Ahead of the first episode of the new adaptation airing on Sunday, the BBC have released an interview with Craig Viveiros, director and executive producer of The War Of The Worlds...
Woking, 1905. George (Rafe Spall) and Amy’s (Eleanor Tomlinson) relationship is a scandal. They are a painful embarrassment to George’s brother Frederick (Rupert Graves), an upstanding servant of the British Empire, and pariahs in their own neighborhood. Their only friend is local scientist and fellow outcast Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle).
When a mysterious capsule lands one night on Earth at Horsell Common, George, Amy and Ogilvy are the first to examine it. However, as more people gather to study the unusual object it quickly becomes clear that this is no inanimate object fallen from the sky - but a transport for a living, fighting organism from outer space. As more people gather to study it, it lashes out and kills scores of people.
And so begins a terrifying ordeal, as more capsules land on Earth and release a horde of murderous Martian tripods which stalk England exterminating and consuming everything in their wake. As wave upon wave of Martian invaders land on Earth, mankind faces an almighty fight for survival. In amongst the chaos, George, Amy, Frederick and Ogilvy must put their personal difficulties aside as they attempt to hold onto their humanity.
Here is the director's interview:
When were you first aware of The War Of The Worlds?
It was actually in my grandmother’s house. There was a side room where she used to keep all her records, and as a kid I was just fascinated with music (and still am). I went through all the LP covers and there was this fascinating image of a huge machine tearing down upon a ship in the ocean. This was Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds. That was my very first introduction to the story and I listened to it over and over again, with Richard Burton’s haunting voice etched in my mind from then on.
How do you achieve a balance between the period drama and the modern futuristic elements?
One of the first challenges for me, when Mammoth Screen sent me Peter Harness' scripts, was how to make the technology feel relevant and scary today. There was a concern that one version of this could be depicted as quite tongue in cheek, and for it to feel a bit dated, so I asked myself, what are the things that scare me and audiences today?
The original book looked at the dawning of the industrial revolution and a diminishing empire, and we were keen to have our series discuss themes that were relevant today. Peter had answered these things quite cleverly in the script in relation to where we are as a nation. For me, I wanted to have a discussion about our relationship with technology and the advances in areas such as Nano technology and artificial intelligence. I came up with this idea of an exoskeleton that was self-forming and regenerating, material that humans would love to be able to create and harness - but the aliens had already made that step toward.
This was something that you could look at and immediately feel it was alien in nature and impenetrable and I think there is something about that that is quite frightening.
What was the initial inspiration for the look of the alien tripods in the series?
I would like to think every technology idea comes from nature. My initial inspiration for the alien exoskeleton and the tripod came from sitting in my garden in Lisbon. It was the height of summer, it was boiling hot and the pinecones kept falling from the trees. On gathering them all up I started looking up at the trees and think about the process of trees and seeds: how can I stop these pinecones falling? Is there a way I can lighten my workload and try and find a successful way of streamlining the process?
I started looking at the bark of the trees and studying the different layers and I realised that this was like armour for the tree to protect itself and a way of shedding its skin to inform its growth. If the tripods in our series adopted the same process, as if they were seeds that were born and grew, and as they grew they became stronger and tougher, that could mimic this layering of the bark I saw on the trees. The inspiration for the final look of the tripod exterior texture was also this tree bark visual.
The tripods need to look and feel organic, and to have a movement and life of their own. That was key to making sure they seemed solid and impenetrable, and the idea of a regenerative skin - this tree bark skin texture combined with the sound of these beasts - brought them to life. Every time you see a joint move beneath this exoskeleton tree bark skin it is accompanied by the sound of a crystalline cracking and creaking sound. This haunting crunching sound that the visual effects team could also match with a showering down crystal-effect gave a much more ominous feeling to these mammoth creatures.
The sounds of the Martians seem crucial to depiction of the tripods in this series. How did you go about creating it?
It was fundamentally important that I provide the actors with the most realistic surrounding in which to react to while on set. Being able to play the sounds of the Martians was key to help the actors react believably to the situations they were in.
I wanted to make sure that when the actors are hiding under a table from a tripod or reacting to a Martian there are as many things in place as possible for them to respond to. I didn’t have a 130-metre tall tripod towering over London, but what I could provide was an audio link and a sense of placing one’s self in the world. It was quite a challenge to run speakers and lines of cable everywhere and have the right sounds on standby and timed precisely to the action. It was a very co-ordinated thing because there are scenes where the tripod is communicating with the Martian, and the actors need to play to those communications and play with the rhythm of the scene - so when you are constructing in pre-production you are making sure the orchestrations are coming together and hopefully make sense when you come to edit it all together.
Was it important for you to have a physical capsule for the cast to react to on set?
I always want as many practical effects on set as possible as opposed to visual effects. However there are some things you just cannot do practically in order to stay within the budget. The capsule that is discovered by Ogilvy and Amy has so much human interaction with it that I felt it was essential as one facet of the Martian technology that we did have to have for real on location. It was something that the design department worked very hard in creating. With the capsule we had to plan it very carefully as there were several stages of the capsule revealed, with elements that moved and broke away to reveal the tripod inside.
Who is Amy and how is she portrayed in this adaptation?
One of Peter’s greatest creations in the adaptation is the character of Amy. She is wild, wonderful and brilliant and actually blew away every expectation of what a woman is supposed to be in this time period.
Amy is the leading light in this story as she tries to conquer and defeat the Martian invasion. Firstly her relationship with George is frowned upon, and for her to take on this relationship, to be with him for true love and even embark upon such a relationship, shows great strength. Having moved the story forward about five years from the original book, Peter has shifted the characters out of the end of the Victorian era and into the beginning of the Edwardian period. It places Amy in a time where there were lots of changes in attitude to women. The suffragette movement was in full flow and I think Amy wanted to be part of that change, pushing the needs and desires and rights of women forward.
What did Eleanor Tomlinson bring to the role?
What you get from Eleanor’s performance, as the story progresses, are these two different characters . There is a character that has a sense of optimism and what the world can be, although she needs to fight the laws of oppression and societal convention. Then as the world changes so dramatically, it becomes about survival. That is a completely different journey for the character to embark upon. It hardens her as a person. Eleanor shows both sides of this character with such ease it is really something to watch.
What were the influences that led to each episode having a visual tonal difference?
Whenever I begin a project I like to create a clear aesthetic journey throughout the piece. For this series I based a lot of the visuals on European romanticism and the works of Goya and Turner, and these ideas of really dramatic skies and deep tonal contrasting colours.
There was an idea that the landscape would start with the warmth of the home-counties, with the use of greens and blues, and then slowly turn into a deeper darker demonic red and then travelling into this bleak, black landscape that was left behind. It is an apocalyptic tale and as Peter says, it is the massacre of mankind. The slow transition of colour lent itself to the idea that the zest for life was being sucked from the land as we journeyed through the three episodes. Part of the piece is an allegory on climate change and how we take our environment for granted, and what happens if we do not look out for each other or work together as a global community.
How did you come up with the concept for the Red World?
The look of the Red World was based on our research into environmental disasters and places that are at risk of sand storms, intense heat and drought. That built the base of our apocalyptic world. Pat Campbell, the Production Designer, and I looked at how we could have come from this lush verdant meadow of the greatest empire in the world, and end up in this barren landscape that had no resources or anything to offer its inhabitants. Charting that journey was something that helped to create that visual palette throughout the whole series. Creating the Red World was one of the most enjoyable parts of this project.
With music being a key influence in all your projects how was the soundtrack of The War Of The Worlds approached?
The soundtrack was one of the most important elements for me, because we were creating a period drama but trying to make it contemporary so that it would resonate with a modern audience.
Some of the tools we had at our disposal allowed us to create a soundtrack that could exist in the world of TV and movies today. I decided to look for something that was not in keeping with the traditional classical score, that lent itself to a period drama but actually played with something a little more electronic to create a more hybrid score. It has a mix of classical and electronic and we tried to find musicians that would give it a unique edge and bring something fresh to the genre.
What is at the heart of The War Of The Worlds?
The War Of The Worlds has facets of visual effects, specials effects, sci-fi, action and period drama - but the integrity of the relationships between Amy, George, Ogilvy and Frederick is where the story lives.
I was blessed to have such wonderful performers in Eleanor, Rafe, Robert and Rupert, who could bring these characters and Peter’s words to life. They are the beating heart of what this story is about. It's essentially a love story and it’s about people understanding how important these relationships are in life. It is a story about appreciating what we have, whether that is who we are as people or the relationships we have with one another.
It also relates to our relationship with our environment and it is important to take time to remember that life is fragile, relationships are fragile, the earth is fragile and we should be respectful of all those things.
War of the Worlds episode 1 (of 3) starts on Sunday 17th November, 9.00pm-10.00pm on BBC ONE
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