War of the Worlds review.

Sort of.

I remember being crazy jealous as a kid when my mate Phil got a copy of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. He lived an hour’s walk away from my home but for a while there, every weekend I’d hike the four or five miles to his place to sit around for a couple of hours listening to the double album.

Don’t talk to me about the good old days. Content-wise, they were barren.

I gave that album a spin recently, for no particular reason. That’s just something that happens nowadays when pretty much everything ever recorded is available to stream. (And no, painful music nerd, I’m not interested in hearing about your fave rare b-sides compilation by some super obscure Berlin heroin punk band that isn’t on Spotify). As soon as I heard the Richard Burton intro I had that odd, sideways sensation of being pulled out of my time stream into another one. It was cool, but I didn’t play it all the way though and didn’t go back.

It was just nice to know it was there.

I’d always liked H.G. Wells’ alien invasion story, especially Orson Welles putting the fear on millions with his radio adaptation and I was stoked to see that SBS was airing a recent European take on the story. I had no idea it was out there, but after watching the first two eps I’ll be making an appointment to catch the rest as they drop.

It is not the most faithful adaptation, not even close, but for my money it is way better than the Tom Cruise movie. The producers have gone for a wide canvas with a diverse ensemble cast. Scientists, soldiers and hapless punters all get caught up in the alien apocalypse. And the writers do not fuck around with the apocalypty bits.

I’ll try not to blow any spoilers in your face, but Well’s original horror story of the Martian’s collecting human beings as salty little snacks doesn’t look like it’s going to play out here. For one, the aliens don’t come from Mars but from a ‘nearby’ Earth-congruent planet. And their kink mostly seems to be xenocide.

We get to see glimpses of the invaders early on, and they recall Boston Dynamics’ horrifying robot dogs so perfectly that I can’t help thinking someone at Studio Canal read Stephen King’s essays on finding our worst fears in the world of real things.

The characters who look like they’ll be with us for a little while (but no promises) include Gabriel Byrne doing great work as a neurology professor with a very, very complicated relationship to his ex-wife.

Léa Drucker as the French astrophysicist Catherine Durand who first discovers the approaching aliens, and in classic pointy headed scientician style tries to tell all the nervous warheads at NATO that there is no evidence they pose any threat. Adel Bencherif plays a French Army Colonel Mustafa Mokrani with real humanity and guts.

There is an unusually compelling family melodrama to follow, and I have high hopes for Bayo Gbadamosi’s gunned-up refugee.

The balance between action and thinky contemplation is perfectly struck, which is to say there’s heaps of the former and a bit of the latter. The second episode in particular, when the aliens attack, is kinetic, propulsive and unrelenting. Maybe get a bit of cardio training in before you attempt it.

There’s some pretty gnarly narrative choices made in the first two eps as well - most of them involving the violent deaths of characters you couldn’t possibly imagine any TV writer daring to kill.

Again, no spoilers, but don’t get attached to anybody. There’s a real Game of Thrones vibe here. If Sean Bean turns up I expect him to die horribly.