George Pal's War of the Worlds TV Series (Circa 1975)
In 1953, George Pal created one of the finest science fiction films of all time, a technicolor
masterpiece that pitted cold war America against Martian invaders, but who would have guessed
that some 20 years later he would revisit the idea and conceive of a War of the Worlds television
series? I for one was completely surprised to learn this fascinating project even
existed, though given the insatiable appetites of television for material, I would not be at all
surprised to learn there are others out there as well, gathering dust in old moth eaten folders and
long forgotten storerooms. The idea really wets the appetite, so what a treat it is to see this rare
piece of television history restored at last to public view by the DVD label Retroflicks.
The material on this disc gives a tantalising glimpse into the early beginnings of the project.
What we seem to have here is a show reel to drum up interest in the concept and sell it to a studio.
Combining original footage from the 1953 film with new material, we are treated to what is essentially
a reboot of the War of the Worlds. At what appears to be an unknown time in the future, the aliens
(who are now never referred to as Martians) attack in force, but this time the war lasts for decades.
Humankind is on the ropes, but just as in the original novel and movie, germs and bacteria lay low
the invaders at the eleventh hour. The difference this time is that they regroup and head back into
space, pursued by a flotilla of Earth ships.
One such vessel is the "hyperspace carrier" Pegasus, commanded by Colonel James Anderson. There
is some great pre-production art here of the Pegasus and her crew, that can't help evoke recollections
of Star Trek, not least because Colonel Anderson also goes by the moniker of "Jim", shades of a
certain James Tiberius Kirk. But imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and another trek
across the stars would have been very interesting, especially as the story as planned looks to have
a more linear quest aspect to it rather than a lot of stand alone episodes.
Anderson and his crew pursue the aliens to Alpha Centauri where they find a planet they name Mega
and there pick up a mysterious signal. It appears to be a distress signal from a vanished Earth mission
lost some years previously, but what caused its destruction and are there survivors? It is while
exploring the planet in search of these answers that Anderson and his crew run into the aliens who
attacked Earth (still looking very much like the Martians envisaged in the 1953 movie) but we learn
that they are but the slaves of an even greater evil whose home world is called Endor. The planet is
described as a world gone to ruin through pollution, (no Ewoks in evidence) a neat reworking of the
central idea of H G Wells, that his Martians are fleeing a dying world that is losing heat and atmosphere
due to natural effects. Pollution was certainly a concept far more in keeping with the mid 1970's and
would have had resonance with the new audience whole retaining the basic thrust of the Wells novel.
Thus ends the tantalising promo, but the best is yet to come. The show-reel than goes behind the
scenes to the production office of War of the Worlds. Former Star Trek art director Matt Jefferies
and Lee Vasque who worked on the 1953 movie are on hand in this sequence, which affords frustrating
glimpses of artwork not featured in close-up during the plot synopsis.
Finally and most amazingly, the reel ends with some actual test footage of Anderson trying to avoid
capture in what appears to be a spaceport on Endor. It's a pretty confusing mishmash, featuring a
lot of sneaking, hiding and slugging of strangely human looking guards, though they talk with an
electronically tweaked timbre. The effects are also pretty basic but with a budget to match the
imagination on display, its clear this could have been a unique looking production. The more
pertinent question is, would have been any good? Well, Pal certainly had some great movies to his
credit and the team he had in place was impressive. If Jefferies was able to come up with designs
as iconic as the Enterprise, we might still be talking in hushed tones of the great science fiction
series of the 1970's and who knows, another franchise may have been born, though if absolute truth be told,
there is a certain cheesiness about the material on hand here that makes me think the world may
have been better off without this series.
Alas we'll never know for sure, but I can very much recommend you taking a look at this great DVD,
not only for the material on the TV series, but also some amazing behind the scenes footage and
photographs from the 1953 production. If I have a criticism, it's only that nothing is put in any
great context. The show-reel is presented without any background material. For instance, what
happened to the series, was anyone cast, who is in that test reel and how far did it get before
the rug was pulled out from under Pal's feet? So little explained, so many unanswered questions!
So, if any readers of this site can contribute further information, please do get in touch.
The War of the Worlds Designer Matt Jefferies worked for George Pal on his TV series and used one of his previous designs from a model kit.
See also in:
Film & TV
The War of the Worlds by George Pal. The action relocates to cold war America, with the Martian war machines re-invented as sinister flying machines.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars. The Martian war machines from the George Pal movie are the foe for an astronaut stranded on Mars.
War of the Worlds An intermittently impressive TV series about a second Martian invasion of Earth.