This new recording, with a new cast, packs a hefty wallop.
Adrian Edwards 2012
H. G. Wells has long been a popular source of inspiration for film and theatre. Film adaptations of his work, such as The Time Machine and The Shape of Things to Come, have proved hugely influential; while his autobiographical tale Kipps became the hit musical Half a Sixpence for stage and screen.
Jeff Wayne composed and produced his original concept album take on Wells’ 1898 novel The War of the Worlds in 1978. It was issued to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Orson Welles' audacious adaptation of the novel for CBS radio, a broadcast that had some listeners believing that Martians had really arrived on Earth.
In this new, updated version, Wayne rekindles that peculiarly intimate feeling of listening to an old-style radio drama in the Welles manner, albeit with the narrative spoken over a sizeable orchestra overlaid with electronic effects.
In the original 1978 version, the role of the narrator/journalist was played by Richard Burton, who wove his sombre bardic magic around some pretty flat-footed dialogue. Liam Neeson now narrates in a gentler Celtic register, his extended cues somewhat divided by too much repetitive music.
Other star names in the new cast include Gary Barlow singing the plaintive Forever Autumn, Joss Stone in the thoughtful number The Spirit of Man, and best of all, Ricky Wilson from Kaiser Chiefs. The latter sings, with full fervour, Wells' utopian hymn to a Brave New World.
Despite adjustments to the instrumentation and some eerie new music for the Martians, this piece remains very much of its time – when grandiose symphonic sound met rock in a battle of wills. Brave New World is a reminder of the early Rice/Lloyd Webber songs and the film music of John Barry is echoed in the scene where the Martians arrive on Horsell Common. But is the incident of the unscrewing of the cylinder releasing the Martians across the Home Counties supposed to raise a laugh?
The recording, as heard through a surround sound system, packs a hefty wallop. And this release is nicely timed, as the show embarks on a UK tour in celebration of the father of science fiction, the very same H. G. Wells.