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The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XVII (2006)

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XVII

The Simpsons cartoon series has established a laudable tradition of spoofing famous (and not so famous) science fiction ideas, notably in the annual Halloween fright-fests they call the Treehouse Of Horror. Perhaps the best of these was the story that remade the classic Twilight Zone episode "It's a good life" but the 2006 Treehouse Of Horror must now be a serious contender for that crown. "The day the Earth looked stupid" (the title itself a play on the film "The day the Earth stood still") is the Simpsons very own take on the Orson Welles radio broadcast of 1938 and pulls out all the stops, including drafting in the one and only Maurice LaMarche as the voice of Welles. LaMarche was of course the voice of Brain in the superb cartoon series Pinky And The Brain, a character modelled on Orson Welles.

The story opens in a sepia tinted Springfield, circa 1938. Lenny and Carl are in a line for a soup kitchen with Grandpa Simpson, while back at Evergreen Terrace, Homer and Marge are dancing to music from the Meridian Room in Capital City. The Meridian Room was of course the location from which Welles pretended to broadcast those banal yet incredibly tense interludes that punctuated each escalation of his story. Lampooning the ominous tones of the original, the music in The Simpsons version is interrupted by a highly melodramatic announcement, that Martian cylinders are landing. So, declares Homer in determined style "it’s a War Of The Worlds."

Across town others listen in suspense to the broadcast, as a voice very much like Orson Welles now takes up the story from Grover’s Mill, the New Jersey hamlet used in the original broadcast as the landing site for the Martians. The dialogue parodied here by Maurice LaMarche is not actually that originally spoken by Orson Welles, but that of Frank Readick, who played roving newsman Carl Phillips, the reporter first on the scene at Grover’s Mill.

Several great nods to the 1938 broadcast follow. In Moes Tavern, barkeep Moe rouses the regulars to prepare to fight, and outside City Hall, Major Quimby makes a speech that evokes comparisons with the voice of President Roosevelt. In the original broadcast, Welles had intended to have one of his actors impersonate the president, but a nervous network censor prevented him from doing so. In the event, the actor made his speech as an unnamed Secretary of the Interior, who rather oddly, sounded a lot like Roosevelt. Perhaps the funniest moment of the show is when Welles is seen in the studio painting a sound picture of events as the beleaguered soundperson attempts to keep up with Welles’ increasingly ludicrous directions. "It’s firing a beam of pure energy" he declares, "they’re grinding up the bodies of human beings. Now they’re riding horses in the rain. Now they’re playing the xylophone while bowling near an airport." The scene is actually quite insightful, as Welles had a fearsome reputation for demanding the impossible from his sound people.

With Springfield engulfed in chaos and rioting, Marge offers a solution. Since the Martians are only attacking humans, the residents of the town should pretend to be animals. They all immediately strip off and commence rolling enthusiastically in the mud. Next morning, Lisa finds the exhausted townsfolk still in the mud, and informs them that they have all been the victims of a hoax.

The chagrined townsfolk return to their normal lives, but up above in space, aliens (and Treehouse of Horror regulars) Kang and Kodos seize the opportunity to launch a real attack, reasoning that the humans will think it is just another fake. Welles rushes to the police station to issue a warning, but cannot convince Chief Wigham that this time the invasion is real. In fact, in a manner of speaking, this apparently happened for real, for in 1941 Welles found himself interrupted on-air by a breaking news story that some people took to be another typical piece of Welles tomfoolery. It was the announcement of the attack on Perl Harbour.

The episode ends on a slightly laboured note, with a denouncement of the present mis-adventure in Iraq as Kang and Kodos lament the fact that the humans have not welcomed them as liberators. The final scene is of a Springfield reduced to a bomb blasted wasteland as the Eddie Seiler song "I don’t want to set the world on fire" plays. Oh well says Kang, at least we still have the peoples hearts and minds, holding up the aforementioned eviscerated organs.

This Treehouse of Horror is this is not in overall terms the finest ever made, with the other the two stories in the episode falling somewhat short of the previous high bar, but it is redeemed by "The Day the Earth Looked Stupid", an episode that lovingly sends up the 1938 broadcast and the reaction of listeners. The script seems to indicate that the episode was well researched and Maurice LaMarche sounds wonderful as Welles. In all, a fitting tribute to the broadcast and with an appearance in the Simpsons, surely proof that this event has achieved a lasting place in the annals of American folk law and popular culture.

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Film & TV

kitty Kornered

kitty Kornered. Porky the Pig fights a band of mischievous cats who re-enact The War Of The Worlds radio broadcast to scare him.

The Night America Trembled

The Night America Trembled. An extraordinary live production from the renowned Studio One televsion series that re-enacts the infamous Orson Welles War Of The Worlds radio broadcast of 1938.

The Night That Panicked America

The Night That Panicked America. This is the second dramatised version of The War Of The Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, with a stand-out performance from Paul Shenar as Orson Welles.

Pinky And The Brain, Battle For The Planet.

Pinky And The Brain A funny and irreverent cartoon homage to the War Of The Worlds broadcast.

H G Wells and The War Of The Worlds documentary

H G Wells and The War Of The Worlds. In the wake of the Spielberg movie comes one of several new documentaries on Wells and The War Of The Worlds.

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