The screen depicted gigantic metal monsters. They had gleaming metal bodies, supported by three long tentacles. A loud, horn like sound pierced my ears and I trembled. I clutched desperately onto my aunt, as we ran out the movie theatre room and into the restroom where we were safe from the monsters.
This was my first experience with the legendary science fiction story, War of the Worlds.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old my parents took my aunt and I to see Steven Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds. I remember being petrified throughout the entire movie. The loud horn sound that would introduce the alien creatures still rings through my head. From the ominous sounds, to the shredding and incineration of the characters in the film, I was scared out of my wits. It was so bad that even months afterward, I was afraid to move at night, fearful that the aliens would find me with their cold, steely tentacles. As time passed on, I grew out of that fear, but every once in awhile I still feel that slight sliver of my childhood fear; reminding me of the terror I once experienced.
With this memory engraved in my mind, I was actually excited to listen to this tale as a “radio broadcast”. I can say that after listening to the horror story, I was both satisfied and disappointed. I loved the idea of the story being told as news flashes. It gave the listener a sense of being immersed in the story, especially since during that time radio was one of the primary forms of mass media. I liked the back and forth dialogue between each of the fake news outlets. In a sense it made the story realistic. If there was a major event, news programs would go “live” to scene and other sources of information. I also loved the descriptions. How the meteorite looked soaring through the sky, how the alien appeared before the men in Grover Mills, New Jersey, with saliva dripping from its mouth; these descriptions helped me to visualize the scenes of the story being told. I am not sure whether people were truly “fooled” by the broadcast, but if any of them experienced a sense of fear or panic, even in the moment, I believe it can be attributed to these aspects of the broadcast.
What I find at least somewhat disappointing, is the voice acting. I feel that there were scenes that could have been tweaked to bring more life into the audio tale. For example, there was a scene where Professor Pierson described his theory on the weapon used to incinerate the 40+ people at Grover Mills. He explained that the Martians possessed, what he believed to be a heat ray. As I was listening to this sections of the story, I was waiting for the professor’s reaction to the scene he just witnessed. I was waiting for the stuttered, stumbled speech; for the heavy, scattered breathing. I was waiting for him to speak of how he just witnessed this immeasurable horror. This wasn’t the case, however. The professor spoke in a clear and logical manner, as if he was still sitting in his study, as if he had just witnessed nothing. Later on during the story, he begins to have more of a traumatized sound to his voice, but it sounded still on the edge of being monotonous. I also had a problem with the jumps in time. There was no warning given in the story that would allow the listener to understand that the tale moved forward a few days. It just happened. To me, these aspects of the broadcast make me doubt that there were a million Americans running frantic in the street over this story. How is New York conquered within the time span of a half hour? I can believe, however that there might of been some citizens who became panicked over the broadcast, especially if the weren’t listening from the beginning. But I don’t think that number was as huge as it was made out to be.
In spite of my criticism of the voice acting, there were sections of the story that I thought were beautifully done. For example, during the time 34:38-38:16, there was another broadcaster who described the imagery of destruction in New York City. He described everything from the Martians, to the people running frantically, to the cloud of poisonous black smoke that made people drop dead like flies. He managed to portray this imagery with a hidden tone of hopelessness. You could believe his emotion, his desire to report on what was happening but also his realization that his life was coming to an end. This part of the broadcast doesn’t necessarily make you feel fear in the sense that you jump out of your seat, however, it does touch your heart. It fills it with this reality that that may be you one day. You may not be incinerated by aliens or be poisoned to death by their deadly black gas, but you may feel that surge of reality. That realization that your life is about to end. Will you run or embrace it as the broadcaster did? Will you run from your fate or stand tall against it?
The other section I found notable was 47:40-51:03. During this portion of the tale, the professor meets another man, who the listeners discover was part of the National Guard. As they begin to converse with one another, we learn that the former soldier has lost his mind. He begins to go on a ramble about how the two of them together along with a few extra men could easily rule the world with the Martian’s technology. While this section of the broadcast isn’t frightening, it brings a sense of creepiness into the story.
I think that the mass panic of a story of a piece of fiction could most definitely occur again-if it occurred at all. False stories are spread around all the time, especially through the Internet. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that a story would be spread around frantically through social media. With a click of a button, any individual can share a story with thousands of others. People believed that the world was going to end in 2000 didn’t they? I do think it would be incredibly hard for a fiction story to create mass panic throughout the country, but I do believe it is possible.