From The Surrey Shore . . .
The Newsletter of the Hated Rivals on the Surrey Shore Vol. 4, No. 4, August 2005
****A Scion Society for All Who Enjoy Sherlock Holmes in All His Manifestations!****
That’s right—we’ll all be pitchin’ in something delicious for our First Sherlockian Pitch-In on Sunday, September 4, from 1 to 4 p.m. (or so), at the White Elephant in Ellettsville, Indiana, a short jog from Bloomington, in southern Indiana. (You may recall that this was supposed to be our second annual Sherlockian cookout, but it turns out that no one has a grill to bring, so we’ll be bringing preprepared food instead of cooking on-site—except for anything that can be thrown into an oven or microwave to heat up, of course.) We’ll plan on eating either indoors or out, depending on the weather, so do come, rain or shine. Please also call our gracious hosts, Chris Engle and Terri Klingelhoefer, at 812-876-3540 (land line) or 812-325-9326 (cell) or e-mail them at email@example.com to let them know what you plan to bring. (Please have at least two possibilities in mind so that, if we already have plenty of one dish, you can bring another. We don’t want to overdose on potato salad, after all.) No need to bring your own eating utensils, plates, and so on, as Chris and Terri have kindly offered to provide those. If everyone could bring a drink of some sort (a liter of Pepsi, lemonade, etc.), however, that would be great. We’ll have our business meeting and Canonical toasts as we partake of a yummy repast, along with great Sherlockian fellowship and hearty conversation. We’re not planning a formal program for this meeting—just a great get-together—but if you have anything you’d like to share with the membership, please feel free (a Sherlockian song, a poem, a paper, a pastiche . . . whatever you want). Our theme for the year, as you may recall, is the Rivals and Allies of Sherlock Holmes, so if you have anything about one of Holmes friends, competitors, or even his adversaries, that would be fine as well. (Perhaps we’ll even get a brief appearance by Ratlock Holmes . . .?) In planning your trip down, allow about an hour and 30 minutes from Indianapolis to drive to Ellettsville (and a bit more if you’re coming from the north side or farther away). If you’re interested in carpooling or caravanning down, please contact us by e-mail, and we’ll work out a rendezvous point in Indianapolis to depart from. (See the “Coming Meetings” section at the end of this newsletter for the address of and directions to the White Elephant.) We hope to see you all there!
Well, it’s time for yet another letter from yours truly, Barker . . . and yet, my recent work schedule as an editor at Wiley Publishing (publishers of the For Dummies computer and consumer books as well as CliffsNotes and other titles) has been a killer. I’ve barely had time to put together a newsletter at all—and, of course, I’m running late as well. Fortunately, I got some help from one of our other members—a talented writer himself, as you know if you’ve perused our Web site. So let’s get going, because I think I hear . . .
Our own Jon and Ronda Burroughs again managed a pilgrimage to the greatest city on earth (at least for us Sherlockians) . . . London. I thought an account of their trip would be of interest to our members, so here, in Jon’s own words, is . . .
The 2005 London Trip–Jon’s Viewpoint (Part 1, Abridged)
I awoke around six to discover that Ronda had been awake since four. We began the drive to Chicago on I-70 into I-465, only to realize that the rental car paperwork had been left behind due to my negligence. We went back home, getting what we needed and—success! We actually managed to get away that time! After a few wrong turns here and there near O’Hare, our driving came to an end at Hertz, where we dropped off the car and took the Hertz bus to O’Hare. All went well with the computerized check-in, despite earlier fears. We boarded the plane around 9 o’clock.
Easy takeoff. We were served a less than tasty chicken meal, and I watched the in-flight movie. Thankfully, I was able to get some sleep after a while. Morning came with a doughnut and fruit breakfast. We would have arrived very early, but were put into a holding pattern for 45 minutes. Customs? Uh . . . a looooonnnnnnggggggg wait in line. We took off on our way only to discover the money from years before was outdated and worthless. We had to walk to Tooting Broadway just to find a bank to turn dollars into pounds. From there, we got a day tube pass and went up to Leicester Square. We later went to a bank at Cambridge Circus for a much better deal with money. Veena, the currency exchange clerk, would serve both of us over the eight days to follow. By this time, exhaustion was rearing its ugly head, and we returned for supper to the home of our friends, Alan and Vanessa, with whom we were staying. Then, exhausted, we went to bed.
We awoke at 6 with clearer heads and a greater sense of organization. After breakfast, we went to the tube station and got 7-day tickets. From there, we went to the theatre where Mary Poppins was playing and ordered tickets. Ronda felt the worse for wear and returned to our host’s home for more rest. I set off for the area around St. Paul’s. I filmed outside the cathedral, but filming was not allowed inside. However, I did pay and go in. From there, I went to the Millennium Bridge. With much time left, I took the tube to South Kensington and filmed the interior of the Natural History Museum, which has a movable dinosaur exhibit that gives one the impression of being at Jurassic Park. Impressive! Time remained before the Mary Poppins matinee, so I shot footage of the Queen Maud fashion exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum for Ronda. I then hurried back to Leicester.
I met with Ronda just inside the Prince of Wales Theatre, and we saw Mary Poppins. Fantastic! New songs and new plot added to some of the best from Disney. Mary Poppins “flew” over the audience. Bert “walked” up the walls and across the ceiling of the stage. If you’ve heard the term “a feel good” musical, this was surely one! Afterward, we walked to Cecil Court to the Theatre Bookshop. Ronda found two books for herself on old music hall performers and one for me on the actor, Emilyn Williams (who portrayed Dickens in one man shows and wrote How Green was My Valley.) However, on the tube ride back, we were pinned like sardines. Dinner was with playwright Gerald Moon. Dear heaven, did he keep us in stitches. A truly entertaining playwright! A grand evening.
We awoke at eight. I had a quick breakfast and took off for Victoria Station. By a little past nine, I was on a train, and by a little past ten, I was in Rochester, home of Dickens’ childhood and later years. I made a beeline to Restoration House, the place that inspired Miss Havisham’s home in Great Expectations. It gets its name because it is where the king stayed one night on the way to London to be restored to the throne after some years without a monarchy, thanks to Cromwell. It truly is a “restoration” house. It has been restored to its 1660 inner appearance. They normally do not allow picture taking inside, but when I told of my classes and a missed chance some 13 years earlier, they allowed me to film Miss Havisham’s room. The garden (which one could always film) was breathtakingly beautiful.
I returned on the next train and began filming about the city. I had fully intended to ride on the “London Eye” Ferris wheel. However, when I got close it was too BIG! I mean Jack-having-climbed-the-beanstalk-and-seeing-the-giant’s-belongings BIG! I shot footage and decided not to go on it. Vanessa had suggested an embankment walk the night before, so I did just that. From the London Eye to Shakespeare’s Globe—a delightful walk. There was a carnival atmosphere to the whole thing: buskers performing on violins, saxophones, an Oriental type of pipe instrument, “living statues” that played and performed with the onlookers, and street vendors here and there dotting the way. At The Globe, I tried to film inside, but a matinee of The Tempest was due to start soon. However, for only five pounds, one could go in and be a “groundling.” Groundlings were those who viewed the play by the stage, standing up. I paid my five pounds, went in, filmed inside, and when the show started, managed about 30 minutes until my back ached too much to stay longer. Leaving the theatre, I headed still further down the embankment to The Golden Hind, Sir Francis Drake’s ship. I took some footage of it, and then headed to London Bridge Station, passing Borough Market, famous for its sale of fish. I stopped off at the bank on Cambridge Circus and did some currency exchange. Then I wandered about the bookstores. I went to several stores along the way before grabbing a Sfida (a meat pastry of India, I believe) at Brazil-by-Jino on Charing Cross Road.
To Be Continued . . .
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear about the rest of Jon and Ronda’s trip. (Of course, I have the entire record here, so I don’t really have to wait . . . ) In the meantime, you can sample my . . .
Earlier this month, I attended the Gen Con game convention, held for the third year now in Indianapolis. I’m going to mention only those things at the convention connected with Sherlock Holmes or the Victorian era (or our scion), so if you want to know anything else about the weekend, see me at the meeting or e-mail me. For my own part, I ran three games this year (was scheduled for four, but one didn’t get enough players), none of which were Victorian or Sherlockian in nature—although the players in one of my games portrayed the rock band Sherlock and the CDs (as in “consulting detectives”), which I originally created for my Rock ’N’ Role-Playing GameTM, So Ya Wanna Be A Rock ’N’ Roll Star!TM . (See my Web site at http://bill-barton-games.iwarp.com for more information about the game and Sherlock & the CDs.) Next year, I plan to run some more-Sherlockian/Victorian-oriented games. Meanwhile, our own Chris Engle ran Sherlockian games based on his Matrix game system and sold his Sherlock Holmes Case Book games at his Hamster Press booth. And Hated Rival Randy Porter, who acts as an unofficial historian for the convention, also worked at the booth of Chaosium, Inc., publisher of my own Cthulhu By Gaslight (currently out of print, but with a new edition in the works). Chaosium was also selling a new, direct-order-only product of Victorian flavor in its recent monograph line, The Gaslight Equipment Catalog ($20; order at www.chaosium.com), a supplement to my original Gaslight supplement. The only other new game that I saw with a Victorian theme this year was a role-playing game called Ripper, a horror RPG set in Victorian London (although it appeared to focus on other things that go bump in the night and not just Saucy Jack, as the title suggests). More on both items next issue. And thus ends this year’s Sherlockian/Victorian Gen Con report . . .
And on that . . . (ahem) slightly gamey note, I remain, till next issue, ever yours . . .
—C. Barker, Esq.
The heat was on when the Hated Rivals on the Surrey Shore met for our annual Barker Birthday Bash this July—and we’re not just talking about the hot and humid days of summer either! (Nor are we referring to the temperature of our food, although it was all cooked to a T.) But then any meeting of the Hated Rivals is a hot affair—and this one was no exception. We gathered at the very British Lord Ashley’s Pub & Eatery on East Washington Street to celebrate our scion’s namesake’s birthday (which the Rivals have concluded falls on July 12—quite coincidentally the birthday of our own Barker, Bill Barton, as well). We were a bit early again this year, but we’re sure that Barker wouldn’t mind. One other special feature of the meeting was the return of our own Russell, Mimi DeMore, in her first meeting since leaving the Peace Corps earlier this year. It was a pleasant gathering of Rivals old and new, and we shared not only great food but our usual fabulous Sherlockian fellowship. We were pleasantly surprised to discover as we sat down that, on the wall behind our table, was a large, fanciful map of London. (Although on examining it closer, we discovered it was of a London much later than that of Sherlock Holmes.) After dining on Lord Ashley’s best, we conducted our Canonical toasts, this time adding a toast to the brave residents of London, who so recently faced yet another round of bombings by villains who have yet to humble the soul of the British nation. (Even Moriarty, we think, would have taken up action against such evil men, were he still a resident of London today.) We followed with the reading of a paper written by our own Will Thomas, author of two novels of his own version of Barker (so far), postulating that it was Barker who taught Sherlock Holmes the “Japanese art of wrestling” known as Baritsu. (Although Will couldn’t make it all the way from Oklahoma for the meeting, our own Barker stood in for him in reading the paper to the group.) Will is submitting the paper to the Baker Street Journal for possible future publication, so it won’t be posted on our Web site, but we’ll keep you informed on its progress. Following the meeting itself, a handful of Rivals ventured to the theater at nearby Washington Square to view the Cruise/Spielberg War of the Worlds. (See the “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere” section for a review.) Another satisfying meeting of Indy’s premiere (at least in our opinion) Sherlockian scion!
As you read about earlier, two of our members visited London this year. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a time machine or they could have visited Victorian London. Following is a brief overview of that fair city during the era of Sherlock Holmes.
At the beginning of the Victorian era, London barely stretched to Hyde Park on the west, to the Isle of Dogs on the east, to the Grand Surrey Canal to the south, and beyond Regent Park in the north. Just outside London itself were such picturesque little villages as Richmond, Greenwich, Peckham Rye, and Highgate—hamlets that would eventually be subsumed into Greater London by the end of the century. By 1888, London would grow so much that a separate County of London would be carved out from the surrounding counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, and Essex to contain its sprawl.
The population of London and suburbs rose to about six and a half million by the 1890s, many residing in the densely packed East End. London itself consisted of 28 metropolitan boroughs, each one governed by a mayor and council, plus the historic City of London, lying in the center of the metropolis. The City, as it was generally known, was a separate municipality with its own civil corporation, led by the Lord Mayor. Many of the surrounding suburbs in Kent and other counties were considered parts of London, although they lay outside the administrative County of London.
London’s East End (including the City itself) served as the metropolis’ commercial and financial area. It harbored an extensive system of docks, the Bank of England, the Royal Mint, the Stock Exchange, the Post Office, and other public buildings. The West End was a more-exclusive district. The wealthy and the upper classes made their homes there, and it housed the centers of government for the British Empire: Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, and such cultural and scientific landmarks as the British Museum and (after 1871) the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences.
The lavish homes of the aristocracy in the West End often contrasted starkly with the crowded multi-family hovels of the poor in the East, particularly in Whitechapel and Spitalfields, east of the City. To the north lay comparatively comfortable homes of the lower middle class; south of the Thames (the “Surrey Side,” so dubbed from the County of Surrey to the south), poorer dwellings lay near the river, while farther south, one again found more fashionable residences. Gas works, water works, factories, manufactories of leathers, dock works, and various other plants generally lay south of the Thames, although London boasted no single, specific manufacturing area: Factories and working houses dotted the map throughout the county. To be continued . . .
(We’ll add more to our overview of Victorian London next issue, when we finish Jon Burrough’s account of his and Ronda’s trip to the modern-day metropolis. Note: Much of this material was derived from Chaosium’s Cthulhu By Gaslight, 2nd edition, by William A. Barton, Copyright 1988.)
I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere!
Some have suggested we separate the strictly Sherlockian news from that of non-Sherlockian, but related, interest. So we’re adding subheads to this listing to differentiate the various topics. Let us know how you think it works.
If you simply can’t go anywhere without taking Sherlock Holmes along, John C. Sherwood (hmmm, Sherwood, Sherlock . . .?) has the book for you: The Pocket Sherlock: A Portable Guide to the Canon (MysteryVisits, 2005). This 78-page pocket-sized compendium provides the basic facts of every story in the Sherlockian Canon, arranged according to William Baring-Gould’s chronology, along with publishing information; maps of London, Baker Street, and 221B; biographies of Holmes and Watson; a Sherlockian reading list; a bibliography of all of Sherlock Holmes’ own writings; Canonical quotations; a list of Watson’s untold tales; a timeline . . . and much more. The book is available from the compiler, Mr. Sherwood, for $10 + $2 p&h—$6 p&h outside the U.S. Discounts are also available for bulk orders—$9 per copy + $3 shipping if you order five to nine copies, and so on. (If you order online using PayPal, you get an additional $1 discount.) You can even get your copy autographed on request. To order, send a money order or check (although the latter must clear first) to John C. Sherwood, 120 Quimby Road, West Grove, PA 19390, or order online at his Web site at www.pocketsherlock.com. You can get more information on the Web site or by calling (610) 345-0936 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. (Mr. Sherwood maintains another interesting Web site at www.mysteryvisits.com, although it’s not strictly Sherlockian, and you can find other items listed for sale on the Pocket Sherlock site, such as the Bookmark Sherlock, $3, and the Wallet Sherlock, $3 for 4. Coming in September are the Pocket Sherlock Study Cards, $15; a 90-minute MP3 CD Audio Pocket Sherlock, $10; and The Complete Pocket Sherlock, including the booklet, the cards, the recording and free Wallet and Bookmark versions, $35. Mr. Sherwood is one busy Sherlockian.)
In July, the BBC ran a Sherlockian TV drama, The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It focused on a 33-year-old Doyle at a turbulent time in his life—when he decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, resulting in a general public outrage (and lots of hate mail from Holmes fans), and while his young wife was dying. Doyle is played by Douglas Henshall (whose only other listed credit in the article about the story on the BBC’s Web site is a bit part in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles). You can read the article at www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/ 2005/07_july/07/holmes_henshall.shtml (whew!). Although not available in the U.S. yet, we can hope that the show will eventually be picked by PBS, as have been so many other British Sherlockian productions. (Thanks go to Ronda Burroughs for the tip.)
Viewers of the USA cable network’s excellent Monk TV series about neurotic detective Adrian Monk have heard Monk compared to Sherlock Holmes on at least two episodes this summer. And for good reason. Although it’s obviously not strictly Sherlockian, any aficionado of the Great Detective who doesn’t enjoy the show must simply not be watching it (at least in our humble opinion).
A new edition of Graphic Classics Volume 2: Arthur Conan Doyle (Eureka Productions; $11.95) is due in October. This edition includes a graphic rendering of “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb,” as well “The Copper Beeches” from the original volume and many other illustrated Doyle stories. Available at specialty comic book stores and most online outlets such as Amazon.com.
The Hallmark Channel (check your local cable company for its place on the dial) is presenting two miniseries in September of interest to aficionados of Victorian adventure fiction. On Saturday, September 5, from 3-7 p.m. Indy time (CDT), comes H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, starring Patrick Swayze as Allan Quatermain. (This two-parter in one apparently first ran back in June, so this is an encore for all who missed it.) And Saturday, September 17, from 7-10 p.m. Indy time, Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island will hit the screen, with a cast that includes Kyle MacLachlan and Patrick Stewart. (This movie, by the way, is based on a sequel to Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Beneath the Sea, for those of you not up on your Verne. One caveat: The blurb for the movie on the Hallmark Web site mentions “giant reptiles” in the movie, making it appear that this is more a remake of the early ’60s movie version than of the Verne book itself, in which giant beasties were no where in sight.)
Another Victorian-based story graces the big screen in The Brothers Grimm, in which the two sibling authors of many of our most famous fairy tales turn out to be Victorian ghost busters of a sort. Not seen yet, but it should be in movie theaters by the time you get this newsletter—or soon thereafter.
We’ve described in past newsletters Jess Nevins’ two books of notes about the two League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series and link from our Web site to his Fantastic Victoriana Web site. But in November, you’ll be able to purchase the entire contents of his Web site—and much more—in a hardback volume, The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (MonkeyBrain Books, 2005, 1,200 pp; $50). Nevins’ book runs the gamut from the works of Verne, Wells, Doyle, and Stoker to lesser known examples of fantastic literature from the days of Queen Victoria—including everything from Russian newspaper serials to Chinese martial arts novels (?). The book includes an Introduction by famed British SF writer Michael Moorcock, who’s made his own ventures into Victorian-themed fiction. If it’s anything like his LEG notes, we highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Victorian literature—even at the price.
Also due out in November from MonkeyBrain Books is Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, edited by Win Scott Eckert, a $14.95 trade paperback. Farmer wrote a number of pastiches, not only of Sherlock Holmes but of other literary heroes such as Tarzan and Doc Savage (although he often had to change the names to avoid copyright infringement). Farmer eventually connected all his stories, as well as those of other authors he admired, into the Wold Newton Universe, where such fictional characters as Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, Philip Marlowe, and even James Bond shared the same family tree. This book collects not only Farmer’s essays and biographies on the universe, but those of his successors as well. Another recommend title if you enjoy Victorian (and pulp) fiction—and one that’s much easier on the pocketbook.
Fans of early Victorian horror will welcome a new hardcover collection of four of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic tales, “The Black Cat,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “Hop-frog,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” illustrated by Gris Grimly. (And no, that’s not a typo for Chris.) The 135-page book, Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery & Madness, should be available in bookstores in late October to November for $17.95.
A number of Victorian-themed comics are scheduled for October release, including Volume 3 of IDW Publishing’s hardcover Little Book of Horror, which features Dracula (47 pp., $15.99). Also available from IDW are the Little Book of Horror: Frankenstein and the Little Book of Horror: War of the Worlds (same price, page count). And, finally in the graphics realm, comes Classic Illustrated #124: War of the Worlds (48 pp., $9.99), which features not only the Wells story, but a Wells biography and Orson Welles’ “The War that Never Was.” All of these should be available through any specialty comic book store and probably in most online outlets as well.
Speaking of WotW, also due in October is a trade paperback entitled War of the Worlds: From Wells to Spielberg, by John L. Flynn (200 pp., $12). Described as “the most informative book about the Martians and their numerous invasions over the last 100 years,” the book covers the Orson Welles radio play, George Pal’s movie, and of course the Cruise/Spielberg feature (see below), along with such related topics as Roswell, Area 51, and various other alien incursions. It also boasts more than 150 illustrations and photos from the first printing of WotW (and, we presume elsewhere). And for more WotW news, see our . . .
War of the Worlds Reviews
In the week and a half prior to—and immediately after—our July meeting, I viewed all three of the versions of War of the Worlds now out on DVD or in the theaters. Except for the last of these—the Tom Cruse/Steven Spielberg version, which also had its flaws—the results were sadly disappointing.
The Asylum WotW: The first version that I viewed was the one from Asylum Films, starring C. Thomas Howell and Jake Busey (although the latter’s part was very minor). As expected, it’s placed in modern times, like the Cruise/Spielberg film, and centers on the efforts of Howell’s character (named, in one of the film’s few clever touches, George Herbert) to get to Washington, D.C. to reunite with his family. (Although the cover of the DVD shows a Martian war machine attacking the U.S. Capitol building, by the time he reaches D.C., the Martians are already dead.)
Early photos on the Web seeming to indicate that the Martian war machines were six-legged in the movie rather than three, as in Well’s novel, proved prophetic. In truth, they looked like huge, metallic, six-legged crabs. The CGI effects were pretty low grade overall, and although the story line had some elements of the Wells original in it (where Howell’s character meets, loses track of, and encounters again a military man and, at another point, a minister), too much of the story was muddy and unclear. For example, while trapped in a basement next to a Martian encampment, Herbert and the pastor are found by a Martian, which looks more like one of the creatures from the Alien movies than Wells’ octapoids—and even spits an acid that dissolves the cleric’s face. But at the end of the film, a dead Martian resembles a large walking table. (Although in both cases, it’s difficult to tell because of the way the film is lit. In fact, there’s little in the movie to tell us that these are Martians at all, except for some shots of Mars’ surface in the opening credits. They’re never called Martians in the film.)
What causes the Martians’ deaths, too, is unclear. Herbert, when the Martians invade the basement he and the cleric are hiding in, injects the creature with some rabies vaccines he’s found in the house. But no connection is ever made in the movie between this and the Martians’ deaths. (Not to mention that a vaccine would carry killed microorganisms and not live ones, or that rabies is normally transmitted through bites.) The heat ray effects weren’t bad, but the victims instantly turned into intact skeletons—I guess the ray left the connecting tissues as well as the bones intact. I rented the DVD from Blockbuster and, to sum up my reaction, I immediately canceled my order for it on Amazon.com. It may be worth renting if you like B-grade SF movies with cheesy effects, but otherwise, I can’t recommend this version of the Wells classic.
The Pendragon version of War of the Worlds, which was based closely on H.G. Wells’ original story and set during the late Victorian period that the book described turned out, I’m afraid, to be an even bigger disappointment. (Probably because we had such high hopes for it—although we probably should have been forewarned in that none of the promo shots on Pendragon’s Web sites showed anything but the human actors—no Martians or their fighting machines.) While this version did follow Wells’ story, with few departures, the entire film was shot quite ineptly—with overexposed lighting, jumpy movement, and inexplicable scenes of the story’s narrator (unnamed except as “The Writer,” in following with Wells’ tale) walking through the woods with nothing but background music playing—no voiceover, no action, and no reason for such wasted footage. In one scene the Writer and his wife are looking up to the stars—but the surrounding countryside is in broad daylight. In another, the Writer, standing over the first landing pit, is surrounded by an overexposure-induced green aura (which had nothing to do with special effects, believe me).
Regarding the movie’s special effects themselves, they were simply atrocious. One reviewer on Amazon.com compared them to 1980s-era special effects. Would that were so. I recently watched a few old B-level sci-fi movies from the 1950s on the Turner Classic Movies channel—and they had better special effects. We’re talking the level of some of the low-budget effects on the Dr. Who TV shows of the ’60s—if that good. The flashes on Mars of the capsules taking off and flying through the skies over London weren’t great but they weren’t totally horrid either, and the Martian lander in its pit was acceptable, too. But the first shot of the Martians leaving the capsules were reminiscent of a claymation cartoon. (At least these Martians were vaguely octopoid in appearance, with the big saucer-shaped eyes and two tentacle clusters of Wells’ story.) And it got worse from there. The fighting machines were obviously miniatures superimposed over the already shot footage of people running away, etc. They were indeed tripods and looked somewhat like the descriptions Wells gave, although the legs appeared jointed, which was not the case with Wells’ machines. The heat ray projector raised from the landing pit did resemble a rotating mirror, as described in Wells’ tale. But it was too obviously a CGI effect, as were scenes of buildings collapsing and exploding (including one in which the top of Big Ben flies off to crash onto a bridge), and the entire Thunder Child sequence. (I’ve seen far more realistic-looking naval battles in Japanese giant-monster movies.) These made the CGI effects in the Asylum version look top-notch state of the art in comparison. The heat ray effect was merely a green and red grid imposed over the victims, who did, as in Wells’ novel, burst into flame. They were then reduced to intact skeletons, as in the other WotW film—only this time, the victims were still writhing in pain even after becoming nothing but skeletons!
I once wrote a review of a War of the Worlds game in which I parodied the opening of the Wells novel, ending it with “. . . and then came the great disappointment . . .” The same phrase is applicable here as well. Even at the discounted Sam’s club price, I didn’t feel I was getting any bargain after viewing the DVD. (Plus the inner packaging let the DVD slide around loose inside as I tried to open it, scratching up the DVD itself, which could account, I suppose, for some of the jumpy action in the film.) If you simply must have a version of WotW that follows the book’s storyline faithfully and don’t mind really cheesy special effects, you may find it worth buying this film. But wait until you can get a lower-cost used one from Amazon.com—I’m certain there will be plenty available. Otherwise, sadly (because I really wanted to like this film based on early descriptions), I can’t recommend it.
The Cruise/Spielberg version: Okay—I have to admit, this was a pretty good movie (if, that is, you enjoy big-budget Hollywood SF blockbusters with tons of state-of-the-art special effects). But it is only superficially War of the Worlds, with but a few actual points in common with the original book. The film does open with the prologue from the book, except that it leaves out any mention of Mars. (Spielberg said in an interview that, since we’ve been to Mars and didn’t find any Martians, the aliens in the film had to be from somewhere else—although where is never even speculated.) It also includes Wells’ epilogue about the germs killing the invaders near to the end of the movie. In between, there’s little of Wells left—with one exception (which I’ll get to in a moment).
In many ways, the movie is more of an update of both the 1938 Orson Welles radio play, in that it’s set in modern-day New Jersey, and of the 1953 George Pal film version, in that I spotted many more homages to that earlier film than I did to the story in the original book (a scene, for example, in which a video probe on a long mechanical tentacle searches a ruined house for human survivors). As you probably already know if you’ve seen any of the promos or read any articles, the main action of the movie focuses around the efforts of a father (Tom Cruise) to get his teen-aged son and young daughter (Dakota Fanning) to safety with their mother in Boston following the aliens’ all-out attack. (Why he thought Boston would be safe is never explained.) All along the way, of course, they faced death at the hands of the aliens’ war machines, their heat ray, and desperate fellow humans. Fairly typical Hollywood fare.
Among the departures from the book was how the aliens got here (somehow riding lightning bolts down from the sky into their war machines, buried for apparently millions of years under the earth, waiting for their masters); the aliens’ appearance (looking more like a cross between the Martians of Pal’s movie and the aliens in Independence Day, with rilled heads, huge eyes, three legs, and three smaller arms); and the fact that their war machines had protective force fields that none of the might of our armed forces could penetrate, leaving us totally vulnerable (at least until the aliens took sick near the end of the movie, when a few rounds from a shoulder-held rocket launcher took down one of the machines). Of course, as in the Pal movie, the invaders needed such shields, to avoid being cut down pretty quickly by our modern military technology, which would have made for a rather shorter movie than this one.
The one other place where the movie followed the book was in the appearance of the Martian war machines, which are much closer in nature to those described in Wells’ story than was the case with the floating “manta rays” of the Pal film. Just as Wells depicted them, these war machines are huge tripods with jointless legs, mechanical tentacles, and cages at the back to hold captured humans (while waiting to feast on their blood). They were very impressive—in fact, the only things off about them was that they mounted a pair of heat rays on either side (instead of the one in the book) and used no black smoke at all. The heat rays also instantly turned their victims to a fine, powdery ash (resulting in a scene where Cruse had to wash the remains of several victims off his face and clothes after escaping one of the machines). But those are small quibbles—Cruise, Spielberg and team get an A- for their war machines.
All said, in spite of its modernization and departures from the real War of the Worlds, I did enjoy this movie and recommend it on DVD for all who missed it at the theater—if, of course, you like this kind of movie. Now if only the cinematography and special effects of this movie could be melded with the story of the Pendragon version . . . well, we’d at last have the real War of the Worlds on film . . .
On a related note, the WotW documentary that we mentioned last issue as listed on Amazon.com and titled simply War of the Worlds (Documentary) turns out to be not so much about the Cruise/Spielberg movie as originally described on the site—according to reviews there, it doesn’t even contain a single piece of footage from the film. I canceled my order for this one, too, on learning that.
(By the way, as we mentioned last issue, in case you’re wondering why we’re covering War of the Worlds in a Sherlockian newsletter, it’s because, as stated previously, our scion starts with Sherlock Holmes and takes off from there to all of Victorian/Edwardian England. And as WotW is the quintessential Victorian scientific romance novel, we feel it is an appropriate, if occasional, topic for our newsletter—especially with so many recent movies based on the novel. Although with the initial films out of the way, we’ll be less likely to delve into this topic so deeply in the future. So if you’re not a fan of even Victorian SF—or, more properly, SR—you can breathe a sigh of relief now.)
Following are the details of our upcoming meeting, plus the dates and tentative information about our other meetings in 2005. (Check out our Web site for updates.) So please do set these dates aside to join the Hated Rivals at the following soirées:
A Sherlockian Pitch-in!
Sunday, September 4, 2005, 1-4 p.m. (or thereabouts)
The White Elephant
7251 West State Road 46
Ellettsville, Indiana 47429
Directions and Details: Take I-465 to State Road 37, on the south side of Indianapolis. Then take S.R. 37 to the Ellettsville exit, which is Highway 46. Take 46 to Ellettsville. The road will split into two roads, one going into Ellettsville and the other going out from Ellettsville. Coming from S.R. 37, you will be on the road going into Ellettsville. When the road splits, get into the far right lane and stay there. Very shortly, after the road comes together again, you will see the Smithville Telephone Company sign on your right. This is your "sign" to move immediately to the center lane or turn lane. Depending on your reaction time, you will either see a road next to a storage-barn place (aka space farm) or the space farm. Do NOT turn down the road if you are there. Continue past the space farm, and the White Elephant is immediately after it, the only driveway on the left. The driveway is marked by a mud-brown, institutional-looking mailbox provided by the state. (It looks like a pipe stuck stem down in the ground crossed with a lazy mud-dauber’s nest. Look for the balloons tied to the mailbox.)Please come up to the front door. The door bell doesn't work, so please knock. If that doesn't work, please walk around to the double doors on the south side of the house, off the larger parking area. (Sometimes you can't hear well what is happening in different parts of the house.) If you get lost or run late, you can call Chris and Terri at 812-876-3540 (land line) or 812-325-9326 (cell)—and don’t forget to call them ahead of time to coordinate what to bring for the pitch-in. (For even more detailed directions, try MapQuest at www.mapquest.com.) We’ll conduct a business meeting and enjoy Canonical toasts and great Sherlockian fellowship as we eat. And expect some surprises as well.
And don’t forget to mark your calendar for the last of this year’s great meetings . . .
November [Date TBD]: Our Second Holmes/A.C. Doyle Mini-Film Fest
(Featuring Professor George Edward Challenger)
Plus our first meeting of 2006 . . .
Sunday, January 8 [Tentative]: Our Annual Victorian Tea & Sherlock Holmes Birthday Party
(Note: Dates and programs are tentative and subject to change as circumstances
change—but we’ll try to stick to these as much as possible!)
For more information, contact us at P.O. Box 26290, Indianapolis, IN 46226-0290; or send us an e-mail at email@example.com (And don’t forget to venture online to check out our Hated Rivals Web site at http://surrey-shore.freeservers.com, for recent updates.) See you again in two months, back on the ol’ Surrey Shore, where the game’s always afoot! (But you already knew that—didn’t you?)