not a “comic actor.” But his song and dance routines, sly subtle wit and broad gestures, and forever funny turn as cowardly Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail should leave his fans with little doubt about his skill in front of the camera.

Related Content:

Monty Python’s Best Philosophy Sketches: “The Philosophers’ Football Match,” “Philosopher’s Drinking Song” & More

Terry Gilliam Reveals the Secrets of Monty Python Animations: A 1974 How-To Guide

The Monty Python Philosophy Football Match: The Ancient Greeks Versus the Germans

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Voice Actor Dee Bradley Baker (Clone Wars,American Dad) Defends Cartoons on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #9

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Are cartoons an inherently juvenile art form? Even animation aimed at adults is still typically considered genre fiction--a guilty pleasure--and the form enables tones and approaches that might simply be considered awful if presented as traditional live action. So what's the appeal?

Dee's voice can be heard in substantial portion of today's cartoons, especially for animal or monster noises, like Boots in the new big-screen adaptation of Dora the Explorer, Momo and Appa in The Last Airbender, Animal in the new Muppet Babies, etc. He's also a deep thinker who proudly defends cartoons as providing primal delights of humor, justice, and narrative meaning.

Mark, Erica, and Brian engage Dee about his experience as a voice actor (e.g. as Klaus German fish in a Seth MacFarlane sit-com, figuring out what Adventure Time was actually about, doing all the similar-but-distinct voices of the various clones in Clone Wars, coming up with a language for The Boxtrolls, and recreating Mel Blanc's voices in Space Jamand other Looney Tunes projects), his role in collaborative creation,  the connection between cartoons and vaudeville, how live-action films can be made "cartoonish," graphic novels, cartoon music, and more. We also touch on Love & Robots, A Scanner Darkly, Larva, the documentary I Know That Voice, and the 1972 film What's Up, Doc? Introduction by Chickie.

We did read a few articles in preparation for this about the phenomenon of adults watching kid cartoons:

There's also a lengthy reddit thread that we mined for perspectives.

This episode includes bonus content that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

How Marion Stokes, an Activist Librarian, Recorded 30 Years of TV News on 70,000 Video Tapes: It’s All Now Being Digitized and Put Online

“Nothing is more important than television,” said J.D. Salinger (as impersonated, that is, in an episode of Bojack Horseman). A passive, pacifying medium—“cool,” as Marshall McLuhan called it—TV has also long been an easy target for punditry, for many decades before the perpetrator du jour, video games. Television spread ignorance, was “the drug of the nation," said Michael Franti, peddled fake heroes on “channel zero,” said Public Enemy, and would lead to an “electrical re-tribalization of the West,” McLuhan predicted (and further explained in this interview).

Marion Stokes set out to do more than any of the men above who made pronouncements about television. She dedicated her life to preserving the evidence, taping television news for over 33 years, from 1979 “until the day she died,” writes the Internet Archive, who now hold Stokes’ “unique 71k+ video cassette collection” and intend to digitize all of it. Stokes “was a fiercely private African American social justice champion, librarian, political radical, TV producer, feminist, Apple Computer super-fan and collector like few others.”

She “questioned the media’s motivations and recognized the insidious intentional spread of disinformation…. Ms. Stokes was alarmed. In a private herculean effort, she took on the challenge of independently preserving the news record of her times in its most pervasive and persuasive form—TV.” She also preserved three decades of televised critiques of television. She began making her archive at the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis on November 14, 1979. “She hit record and never stopped,” her son Michael Metelits says in Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, “a newly released documentary,” reports Atlas Obscura, “about [Stokes] and the archival project that became her life’s work.”

In one remarkable example of TV critique, at the top, we see William Davidon, professor of Physics at Haverford College, decrying television for spreading ignorance, social irresponsibility, and passive consumption, making people unable to participate in the political process. The roundtable discussion took place on a 1968 episode of Input. A little over a year later, writes the Internet Archive, Davidon “would take an action of great social consequence,” breaking into an FBI field office with seven others and stealing the evidence that “revealed COINTELPRO.” (They were never caught, and Davidon’s role only came out posthumously.)

Then known as Marion Metelits, Stokes co-produced Input, a local Philadelphia Sunday morning talk show, with her future husband John S. Stokes Jr., and both of them appear on the program above (both credited as representing the Wellsprings Ecumenical Center). The conversation ranges widely, with Ms. Metelits and Davidon spiritedly defending “human potential” against too-rigid systems of classification and manipulation. There are a few dozen more episodes of Input currently at the Internet Archive, with panels featuring academics, activists, and clergy (such as the episode explaining, sort of, the “Wellsprings Ecumenical Center.”)

It’s a hard-hitting, controversial show for a local broadcast, and it gives us a detailed view of a range of both popular and radical positions of the time, including Stokes’, which we can learn more about in the journals, notes, lists, newspaper and magazine clippings, pamphlets, leaflets, handbills, and more she collected since 1960, many of which have also been digitized at the Internet Archive. Stokes backed her views with action. She was “surveilled by the government for her early political activism,” Atlas Obscura writes, and “attempted to defect to Cuba” with her first husband Melvin Metelits. She kept her recording project private, “eschewed Tivo” and “never sent an email in her life.”

She also made a small fortune in Apple stock, which funded her project and “the massive storage space she required as the sole force behind it.” Stokes left us no doubt as to why she documented thirty years of TV news. But those documents get to speak for themselves—or they will, at least. Stokes recorded far more than her own program, three decades more. And the Internet Archive is currently “endeavoring to help make sure” the entire collection “is digitized and made available online to everyone, forever, for free.”

If television had, and maybe still has, the power ascribed to it by its many astute critics, then Marion Stokes’ painstaking archive offers an invaluable means of understanding how we got to where we are, if not how to change course. Stokes’ collection, and the documentary about her life, show "how the news was going to evolve into an addiction,” as Owen Gleiberman writes at Variety. The project took over her life and fractured her relationships. “Even if you’re obsessed with the inaccuracy of TV news, it has still entrapped you, like a two-way mirror that won’t let you see the other side.” If the medium is the message, the other side might always be more television.

via Atlas Obscura

Related Content:

Hear Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage (1967)

5 Animations Introduce the Media Theory of Noam Chomsky, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan, Edward Said & Stuart Hall

New Archive Makes Available 800,000 Pages Documenting the History of Film, Television & Radio

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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