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Two films take unique looks at classic themes

Date: 10/31/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

Several unique offerings are included in this week’s film review column.

War of the Worlds

No, this isn’t the Tom Cruise version of the venerable H.G. Wells tale. Nor is it the George Pal version from the 1950s. This new documentary examines the first time the science fiction story from the 19th Century was adapted into another medium: the 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles.

Although the Welles broadcast was familiar to my generation as it was released in record form and broadcasted by radio stations around Halloween, I’m sure younger viewers will be surprised to learn of the adaptation’s impact.

This episode of the PBS program “American Experience,” looks at how the show, which used a format of newscasts describing the actions of Martians landing at Grovers Mill, N.J., terrified people who did not realize it was simply the Halloween show for Welles’s “Mercury Theater On the Air.”

Welles, who at the time was perhaps better known for this work in theater and for his role as Lamont Cranston on “The Shadow” suddenly shot to national prominence with the notoriety of the broadcast.

Part of the problem, as the documentary showed, is the many listeners channel-surfed from the popular Edgar Bergen’s show during a musical number to their local CBS station that was carrying the Mercury Theater. The realistic technique of Howard Koch’s script drew people in, as well as the fact the show did not have any sponsors at the time.

The result was panic from many Americans and outage from others. For Welles it was the best publicity he and his show could get. It helped get him the deal with RKO that resulted in the film “Citizen Kane,” and Campbell Soup became the sponsor of the radio show.

Anyone interested in the power of media and the career of Orson Welles should check out this lively and fun documentary.


If there is one element of the horror genre that has been more over-exposed than zombies, it’s vampires, but director Neil Jordan’s new film gives me hope that talented storytellers can find something new for audiences.

Like many recent blood-sucking outings, Jordan and screenwriter Moira Buffini play with the familiar conventions. Their vampires can walk by day, don’t react to Christian symbols such as the cross and don’t have to sleep in the soil of their grave.

Vampires, however, are all men and part of a brotherhood that controls who should have this eternal life and whom should be their victims. They can be killed, but a stake isn’t required.

The story involves two women vampires, in fact, the only women, vampires, a mother and a daughter, and their efforts to continue existing while eluding the brotherhood.

They have been vampires for 200 years or so and their story is the center of this film.

The mother, Clara, (played by Gemma Arterton) has a heart-breaking back-story of being forced into prostitution as a child. She cares deeply for her daughter Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) who is an eternal 16 year-old and will do anything to protect her.

While staying underground is the key to their survival, Eleanor is burning to tell their story, an act that if completed would bring on the brotherhood for sure.

I can’t remember few vampire films that so artfully grapple with the nature of being such a beast and with the complicated relationship between mother and daughter. Yet, at the same time, Jordan isn’t afraid of giving horror fans some eye-opening moments of gore.

As a horror fan I really liked this film. I’m not sure if non-horror fans would give it a chance as they did the “Twilight” series. This is a graceful, but yet full-bodied look at the subject that is quite unique.