This is a bit of a cheat. I’ve got a cold. I’ll try to do something more complicated next week. Unless I don’t. So very tired.
Previously on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging…
Book two opens with the Curate and the narrator holed up in an abandoned house in Halliford, where they’d retreated to avoid the black smoke. This looks promising. House under siege is the number-one archetypal zombie horror story. And indeed, chapter one of book two starts right in with the dead breaching their defenses in the night, leading to a pitched fight scene with the narrator and the curate turning action-heroes temporarily. No explanation is given for how they’re able to defend themselves in the dark; Brown seems not to have accounted for the lack of artificial lighting. Even with the dead forced back and the door barricaded, cabin fever sets in quickly, with perhaps a bit more justification than in the original. Brown elevates the narrator’s despair to the point that he considers suicide a good fifty pages early. He is stayed by the thought that, “God was still present. The Father in Heaven watched over us or we would surely not have been alive now,” a somewhat more overtly religious sentiment than you’d expect in a Wells novel.
The dead disperse along with the black smoke — they are unaffected by the smoke, it seems, but are presumed to have moved on due to the scarcity of living humans in the area. They return to their usual status as an ominous, liminal presence in the narrative as the companions make their way toward Sheen: head wounds mentioned on the corpses they pass along the way, and the remains of a pyre where casualties of the Martians had been burnt by human survivors to prevent their reanimation.
Upon taking refuge in a well-stocked house in Sheen, we find the most hilarious addition Brown’s made so far:
As we gathered our bounty, a noise sounded from the house’s back room […] I reached the back room and cautiously peeked inside it. Something black leaped at me from within and I staggered backwards, swinging the hatchet’s blade through the air. My back made contact with the hallway wall, bringing my retreat to a halt as I looked down to see a black cat racing away through the house.
That’s right, folks. A legit, for-reals literal cat scare. With an actual literal cat. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one of those in prose before. Later, when the greater part of the house is demolished by a landing cylinder, the narrator inexplicably waxes philosophical for a paragraph, contemplating the forces which have reanimated the dead. He concludes that it could not be a deliberate act by the Martians, who view the zombies as a nuisance. He considers the possibility that it is divine judgment, but dismisses the notion as unbiblical, another odd example of Brown projecting far more specific (and, frankly, modern) religious inclinations onto the narrator than he ever displayed in the original. It comes up again when he considers murdering the curate, but his hand is stayed by thoughts of God, and he prays instead. All the same, where Wells merely has the narrator “resort to blows” to silence the curate during his reckless lamenting, Brown has him knock out several teeth.
We have not, so far, gotten a solid explanation for the dead. There’s a strong implication that the Martians caused it, not deliberately, but as a side-effect. The dominant theory, the narrator will later explain, is that the Martian cylinders gave off a form of radiation which caused the effect — this is clearly assumed in the early chapters. But the narrator goes on to note that this explanation does not account for the spread of the “plague”, which was more rapid and more global than the Martian invasion.
Not giving us an explanation would be fine in most zombie stories. Lots of them lack one. Romero’s zombies are never explained canonically, and lots of stories which do give an explanation do it terribly. I recall one particular story which asserted that if you mixed a whole bunch of non-biological toxins together, they would turn into a virus. But this is primarily an H. G. Wells novel, and it would be bizarre for the resurrection of the dead to go without long, boring passages of exposition to justify it. The bulk of chapter two of book two is spent with the narrator giving his observations about Martian technology and biology from his vantage point in the partially-collapsed house beside a newly-fallen cylinder. It’s here that he foreshadows the Martian weakness by describing what he observes of their biology, and takes time out to slam Warwick Goble for the illustrations he did for the original Pearsons serialization of the novel.
Brown uses this exposition-dump to present an explanation for the zombie menace. He nails the expository style, mimicking the way that Wells’s narrator doesn’t fully get the details, but manages to work out the basic gist of things, with a good bit of his own speculation. The revelation is a little more intimate than really fits, but it’s not too far off. The narrator witnesses an “argument” between two Martians, and watches as they review what’s essentially the flight recorder video from their capsule in the form of, “A small box that projected patterns of light.” I don’t know why, but the insertion of a hologram projector here feels somehow un-Wellsian. Given that Wells himself frequently described the heat rays as resembling cameras, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a Wells story including an advanced form of movie projector. The technology was cutting-edge when the story was written. Maybe it’s just Brown’s choice of words that puts me off: it’s written as if by someone who hasn’t heard of a zooipraxiscope or a magic lantern or a film projector, and so has a kind of steampunk air to it that feels not like a nineteenth century author speculating about something futuristic, but like a twenty-first century author describing something that exists in his own time, trying to sound like he doesn’t know what it is and has to re-derive vocabulary for it.
In any case, the narrator deduces from the flight recorder footage that the walking dead are linked to purple flakes, described as being similar to mold, which ablated from the Martian craft as they entered Earth’s atmosphere. He concludes that the contamination was accidental, caused by a space-borne “fungus” that had hitched a ride with the Martians. The dead are a serious problem for the Martians not as a threat to their invasion, but to their food supply. The handling machine which the Martians build as the narrator watches is armed against the dead, equipped with, “A beam of light brighter than the hottest fire,” that could cut, “With the sharpness of a surgeon’s blade.” That is, a laser. Described with the same steampunkish, “Audience, do you get that I’m describing a laser? Only I can’t say ‘laser’ because it would be an anachronism?” style as the hologram projector. Never mind that the Martians already had a heat ray. There are references earlier to the Martians being reluctant to use the heat ray at times, implying that it might be a limited resource, so I don’t have a problem with the idea that they’d use something different here, but you’d expect the narrator to at least draw a comparison — call it a “precision heat-ray” or something.
So, script excerpt and clip from a wiki article worked last time, and I am lazy, therefore why not do it again…
Holographic Liam Neeson punched a clergyman. It was exactly as awesome as it sounded.
Our expository sidebar ends abruptly with the reintroduction of the Artilleryman, who warns him off claiming the area as his “territory” before recognizing the Journalist from Maybury Hill. The scene plays out really awkwardly in the original stage show, with the Artilleryman addressing the audience as though they were the Journalist. It’s staged in a normal sort of way, like you see in lots of one-man-plays, with the audience standing in for a sort of abstract person-the-actor-is-conversing-with. Only this abstract person actually responds, and the response comes from that stupid CGI head floating off to stage-left. Because to a much greater extent than in the Spirit of Man segment, the narrator does interact with the on-stage character. They carry on a conversation. Thankfully, the Artilleryman does not address his conversation to the Big Giant Head, but to an imaginary on-stage character, but it’s incongruous.
Since Liam Neeson can appear in a virtual on-stage form, it’s less awkward in The New Generation, though none of the various recordings I’ve looked at of the scene were blocked very well. The new version adds a couple of minutes of additional dialogue at the beginning of the scene as well. It’s a normal, traditional conversation where the Journalist and the Artilleryman interact as normal fictional characters in a traditional narrative, and that’s really unusual for this show, and is one of the few concessions toward trying to reorient the performance into a proper stage show. That said, the content isn’t really interesting. They cover basically the same ground that the Artilleryman is about to cover in song, adding only the Artilleryman’s speculation that the next step for the Martians will be full-on colonization and a systematic rounding-up of the human survivors.
The biggest disappointment I’ve had with The New Generation, both the album and the show, is that the modest changes that have been made to create a more fleshed-out traditional narrative… Don’t really do that. Practically every addition is one of two things: Liam Neeson pretending he’s really part of the story, as in the “Distant Shores” interlude, or prose spoilers for something that’s about to be more effectively conveyed in song, as with the new characters in the prologue. The additions to the Artilleryman scene are both: Liam Neeson having a conversation with the Artilleryman in which we get to hear all about his grand plan… Right before the big show-stopping number about his grand plan.
“I’ve got a plan,” he declares, and there’s another rare bit of stagecraft as a large bridge is lowered onto the set. I don’t know what specifically the bridge is supposed to represent, beyond the abstract notion of civil engineering. And maybe that the Paris Barricade in Les Miz was really cool. In the various staged versions, the Artilleryman dances around the stage as he sings about his plan to develop the system of tunnels and sewers beneath London into a living space, toying with shovels and surveyor’s tools. The bridge in the original stage show has a very realistically Victorian wrought-iron look to it, but in later productions, it becomes more steampunk, acquiring large metal gears that the Artilleryman can “work on”.
The song is high-power and lots of fun, but you don’t usually get too far from the unpleasant implications of what the Artilleryman proposes. And yet, you can start to see why his message would be compelling:
Look, man is born in freedom,
But he soon becomes a slave,
In cages of convention,
From the cradle to the grave.
The weak fall by the wayside,
But the strong will be saved,
In a brave new world,
With just a handful of men,
We’ll start all over again!
There’s a strong strain of populism there, which on paper sounds weird when juxtaposed with the imagery of “just a handful of men,” until you realize that populist movements always do this: try to appeal to “the masses” using language based around exclusion of everyone who doesn’t slot in neatly with the herrenvolk. There’s anti-elitist sentiments in there that become less subtle in The New Generation. In both, he’s dismissive toward the idea of teaching children, “poems and rubbish,” and the later version adds in more of the novel’s dialogue sneering specifically at the arts. This attitude seems at first to simply be a kind of stoicism that’s not unreasonable in the face of hardship, but he goes on to make an offhand reference to the individual enclaves in his proposed underground civilization having cricket leagues, and then later he proposes that seaside vacations would be part of his new world. So it’s not really about a life bereft of luxury, but rather one that eschews highbrow entertainment like the Royal Academy of the Arts, the opera, or fancy restaurants, but still permits the sort of amusements that would have been available to the hoi polloi. By the late 19th century, seaside resorts for the working class had become a “thing” in Britain, thanks to the growth of railways coupled with the industrial revolution that had introduced regular work schedules which now often included a week off every year when the factory closed down for maintenance. In the novel, the Artilleryman refers to, “A dislike of eating peas with a knife or dropping aitches,” as useless traits in his new world.
Unlike Parson Nathaniel, there is a lot of variation among the various singers who’ve played the Artilleryman. There’s an interplay of a whole bunch of aspects to his character, and different performers choose different ones to play up. It’s exemplified really well in the way they handle the middle eight, which, coincidentally, is my single favorite block of lines in the whole album:
I’m not trying to tell you what to be,
Oh no, oh no, not me.
But if mankind is to survive,
The people left alive,
We’re going to have to build this world anew,
And it’s going to have to start with me and you!
David Essex sings on the 1978 album, and his Artilleryman is a bit of a con man. You hear it all through the song, but most especially in his, “Oh no, oh no, not me…” It comes out like a snake-oil salesman setting you up for the hard sell that comes with a transparently fake reluctance in “But…” As if to say, “What? Me? Oh, no, I’d never try to make you do something you didn’t want to… Of course, if you don’t, it’s just the end of humanity. But it’s completely your choice…”
In the 2006 tour, Alexis James’s Artilleryman, on the other hand, is completely on the level. That really took me by surprise, but it’s the first time I really got the “strange charisma” that the character is supposed to have. He’s an evangelist with a convert’s zeal. He’s not going to tell you what to be; he’s just going to tell you this awesome idea he had. He’s always smiling, especially when he’s selling, “Think of all the poverty / The hatred and the lies / Imagine the destruction of all that you despise.” His version is the one whose shtick I can most see the Journalist buying into.
For the 2010 tour, Jason Donovan played the Artilleryman. Remember, he’d go on to play Nathaniel in The New Generation. And the parson’s madness that he would convey so well a few years later is also the core of how he plays the Artilleryman. His version is twitchy and desperate, his, “I’m not going to tell you,” nervous and withdrawing, like he’s afraid you’re going to take a swing at him if he comes on too strong. He plays the character like the street-corner hobo holding up a sign that the end is nigh. Ironically, he’s the only performer who does the “All over again!” line in a falsetto rather than as a squeal. Both he and Alexis James salute the audience before leaving the stage, but while James’s exit is bold and indefatigable, Donovan slinks off the stage, defeated. In fact, he visibly deflates as the Journalist comes to see, “The gulf between his dreams and his power,” his last refrain coming off as a man desperately trying to cling to a fading dream.
Ricky Wilson took over the role for the first tour of The New Generation, and his Artilleryman is the most sinister. There’s a cynicism to his performance, but also a great deal of showmanship. He leans more heavily on the lines about destroying the decadent conventions of the past. His “Oh no, oh no, not me,” isn’t simply dismissive, it’s the same sort of manufactured offense a mid-level politician would display if you suggested that his white hooded robes might indicate he’s racist. He’s beating the drum to rally his audience, and rally them with the fantasy of taking their country back and giving the what-for to all the weak and undesirable and elite classes. Also, he’s going to build a wall around Mars and make the Martians pay for it (This joke was probably funnier when this post was originally scheduled to go out on Halloween).
For the Farewell Thunderchild tour, Shayne Ward plays the role, and… He’s fine. I haven’t found a complete recording of his rendition of Brave New World, but what I’ve heard seems to be technically fine, but lacks the distinctiveness of the other performers.
After leaving the Artilleryman to his brave new world, the Journalist finally makes it to Central London. The music takes on an ominous tone, but the “Ulla!” cries of the Martians become wailing and mournful. It has a profound effect on the narrator. “Why was I wandering along in this city of the dead?” he asks, “Why was I alive when London was lying in state in its black shroud?” As he approaches the wailing tripod, the cries and also the music cut off suddenly.
Abruptly, the sound ceased. Suddenly the desolation, the solitude, became unendurable. While that voice sounded London still seemed alive, now suddenly there was a change, the passing of something, and all that remained was this gaunt quiet.
An insane resolve possessed me: I would give my life to the Martians, here and now.
This past week, I’ve been flipping back and forth between “There must be something worth living for / There must be something worth fighting for / Even something worth dying for,” and “There is a curse on mankind / We may as well be resigned / To let the devil take the spirit of man,” so let’s go ahead and get back to this. I’d been holding off because I was trying to import a copy of the DVD of the New Generation tour, but it got lost in the mail and the seller gave me a refund. Because of this, several pictures in this and the next part of this essay were borrowed from Youtube instead.
As with the 1938 radio play, the second act of Jeff Wayne’s adaptation comes closer to a traditional narrative, if only a little. Disc 2 consists of seven tracks in the original, basically three major “scenes” with short connecting pieces. Rereleases in 1989, 1995 and 1996 add some remixes at the end of the disc. The New Generation version of Disc 2 has nine tracks, though it only runs about five minutes longer. There are more noticeable additions to the story in disc 2 from the original to the New Generation than there were in disc 1, but it’s still only a modest change.
The basic structure of the second act, just as in the novel, is roughly “Here are some interesting things that the Journalist happened upon as he walked back to London after the destruction of the Thunderchild.” This sort of travelogue kind of story can be really cool and it’s one of the elements of the original War of the Worlds story that I wish got played up more in adaptation. Offhand, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a musical structured that way, which is surprising. I wonder if the more episodic structure is a bridge too far when you’re already in a format that’s fighting an uphill battle to be a narrative rather than a concert.
The narrator of the novel wasn’t actually present for the Thunderchild scene: the account in the book is framed as the account of his brother. By this point in the story, the novel’s narrator was penned in by black smoke with the curate. As a result, there’s a point of sloppiness where the musical version has to bring itself back on course: the great throng of refugees who watched the battle along with the Journalist abruptly vanish with no explanation over the act break, so that when they switch on Giant Dead-Eyed Disembodied CGI Richard Burton, he’s alone again, wandering through a countryside choked by the red weed.
The red weed is mentioned numerous times in the second half of the novel, it’s a recurring image, and it’s used to foreshadow the ending, since it’s already being killed off by a “cankering disease” by the time they reintroduce the artilleryman. But it’s never really addressed in detail. In fact, it’s not even the only Martian plant mentioned, just the one with the widest proliferation. The musical is much more prosaic about it. The red weed isn’t just a few spray-painted twigs, but has an active, ominous presence that is almost as threatening as the Martians themselves:
Wherever there was a stream the red weed clung and grew with frightening voraciousness, its claw-like fronds choking the movement of the water. And then it began to creep like a slimy red animal across the land covering field and ditch and tree and hedgerow with living scarlet feelers, crawling, crawling.
In the New Generation stage show, Liam Neeson is even shown on-screen struggling through a field choked with red CGI vegetation. It’s the red weed that serves to segue into the introduction of the musical’s equivalent of the Curate, here identified as Parson Nathaniel. The Journalist sees his apparently dead body about to be engulfed by the stuff and stops to give him a proper burial, only to discover him still alive, though injured and half-mad from an ordeal whose details we aren’t given.
The second of the new characters created for this version appears here: Nathaniel’s wife, Beth, who introduces herself with the delightfully expositiony line, “It’s me, Beth, your wife.” In his deluded state, he waffles on this, sometimes accepting her, but mostly believing her to be a demon that’s taken human form.
This whole segment is a little strange, because the Journalist seems in some ways to not actually be part of it. He does speak directly to the on-stage characters, but only a few times. They never respond, or really give any indication that they’re aware of him. Some of Nathaniel’s ravings might be addressed to him, but he might equally well be talking to himself. Beth doesn’t acknowledge the Journalist at all. In her defense, I would probably try real hard to pretend I didn’t notice the giant floating head off to stage left as well. The New Generation gives the Journalist a few more lines here for its holographic Liam Neeson, including a very nice one where he challenges the parson, “Pull yourself together, man. What good is religion if it fails you in a calamity?”, adapted from a similar exchange in the novel (Which goes on to add the wonderful line, “God is not an insurance agent.”). But the scene really is about Beth and Nathaniel, not the Journalist.
If “Forever Autumn” is the objectively best song and “Thunderchild” is my personal favorite song, “The Spirit of Man” is the most musical theater of the songs in the production. You could probably even expand it out to two or three separate songs if you wanted. The song is a sort of musical debate between the ranting Nathaniel and his wife. He wallows in despair, fatalism, and self-hatred:
Do you hear them drawing near,
In their search for the sinners?
Feeding on the the power of our fear,
And the evil within us?
Incarnation of Satan’s creation
Of all that we dread,
When the demons arise,
those alive will be better off dead!
While Beth tries lovingly to break his fugue and inspire strength in him with a boldly rousing response as, in the stage show, she literally picks him up and brushes him off:
There must be something worth living for!
There must be something worth trying for!
Even some things worth dying for,
And if one man can stand tall,
There must be hope for us all,
Somewhere in the spirit of man.
Powerful words and a powerful delivery, and my daughter seems to really dig it when I sing that refrain to her. Nathaniel is unconvinced, though, protesting that, “Once there was a time when I believed without hesitation,” but now, “How much protection is truth against all Satan’s might?”
Beth and Nathaniel were both recast several times during the original version tours, but the performance is largely the same in every version. Starting with the first stage show, and repeated for all the subsequent versions, a distorted echo is added whenever Nathaniel talks about the devil, which sets up a sort of auditory irony, as he speaks of humanity possessed and consumed by Satan, while suggesting that it is actually Nathaniel himself who is “possessed” by his madness. For The New Generation album, Joss Stone voices Beth, and she’s absolutely fantastic, which is a shame, because she’s paired with Irish rapper Maverick Sabre’s Nathaniel, and he’s terrible. He comes off as whiny and pusillanimous, simply scared rather than broken. Jason Donovan and Kerry Ellis take the parts for the stage version, with Carrie Hope Fletcher taking over as Beth for Farewell Thunderchild. Jason Donovan really plays up Nathaniel’s madness, making him at times almost gleeful as he shouts how he’d been right all along with his warnings of divine wrath, then falling apart as he acknowledges the scale of the destruction.
Ellis adds one really cool element. Beth’s line, “People loved you and trusted you, came to you for help,” delivered by everyone else as a reassurance instead comes out as an accusation. An attempt to shame him for a dereliction of duty. It’s the only time in any version that Beth shows anything other than complete faith and complete support in her husband — she even takes his cross away from him at this point.
Beth’s part of “Spirit of Man” is really two parts; after this exchange, she switches from trying to rally him and restore his resolve to simply comforting him: “No, Nathaniel, no; there must be more to life,” she sings, “There has to be a way we can restore to life the love that we have lost.” (This is the point where Beth gives his cross back to him in the later stage versions.) Strains of this second melody appear right at the beginning of “Spirit of Man”, acting as curious foreshadowing in the album version. By The New Generation, they’ve added an extra “No, Nathaniel, no,” there, which I think reduces the effectiveness when the second melody is introduced in the middle of the song.
Throughout the song, in the staged versions, Nathaniel alternates between accepting Beth’s support and pushing her away, to the point that it confused Dylan when he watched part of it with me. “Doesn’t he think she’s a bad guy?” he asked. I explained that he was all mixed up. He most rejects her on the “Something worth living for” verses, and then is drawn to her on the “No Nathaniel” ones. When the last “Something worth living for” verse comes around, it’s done as a call-and-response:
There must be something worth living for!No, there is nothing!There must be something worth trying for!I don’t believe it’s so.Even some things worth dying for,Tell me one thing!This line is new in The New Generation. Jason Donovan’s Nathaniel laughs in Beth’s face before saying it.And if one man could stand tall,
There would be some hope for us all,
Somewhere, Somewhere in the spirit of man.Somewhere in the spirit of man.Nathaniel joins in on this line in The New GenerationForget about goodness and mercy, they’re gone!
I really like the decision to have Nathaniel join in on Beth’s last line; it hints that he’s starting to come around. But it’s at odds with its position in the song, as he goes on to do another verse about how he warned everyone to exorcise the devil and now it’s too late. The stage production seems to realize the incongruity here, since immediately after “Forget about goodness and mercy, they’re gone!”, he takes Beth’s hand, and the two walk together upstage and nearly off it, when he holds up his cross so that it casts a shadow on the back wall, then turns to the audience suddenly and bursts into verse, with the tone and charisma of a fire-and-brimstone revival preacher. Beth watches sadly from upstage, only returning to him with her last round of “No, Nathaniel”s.
The staged version definitely plays up the notion that she had, in fact, come close to bringing him around, only for him to slip back into despair at the last minute. The new version also seems like it’s making a point to indict Nathaniel’s faith. First, the Journalist challenges him on it, that it should be a source of strength for him but isn’t, and then the symbolism with the cross seems to indicate that his faith takes him to a dark place: he repeatedly waves it at Beth as a warding sign. When she returns it to him halfway through the song, in Jason Donovan’s rendering, he cradles it like a child, but also starts pulling at his hair in a way that’s very commonly used in stage and film to indicate an impulse control disorder. He seems to be restored when Beth takes it from him; it’s the sight of its shadow on the wall that prompts his final turn away from her. And after Beth’s last “No, Nathaniel,” she takes his cross again and leaves the stage.
And then she comes right back on again. Or rather, her stunt-double does, because at the end of the song, a Martian cylinder hits the house where they’ve been sheltering. In the most spectacular example of expository dialogue since… Okay, since a few minutes ago when Beth told her husband that she was his wife, Nathaniel announces, “A cylinder has landed on the house and we’re underneath it in the pit!” In yet another example of the New Generation telegraphing its reveals, we actually see her collapse in a spray of pyrotechnics in this version, even though it’s a few minutes before her death is revealed in the narrative.
Instead, hologram Liam Neeson or Creepy CGI Richard Burton tell us all about how the Martians spend the night building a handling machine — a short-legged vehicle with claws and a cage which they use to hunt and capture humans. Yeah, this is a weird place in the narrative to break for exposition. This is one of the only adaptations to show the handling machine. Most adaptations limit themselves to the tripod fighting machines. Martian flying machines also appear in the CGI video, though they are not mentioned in the narrative. That 1998 video game gave them an ample supply of cheap 3D models to choose from. Though they don’t show up in the stage show, the video game version is the only adaptation I know of to include the “embankment machine”, a Martian craft used for excavating their landing sites. Even Timothy Hines’s slavishly faithful version doesn’t bother with them and Wells himself only mentions them in passing.
When Nathaniel finally does discover Beth’s body (and retrieves his cross), he loses it completely, demanding, “Satan! Why did you take one of your own?” and performing his own dark version of Beth’s verse:
There is a curse on mankind!
We may as well be resigned,
To let the devil,
The devil take the spirit of man!
Starting with the original 2006 stage show Beth’s disembodied voice offers another round of “No, Nathaniel!”s, this time altered with a haunting, ethereal effect. In the New Generation version, a cloaked version of Beth appears as well, then is lifted from the stage by wires.
The curate is often omitted in adaptations. The only ones we’ve seen to include him until now are the slavishly faithful Timothy Hines version and of all things, the Asylum version. One thing I notice is that the character’s final breakdown in both this version and the Asylum one are triggered by the same thing: the sight of the Martians feeding, which is described to us in detail by Giant Disembodied Richard Burton at this point in the story. This doesn’t occur in the novel, where they witness the feeding much earlier. There, it seems like the curate’s breakdown is largely due to hunger, as it’s immediately preceded by him pitching a fit over the narrator withholding food (this point is repeated in the Asylum adaptation, where, if you’ll recall, it’s leveraged to foreshadow the ultimate fate of the aliens when George gets to thinking about the dangers of eating spoiled food). No other version has an equivalent character to Beth, of course, so where the novel has the curate declare his intention to witness to the Martians and the Asylum film has him simply give up on his faith, it’s only the musical version where Parson Nathaniel is inspired to a crusade: he declares that he’s received a sign that he is to go out and smite the invaders — literally with the power of his cross. Symbolism!
Depending on which version of the musical you’re experiencing, it’s ambiguous what exactly happens next. In the novel, the narrator clubs the curate in the head with the blunt end of a meat cleaver. It’s not clear if the blow is fatal, but we’re told it leaves a visible injury. In the original album, Burton doesn’t say what happens, but we hear a thwack and a thump. It seems obvious enough what happened, I think, assuming you don’t just miss it outright, as it lasts a fraction of a second and isn’t described. And I’m not sure if it even really “seems obvious” because it is, or just because I’ve read the book and know what’s coming. But in the original stage version, creepy CGI Burton has no hands or anything, and if the thwack is actually there, I couldn’t hear it over the music, so it seems more like Nathaniel just trips over something on his way out to confront the aliens. The thwack sound is more pronounced on The New Generation and sounds unambiguously like a punch. On stage, the result is, of course, amazing:
That’s right. Holographic Liam Neeson punches him in the face. Look, I’ve had my reservations about this kinda-sorta-halfway-conversion from a presentation designed for pure audio into a stage format, but it is all worth it to watch a hologram of Liam Neeson punch a live actor in the face.
The rest of Nathaniel’s fate is revealed by the dodgy CGI backdrop as a metal claw locates a CGI ragdoll and tosses it into a giant alien Cuisinart. Setting aside just how hard it is to buy that CG sequence as something we were meant to take seriously, I really really like the way that the Spirit of Man scene translates to the stage. From the album, to the first stage show, to the second album, to the second stage show, you can really feel this scene in particular trying to evolve toward being a proper theatrical presentation. It isn’t quite there yet, but it’s close. Close enough, in fact, that I’d say this is the one thing in the album that is outright better on stage. All the other stage numbers are basically neutral, but this one actually adds new layers of meaning to the groundwork that’s already laid by the song.
Once the aliens have buggered off about their own business, the journalist emerges from the pit and gets back on his way to London, finding the countryside completely abandoned.
He decides that this quiet interlude would be a good time for more exposition, and why not? The narration changes a bit from the original to The New Generation. Small but important changes in phrasing make it more intimate in the new version. In the original, CGI Richard Burton speaks abstractly about abandoned towns and the end of “Man’s empire.” Holographic Liam Neeson describes a sense of “dethronement” from the realization that he, a once-master of the Earth, now seemed to rank lower than even the encroaching red weed. There’s a reason for it, though. He explains that the Martians are effectively creatures “composed entirely of brain”, whose machines served as made-to-order task-specific artificial bodies rather than wasting energy lugging around complicated limbs and digestive systems. The point of the aside is foreshadowing: the Journalist explains that, “They never tired, never slept, and never suffered, having long since eliminated from their planet the bacteria that cause all fevers and morbidities.” Gee. I wonder if that will somehow become relevant later…
- Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds is available via iTunes and Amazon.
- Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The New Generation is available via iTunes and Amazon
- Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: Live on Stage and Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The New Generation: Alive on Stage! are available on DVD in region 2 only.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Capsule below the fold…
The next couple War of the Worlds posts are already scheduled so they’ll probably run on time unless I decide not to, but I don’t know if I’m going to keep going after that. I no longer enjoy writing about apocalypses now that I live in one.
But I wanted to share a few lines from a song that would have been featured in today’s post if the human race hadn’t just proven that they deserve the extinction that’s coming faster than ever now.
Once, there was a time when I believed,
In the power of love and truth to conquer all,
in the name of salvation.
Tell me what kind of weapon is love, when it comes to the fight?
And how much protection is truth, against all Satan’s might?
I am done with you, my fellow Americans. Fuck you all.
Y’know what? I’m white. I’m straight. I’ve got money. I am going to be hurt less than a lot of people. So as Emperor Trump destroys the economy and you motherfuckers have to explain to your starving children that you voted for a rapist because of something to do with emails that you don’t even understand yourself, when you’re kowtowing to your Russian overlords as the KKK drinks to their triump, I’m going to just enjoy the fucking schadenfreude of knowing that you motherfuckers got the president you wanted. I’m gonna laugh my ass off when you fuckers in Florida are drowning because that “Chinese hoax” has submerged your state. We offered you equality, and you wouldn’t take it. There’s nothing left I can do to help my gay friends, my muslim friends, my transgender friends, my hispanic friends, my female friends from the pain that’s been unleashed on them, They will get the worst of it, but I promise that you will burn too. All that’s left for us now is to make sure that when you burn us down, you burn with us. Fuck you all.
I’m sorry Dylan. I’m sorry Evelyn. We failed you. I failed you. The human race failed you. It’s not right and it’s not fair and I don’t know if you’ll be able to fix it. If the world even still exists when you grow up, you should curse us and spit on our graves for what we did to you. I am so sorry. Don’t forgive us. Don’t ever forgive us.
DYLAN and DADDY are on the way home from a craft fair.
DYLAN: I don’t believe Santa is real.
DADDY: Okay. I imagine he doesn’t believe in you either.
DADDY: Well, if he’s not real, how’s he supposed to believe in you?
DYLAN: Well, Santa’s supposed to be a good guy, right?
DADDY: Yeah. I think so.
DYLAN: But Santa comes into everyone’s house without asking. Like a robber.
DADDY: That’s… a good point. But wait, didn’t you write a letter to Santa asking him to bring you things?
DYLAN: I don’t think so. I don’t know how to read.
DADDY: But you saw him at the mall and sat on his lap, didn’t you? (Suddenly panics that he might be about to imply that sitting on a man’s lap grants implicit consent for him to visit you in the night)
DADDY: I have pictures.
DYLAN: Oh. But I don’t think that was the real Santa. I think that was a man in a costume.
DADDY: Yeah. I think Santa has helpers for stuff like that.
DYLAN: Okay. Then I guess maybe Santa is real, if he has helpers.