H/T to Nate Cull, who brought this to my attention after I’d mistaken it for something else.
In which I desperately play for time because of shipping delays which threaten to screw up my posting schedule…
You may perhaps recall that back in 2012, when I was in the middle of spending far too many years getting through my analysis of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, I learned that Gary Goddard had gotten it into his head to produce a reboot of the series under the title Phoenix Rising. There’s a teaser trailer now. It… Okay, I don’t really know what people who make teaser trailers for in-development TV shows are shooting for because I haven’t seen one that actually looked good in a long time. I mean, Jesus, the CGI starship model in the Star Trek Discovery teaser looked awful. The Phoenix Rising teaser isn’t terrible, but it’s maybe a little over the top, and the Power Suit mockup has the same creepy “Textured to look like it’s made of sinew” thing that creeped me the fuck out in the Power Rangers trailer that came out last week. But yay! A concrete thing you can look at.
You might also remember that about a year ago, I wrote about Mystery Science Theater 3000, and then a week later Joel Hodgson started a kickstarter to revive the series. The kickstarter made its goal pretty much instantly and the new series is well into production.
Last July, I meandered over and wrote about Alien Nation, and at the time, there’d been various talks over the course of years about doing something with that franchise, but I guess that me blogging about it made things serious because a feature film reboot actually seems to be moving forward now.
So you can probably see where this is going: MTV is going to do a TV series based on The War of the Worlds. Because of course they are. I doubt many details have actually been decided at this stage, and fewer still made public, but early reports suggest that it’s based directly on the novel, rather than any particular adaptation. It’s being developed by the same creative team as the 2011 Teen Wolf TV series (Not to be confused with all the other Teen Wolf franchises), and among its executive producers is Jeff Barry, Gene Barry’s grandson.
A lot of the interwebs are alight with people hoping that this adaptation will be entirely faithful to the book, which I presume means that they never read the book, and certainly never saw Timothy Hines’s slavishly book-faithful adaptation. That said, I think that a TV series in particular is a format where you probably could make something out of the structure and style of the original novel without it becoming a straight-up slog. Because for a TV show, you don’t need one single story with a beginning, middle, and end, where the actions of the protagonists build toward a climax. You need a whole bunch of small stories about people getting on with their lives which build up to a larger story. And in this regard, an invasion of alien death machines from Mars can work exactly the same way as a zombie plague does for The Walking Dead or a disease did for The Last Ship, The Survivors, Jeremiah, The Tribe and The Stand, or angels did for Dominion: as primarily a background element that serves as a persistent side-threat for the characters as they go about the day-to-day business of trying to stay alive deprived of the support system of civilization. In that regard, The War of the Worlds is as promising a premise as anything, even if there’s nothing especially distinctive that they’d be bringing. Also, it’s MTV, so probably there’s going to be attractive young people in love triangles.
What’s strange, when I think about it, is that there hasn’t, far as I know, been very many British adaptations of War of the Worlds. The whole “A catastrophe wipes out most of mankind and the survivors limp along trying to sort out keeping a modest civilization still going,” is a fairly quintessential British Sci Fi trope. There’s been a recent fad for it in the US, as some of my examples above suggest, but the British were doing this at least as far back as the ’70s. The Tripods is pretty much the War of the Worlds adaptation I just sketched out with the serial numbers filed off. There’s even a British radio play spin-off of Independence Day. So why not go all-in?
Oh. Duh. Because The War of the Worlds was still under copyright in the UK, and the British television industry can not abide by paying the estates of people for rights to make adaptations of things. I wonder when H. G. Wells died…
Whaddya know. The 70th anniversary of his death was back in August. And since Disney does not control the copyright laws of the UK, British copyright lasts 70 years after the death of the author, rather than the US’s “X+1 years where X is the number of years since Steamboat Willie“. (Though for some reason, every source I can find says that the copyright actually runs out in December. The exact details of British copyright law are beyond me. The original serialized version of the novel finished its first run in December, 1897, so possibly copyright statuses change on the anniversary of publication?)
And this is why I confused the news about MTV’s War of the Worlds with something else. Because back in December, ITV announced that they too were working on a TV adaptation of The War of the Worlds, with production set to begin once the rights expired. Not a lot of details out on this one either, but it seems likely to be a period piece, and at the helm will be Peter Harness, showrunner for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, who also, for what it’s worth, wrote “The Zygon Invasion”/”The Zygon Inversion” for Doctor Who.
In a complete non-coincidence, the passing of the novel into British public domain will also be marked by a new sequel by Stephen Baxter, The Massacre of Mankind, slated to publish in January. I have no idea how copyright didn’t enter into this one, but some decades ago, Baxter published a sequel to The Time Machine called The Time Ships, which I found a pleasant read. Years later, I found out that The Time Ships hadn’t originally been written as a sequel to The Time Machine, though: he’s originally pitched it as a Doctor Who novel. I feel like the universe is imploding.
So, I don’t know whether or not I’m actually looking forward to the MTV series. The prospect of watching a new TV series tends to fill me with existential dread these days as the whole “One more damned thing to do,” burden becomes heavier and the return-on-investment for my time slips. But I’ll give it a shot, for you, dear reader.
Anything else you’d like me to resurrect? I’m seriously considering doing a series about Knight Rider once I wrap up War of the Worlds, but I’m starting to worry, because damn is that a franchise that needs to lay fallow for a few decades.