If the name Jeff Wayne is at all familiar to you it is most likely for one reason and one reason alone. The classic 1978 ‘rock opera’ adaptation of H.G Wells’s universal science fiction masterpiece The War Of the Worlds. The idea at face value seems almost mad. War of the Worlds with 1970s style ‘concept album’ music? How drunk was he when he came up with that idea? Yet it worked. It’s worked so well that Wayne and company have been perfecting a live show version and touring it around the world for 12 years now.
This is where audiobooks come in!
Earlier this year, Amazon’s audiobook service Audible made an announcement. They had teamed up with Jeff Wayne and several famous stars including Michael Sheen and Taron Egerton to produce what they referred to as a musical drama version of Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds. Being a fan I made sure to obtain a copy as soon as possible out of curiosity if nothing else.
Having listened to the complete story now I suppose the best way to describe this new edition is as a more complete version of Jeff Wayne’s original concept. Rather than just doing an abridged version of the story almost entirely through music – not counting the masterful performance by Richard Burton as The Journalist – this dramatisation feels more like a complete audio release of H.G Wells original novel but with Jeff Wayne, Michael Sheen and company providing the backing music and sound effects. Such an approach is surprisingly common in parts of the audiobook world so as a frequent listener I found myself lost in that world in no time at all.
Michael Sheen’s performance as the Journalist seems very appropriate to this version of the story. He knows not to expect mercy from the Martians unlike his fellow Englishman after all what mercy did they show the indigenous populations in the colonies? Or to ants when they get in the way? He does an excellent job of both the ‘stiff upper lip’ archetype, just trying to survive the invasion and as the Journalist driven mad by circumstance. The main example of the insanity being the entire section with Pastor Nathanial. Taron Egerton however performs excellently as The Artilleryman. He’s fully aware his superiors are idiots. Of course he is. But sometimes even the best of men can break in war. Especially if they are too much of a dreamer. They can’t face reality.
My favourite thing about this particular Audible exclusive release was the inclusion of new music and sound effects. To the best of my knowledge the music I had not heard before was variations on music composed and arranged for the previously mentioned live version. This new music is appropriately strange and creepy as you hear the Martians preparing for war or the humans desperately struggling to escape Horsell Common. The Tripod’s heat ray also sizzles and burns the very sky itself as the crowds run for their lives. The sound effects are perfect as you hear the machinery clinking and hissing as they move the Tripods on a footing of conquest.And that’s not even counting the most famous noise of all. Ulla! Ulla! Ulla!
My only genuine complaint is also strictly tied to music. As good and enjoyable as most of the music is – both classic and new – it sometimes feels like the occasional piece is too modern musically. As advanced as the Martian technology is supposed to be it can sometimes feel awkward to have the leitmotifs from the original 1978 version of the rock opera mixed together with modern 2018 style musical trends or to have certain moments grate on the listener’s ear due to volume level or sound effects. But regardless of that very minor complaint I still consider this version of JWMWOTW to be very worth my time and money.
I’m sure I’ll be listening to it again before long. After all…the odds of anything coming from Mars are a million to one!