by Barry Germansky
By introducing the idea of the extraterrestrial on overt scientific terms, H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898) externalized the limits of human consciousness to a greater extent than any other novel before it. What is more, Wells’ epistemological transgressions are ahead of our time, and perhaps even time itself. In the first tale of aliens and alien warfare, Wells arguably recontextualizes Earth, and all other human thoughts, to a greater extent than any other individual in history. Shakespeare may attempt to recreate the world, but he never ventures off its surface.
The two major film adaptations of the novel, 1953’s The War of the Worlds (a lurid, color-coded warning of things to come) and 2005’s War of the Worlds (a bleak chronicle of post-9/11 anxiety), are masterful depictions of human recontextualization in their own right, but neither can match their literary source’s supreme vision of externalized consciousness. I ultimately prefer the 1953 adaptation for its stronger emphasis on faux universality and its status as a pioneering film on the subject of alien invasion. For the record: the warning before the opening credits of this version does not amount to “camp”; it contains a giddy self-awareness of its own enormity.