In the not-so-grand tradition of low-budget knockoffs released decades ago by Concorde and New World Pictures, “H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds” arrives on video shelves just in time to hitch a ride on the publicity wave for the pricier sci-fi drama. The second of two similarly titled direct-to-vid productions unleashed within days of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation, Asylum Home Entertainment’s release plays like a Sci Fi Channel time-killer, complete with blackout scene breaks to facilitate insertion of commercials. Neither bad enough to be high camp nor exciting enough for cheap thrills, ho-hum B movie will amuse only undiscriminating renters and channel surfers.
Unlike “H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds,” Timothy Hines’ ponderously “faithful” direct-to-video take on Wells’ 1898 novel, this version has been updated to present day and transported to the East Coast of the U.S. Even so, vet vidpic helmer David Michael Latt (working from a script he co-wrote with Carlos Di Los Rios) often makes a token effort to convey the essence of key scenes from the literary source.
Looking appropriately grave and gaunt, C. Thomas Howell adequately toplines as Dr. George Herbert, an astronomer who witnesses the first wave of Martian invaders when a fiery capsule lands near his small hometown. When aliens start toasting innocent bystanders with nasty death rays, Herbert realizes the extraterrestrials have not come in peace.
Profoundly panicked, the astronomer sets out on foot for Washington, D.C., in the hope of reuniting with his wife (Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots) and their young son (Dashiell Howell) before the invaders incinerate the rest of humanity.
Precise geographical details are fuzzy, but D.C. is said to be “a five-hour drive” from Hebert’s home. So he has plenty of time to witness as much death and destruction as the limited budget will allow. Martian invaders are rendered as malevolent titans that appear half-mechanical, half-arachnid. Greenscreening and digital f/x are uneven, but overall effect is just convincing enough to work on the small screen.
Herbert encounters two characters modeled closely after counterparts in Wells’ novel: Sgt. Kerry Williams (Andrew Lauer), who tries to reason with an increasingly crazy officer (fleetingly played by a wild-eyed Jake Busey); and Pastor Victor (Rhett Giles), who suspects the aliens are harbingers of the Rapture. Victor’s crisis of faith leads to much conversation about God, perhaps to provide wholesome counterbalance to gratuitous female nudity in pic’s opening minutes.
Periodically, Latt indicates an interest in dark irony and/or social commentary. (Early on, characters assume “terrorists” are responsible for damage caused by alien invaders.) For the most part, however, vidpic is safely bland and conspicuously humorless.
Laughter is generated only at the very end of closing credits, when viewers are informed: “Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental and very weird. We suggest moving and/or staying away from pits with aliens in them. … No aliens were hurt during the production of this screenplay.”