Film review: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds: The New Generation

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ALBERT Brooks once said you should be able to say a movie’s name at dinner before the waiter comes to take your order, but the clunky title seems in keeping with Jeff Wayne’s very literal musical version of HG Wells’ novel.

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of 
The Worlds: The New Generation (PG)

***

This cautious overhaul of the touring version of Wayne’s best-selling album includes a new prologue where the martians have a boardroom ­meeting to discuss initiating a sonic ­attack on earth of ­overblown orchestral arrangements.

In this live performance, filmed at the O2 Arena last ­December, Richard Burton’s sonorous but physically inert narrator has been replaced by an equally pre-recorded Liam Neeson, who runs around in the CGI film that plays above the head of the musicians, appears as a holographic head and shoulders on a side screen, and finally as a full body hologram interacting at stage level with the other actors.

Neeson can do earnest authority in his sleep, but can he sing? Perhaps mercifully, you don’t need to find out; instead George ­Herbert’s ­musical burden is shouldered by Marti Pellow, who has the show’s two best songs, The Eve Of War and Autumn Leaves. Unfortunately he’s up against memories of the Moody Blues’ ethereal, ­elegant Justin Hayward and, over the years, Pellow’s own sweet singalong voice seems to have devolved into a showboating vibrato, which is at odds with the hawkish intense looks he throws at the audience.

Others fare better. Jason Donovan isn’t bad as a parson driven demented by the conflict between his faith and Armageddon, while the Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson is an unexpected highlight as an artillery soldier delivering the delusional It’s A Brave New World.

The problem is that it looks more fun to be out in the O2 than sitting in a cinema. Despite the HD and the superior sound, you’d ooh and ah a lot more in an auditorium when a three-legged alien killing machine arrives, delivering fiery blasts that threaten to singe the front three rows.

When Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg adapted War Of The Worlds, they brought the invasion into their present, or even the future. There’s something a little noble about Wayne sticking to the 1878 period, resisting send-ups or subversion. Yet despite newer names and technological gimcracks, there’s no getting past the fact that his War Of The Worlds is as ­vulnerable to the charge of ­being dated as a Martian is susceptible to an earthling cold.

While Neeson bears witness to “the massacre of mankind”, and the screen flashes up 
images of death rays, sinister red fronds and fuzzily flash-fried earthlings, the chug of 
a disco beat is not perhaps the motif you would have ­anticipated. «

Cineworld Fountainpark, Edinburgh, Vue Ocean, Edinburgh, Cineworld, Falkirk, and Showcase Cinema Glasgow, Thursday and 14 April; Odeon, Dunfermline, Thursday, Saturday and 14 April