After watching Spielberg's version of War of the Worlds, I realized that the ending sucked, so I watched the old version to see if the ending was any better. Then I decided to read the original book, and I also realized I had a couple other alternate book versions of it lying around. So here's a comparison of five different versions of Martians kicking Earth's ass. Warning! Spoilers for a story over a hundred years old!
Its dry and unattached attitude is occasionally boring, but it's still extremely imaginative, given as it is pretty much the first novel to imagine alien invasion and all that. The devotion to telling the reader exactly where the Martians attacked would probably be better if the reader actually lived in England. My main complaint with this book is that The Time Machine is better.
THE BYRON HASKIN MOVIE
Much like Wells' novel set the standard for books, this movie set the standard for alien invasions. It deviates a lot from Wells' novel, making the main character a scientist who pretty much mostly just follows the military around, thus removing most of the tension of panicking humans and Martians terrorizing the countryside. Oh, and the special effects didn't support tripods back then, so the war machines are flying things that were modeled after swans. Seriously. Because when I think of horrible engines of destruction, I always imagine them as graceful swans. I'm willing to forgive their war machines for sucking, though, because their Martians actually look a lot better than Spielberg's, plus that sequence with the electronic eye gave me recurring nightmares as a kid.
The ending is much better than Spielberg's, too, possibly even better than Wells' ending. The main character, separated from his love interest in the mob fleeing Los Angeles, wanders through the deserted city while Martians destroy it, ultimately joining a group taking refuge in a church and singing hymns, waiting for the heat ray that never comes, because God saved them by killing off all the Martians with germs. Although God didn't save the minister that tried to make peace with the Martians earlier. No, God just let him get vaporized.
THE STEVEN SPIELBERG MOVIE
Apart from the opening and the main character, Spielberg's version is essentially true to the original, only adapted somewhat for the modern day. The Martians' hunting-horn? The red weed? The vampirism? The crazy guy? All from the book. Unlike the book, however, Spielberg puts a lot of emotion into his scenes. I really like the war machines in this one, because they're such efficient engines of destruction. Having to wash particles of carbonized human from your body is pretty neat from a horror standpoint, although I'm unsure why the heat ray doesn't work on hats. Must be using Krankorian technology.
The ending sucks, though, and it sucks hard. Martians killed by germs? How boring. At least Wells offered us an epilogue telling us of what happened after everything got cleaned up. This one just fades out on with Morgan Freeman telling us how great paramecium are.
THE "LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN" VERSION
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, volume two covers the Martian invasion of Earth, and Britain's secret efforts to destroy it. While the details of the story as Wells describes are included more or less accurately, right down to including the same lines of dialogue from the sequence at the first landing, there's much more liberty taken with the back end. The League is called upon to run around and do various errands: Hyde and Nemo to defend London, and Quatermain and Ms. Murray have to go pay a visit to Dr. Moreau to go retrieve one of his hybrids to fight the Martians. Oh, and the Invisible Man turns traitor and sells us out to the Martians. Because he's a bastard.
In this version, the Martians aren't even originally from Mars - they're a parasite-like race that set up camp on Mars, but were driven off with the combined forces of John Carter and Lieutenant Gulliver Jones, plus some of C.S. Lewis' Seroni. However, they had made plans to invade Earth. The tripods in League are probably the best-looking rendition, being very sinister and organic, true to the original. Ultimately, the Martians are killed off by germs again, but in this version, it's by Moreau's hybrid of anthrax and streptococcus used against them by the secret Freemason branch of the British army. And the League falls apart, because the Invisible Man and Mr. Hyde are dead and Nemo is really upset at the British for developing germ bombs. It's still kind of a disappointing ending, but at least there's finally another volume coming out next month.
"NIGHT OF THE COOTERS" BY HOWARD WALDROP
Howard Waldrop's stories are best described as "indescribably strange." This is a story about what happened to the Martians who invaded Texas. Spoilers: They were foiled by a sheriff who was intended to be played by Slim Pickens. There are a lot of stories like this, but Howard Waldrop's has Slim Pickens talking about how he had a dream where he was an Aztec warrior, so his is clearly the best. Texas should not be messed with, because they have cannons and they will shoot them at you.
THE ORSON WELLES MERCURY RADIO THEATER VERSION
Pretty much the best one as far as I'm concerned. Radio has a very compellingly hypnotic quality, and the realistic presentation of the first half combined with the vagueness of the description and the vaguely eulogistic tones of Welles' voice just really make this one work for me. It also has the black smoke and the Martians' efforts to build a flying machine, both of which get left out of most versions. The ending still sucks, but at least it's being read by Orson Welles.
Closest Adaptation: Either Welles or Spielberg.
Best War Machines: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Most Badass War Machines: Spielberg.
Best Martians: Byron Haskins. All other Martians suck by comparison. Why is that?
The Time Machine is a better novel, but not as popular for adaptations. The original movie is good too, but not the remake.