"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own... Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us."
Next weekend Stephen Spielberg's remake of The War ofthe Worlds will be released onto an over-hyped planet. It's the most expensive big screen adaptation of HG Wells' classic 1898 novel to date, although I thought the 1953 version had pretty impressive special effects for such an early sci-fi B movie. I vividly remember watching that film on ITV as a child, then being absolutely petrified when I had to visit the toilet during a commercial break in case some slimy tentacle should reach in through the window and whisk me away. I have my doubts as to whether the 2005 version will make such an impact, but I'm willing to be proved wrong.
"The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million to one," he said.
The UK premiere of War of the Worlds was held in Leicester Square last weekend. You remember, there was all that fuss when pranksters from a crass Channel 4 show squirted water in Tom Cruise's face in the name of global dumbing-down. I'd walked past the front of the Odeon myself a few hours earlier where I'd watched a PR lady sticking the names of TV companies (including Channel 4) onto the crowd barriers. I wish I'd taken some photos of the press area now, but the chances of anything inhuman happening were a million to one, I thought. Yet across the gulf of sensibility, minds that were infinitely inferior to ours regarded this opportunity with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against poor Tom.
"Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker out from it. Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another, sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if each man were suddenly and momentarily turned to fire. Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering and falling."
I wasn't in Leicester Square to see Mr (and the future Mrs) Cruise myself, I was there to experience the temporary alien destruction that had been wreaked in the central gardens by a 'special effects' team. I was expecting giant footprints, dead bodies and burning wreckage, but instead all I got were a few overturned benches, a tilting phone box and some carefully piled rubble. You'd see far worse after a night of binge drinking down any suburban high street. To say this was a lame experience would be an understatement, and quite pitiful compared to the special effects on show in the film trailer being screened by the garden entrance. Admittedly the Leicester Square scene looked slightly more convincing when framed by a camera than it did in real life (Steve grabbed some far better photos than me) but I guess that's Hollywood magic for you.
"I looked again out of the open window. In one night the valley had become a valley of ashes. The fires had dwindled now. Where flames had been there were now streamers of smoke; but the countless ruins of shattered and gutted houses and blasted and blackened trees that the night had hidden stood out now gaunt and terrible in the pitiless light of dawn. Never before in the history of warfare had destruction been so indiscriminate and so universal."