Picking up after the 1953 classic film version, War of the Worlds is a rather weak TV series, bad enough to wreck most of the positive memories from the film. It’s not the best premise to serve as a backdrop for a long running show (and that was proven with only two seasons), and some of the new concepts introduced are just awful. The first season is the only one worth watching, but even this is tough to sit through.
Quickly starting things off, it turns out that the aliens didn’t die in 1953. They entered into a state of hibernation and were sealed in containers. That’s the backdrop for the pilot episode, a 90-minute dull plot outline. Once the aliens (who look almost nothing like the one that was briefly shown in ’53) are freed accidentally by terrorists, they begin taking on human hosts, for no purpose other than to avoid showing the aliens extensively. That concept doesn’t mesh with the film at all.
It’s laughably bad as the creatures once again step into their Martian war machines (also stored away) for a two-minute battle at the end of the episode. It’s incredibly depressing to see the special effects take a huge downswing, killing the fear built up in the film. The effects are generally awful in every episode, and continue to destroy a legacy.
There are also logic gaps to move things along. Nobody seems to believe aliens are on Earth, even though 30 years ago, the entire world was almost wiped out by them. Later episodes explain it’s a human subconscious condition, a weak explanation at best (no history books exist either?). It’s this gap the series builds on, as each episode has the lead characters trying to convince the government to aid in their fight, and in almost each episode, they have trouble making the higher ups believe the aliens are planning something.
It’s nice to see a close correlation with the Hollywood favorite, even going so far to bring back Ann Robinson in a few episodes to reprise her role as Sylvia Van Buren. They’ve turned her into a psychic nutcase, but at least they recognize her part. Lead actor Jared Martin is a joy to watch, playing the adoptive child of Clayton Forrester. Sadly, Gene Barry never reprised his role. Martin picks up the slack though, a perfect update to the character, with the same mannerisms Barry had in ’53. Not so great is Philip Akin, the team’s computer whiz. His performances are downright terrible, a jarring change compared to some of his recent work.
There are high points to this season. The acknowledgement of the Orson Welles broadcast is a treat, and basing a full episode around its 50th anniversary is a nice touch (a later episode even features a tri-pod like machine). This is probably the best episode in this set, and yet it’s still a pale comparison to anything in the film. The special effects again are hard to deal with, age of the show considered or not.
War of the Worlds could have succeeded, but it has neither the right concept nor budget to make it work over an extended period. Fans of any version of the story will find some enjoyment given the references. Everyone else will be baffled how this made it into a second season (which should be avoided even more so than this). Don’t let it ruin your memories of the original. (* out of *****)
For an obscure 80s TV show, video quality is passable. For the format, it’s abysmal. Compression in a few episodes is so bad, it actually causes a ghosting effect when characters move. Other times, you can’t even see lips move during a conversation because they’re blocked out by artifacts. Color bleeds regularly, and the entire season has an out-of-focus look. Certain episodes seem better than others. However, none of them rise above mediocre. (*)
The sound has been preserved better. It’s clean enough that it’s now obvious most of the alien warship sound are sampled directly from the film. Dialogue is always easy to understand, which is nice since there are no subtitles or captions. The forgettable soundtrack is fine in 2.0 stereo. (***)
The only “extras” come on disc one, and the few included trailers offer little of interest unless you’re a fan of being marketed to extensively. (No Stars).
What happens in season two? The aliens apparently took over the planet at the end of season one (though the take over is never seen) and the world is now in a post-apocalyptic phase. The need for aliens to change human hosts was flat out dropped, and characters disappeared with no explanation. If this first season was baffling, it’s nothing compared to the absurdities of the second.