Wells wrote several visionary novels similar to The War of the Worlds. These books were called “scientific fantasies” because the term “science fiction” had not yet been invented. The Time Machine focuses on strong social Themes about the ethical treatment of the laboring classes in an industrial society, and it, too, has an apocalyptic vision of the future. The First Men in the Moon depicts frightening outer-space monsters, while The Invisible Man features a scientist whose ethics are so confused that he ends up trivializing his brilliant scientific advancement-the discovery of how to make people invisible. In The Island of Dr. Moreau, scientific knowledge is pursued at the cost of the brutalization of the natural world.
Orson Welles’s 1938 radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds has become legendary and has itself been the subject of books and television shows. Howard Koch wrote the script, which was produced and directed by Welles for CBS radio. The radio play captured the journalistic tone and personal immediacy of the novel. The journalist character tells the story as if the events were actually occurring at the time of broadcast. The Setting was shifted from England to northeastern America, and the place names were familiar to most listeners. The reportorial aspect of the tale was enhanced by having the story told in a series of interruptions of a fictive innocuous music program. Kenneth Delmar as the Announcer, Fred Readick as the Reporter, and Orson Welles as the Princeton University Professor played their roles as if part of a real “on-the-spot” newscast and were supported with mystifying sound effects, as well as the convincing musical score by twenty-seven-year-old Bernard Herrmann, a talented “find” who would go on to write the scores for numerous motion pictures, including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Birds (1963).
It was Halloween when the show was broadcast, and Americans were edgy because of ominous reports of the imminence of war in Europe. Fred Readick imitated the emotional tone of the reporter who witnessed the explosion and burning of the zeppelin Hindenburg. The performances, the sound effects, the accuracy of the Setting, and the public mood all contributed to a widespread belief that the broadcast was real. In spite of the program’s several disclaimers that The War of the Worlds was only a show, people panicked. Even after the end of the sixty-minute program, fleeing people crowded roadways with their cars. Others fled on foot from the area where the Martians were supposed to have landed. Rumors magnified the extent of the imaginary slaughter; the U.S. Army was said to be either annihilated or in retreat. Police worked throughout the eastern United States to restore order and clear the roads. Orson Welles was delighted with the attention, but H. G. Wells was reportedly miffed at the “liberties” taken with his novel.
In 1953 the much-admired motion picture War of the Worlds was released. Its action is set in the Los Angeles area. Produced for Paramount by George Pal, it features crisp direction by Byron Haskins and a concise screenplay by Barre Lyndon. The eighty-three-minute color extravaganza won an Academy Award for its special effects. Gene Barry plays Clayton Forrester, the main character, and he is supported by a capable group of actors that include Ann Robinson as love-interest Sylvia Van Buren and Les Tremayne as General Mann. A silly picture that overemphasizes the invulnerability of the Martians, it still entertains with the compelling cinematography of George Barnes and wondrous special effects. All the major plot elements of the novel are included, although the Martian war-machines fly instead of walk. Many critics rank it as one of the ten best science-fiction motion pictures ever made.