From Wells to Welles: Pop Culture Icons

I recently finished reading the anthology edition of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Not only are the works that he produced amazingly well written, but the level of science fiction influence the multiple Nobel Prize in Literature nominee has had on pop culture is unfathomable. The so-called “father of science fiction” was prophetic in his critique of society and his futuristic mind that wrote of things like time and space travel, nuclear weapons, the internet, alien invasion, biological engineering, aircraft, tanks, and so much more.

His first of more than fifty novels, The Time Machine, popularized the idea of using a vehicle or device as the mode of traveling through time. Movies like Back to the Future and TV shows like Doctor Who can thank Wells for the concept and term time machine, as it was Wells who coined it. The Time Traveler story itself inspired the original creators of Doctor Who while a replica of the Time Machine from the 1960 Time Machine movie appeared and was a central plot device for the Big Bang Theory episode “The Nerdvana Annihilation.” Even the book/movie’s antagonists, The Morlocks, appear in that Big Bang Theory episode during one of Sheldon‘s dream sequences. The underground dwelling Morlocks from The Time Machine and the underlying commentary on the inequality of and use of class divisions inspired the writers to create the Morlocks (a degenerate collection of Mutants who looked too different to fit in with normal society) in Marvel Comics. The Time Machine has been on the big screen as two feature films, multiple television versions, comic book adaptations, sequels written by other authors, and countless mentions throughout pop culture. 

Much like The Time Machine, many of Wells’ written works have been adapted into movies or TV shows. For example, The Island of Doctor Moreau‘s characters and the plot have been adapted into countless versions on the big screen, on television, in video games, in other literary works, and in songs (including their music videos). The numerous versions include a New-Line Cinemas-produced version (starring Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, and Ron Perlman), a Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episode, and was the inspiration for a song by one of my favorite 80s bands: Oingo Boingo. Comic novels like The History of Mr. Polly. Futuristic science fiction novels like The Shape of Things to Come which was sadly more popular on Mystery Science Theater 3000 than its theatrical release (which attempted to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica). There have even been adaptations of one of the earliest stories to detail an alien invasion. 

Written sometime between 1895 and 1897, The War of the Worlds is (in my opinion) HG Wells’ durable work and is one of the most commented-on works in science fiction. As mentioned above, Wells’s science fiction novel is one of the first to detail an extra-terrestrial invasion and conflict. Besides the multiple feature films, radio dramas, a record album, audiobooks, comic book adaptations, multiple television series, sequels, re-tellings, and countless mentions in pop culture, the book inspired real-life scientists. Scientists like Robert H. Goddard, who, after being inspired by the book, helped develop both the liquid-fuelled rocket and multistage rocket, which helped in the Apollo 11 Moon Landing seven decades later. In spite of the popularity of the 2005 theatrical adaptation starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, and Tim Robbins (notably one of my favorite movies), the most influential yet equally pragmatic adaptation would be a radio broadcast many years ago.

During the 1938 Halloween episode of the Mercury Theatre on the Air radio series, Orson Welles’ adaptation of The War of the Worlds raised many eyebrows. The broadcast begins as a normal monologue that reflects the novel’s beginning, but unbeknownst to the listeners, part of the show includes news bulletins. The realistic news bulletins report reporting unusual explosions on Mars and an unidentified falling object crashing onto a farm in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. The “Breaking News” report continues with a correspondent reporting live from New Jersey. The news correspondent describes creatures emerging from the alien spacecraft and then the aliens incinerate the onlookers. The on-scene reporter describes the monsters shooting people with heat rays until the audio feed goes dead. That is followed by new updates of giant Martian war machines shooting out poisonous gas and killing everyone. 

Of course, the show continues, and the aliens are defeated just like in the novel; but during the broadcast, people were actually panicking. Welles’ broadcast was so realistic that it convinced a lot of listeners they were listening to news broadcasts from a real Martian invasion. Welles would apologize for the panic as angry listeners seek FCC regulations, but any publicity was good publicity for Welles. Welles rode the rocket of success way past the red Martian planet whose invaders would bring him his notoriety. Welles would go on to become one of the most innovative and influential filmmakers of all time.


Images:

Featured Image – HG Wells by Yousuf Karsh – Library and Archives Canada does not allow free use of its copyrighted works. See Category: Images from Library and Archives Canada., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=186576

H. G. Wells bibliography. (2022, November 2). In Wikipediahttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._G._Wells_bibliography

Image from Big Bang Theory episode “The Nerdvana Annihilation” (2008), Fair Use.

War of the Worlds movie poster accredited to http://www.impawards.com/2005/war_of_the_worlds_ver4.html, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16643429

Press Conference after War of War of the Worlds image by Acme News Photos – eBayfrontback, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37849780

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