Recently I discovered a show, which premiered in February, that is definitely worth a watch but may have fallen under the radar. Perhaps that’s because many of us are unfamiliar with the EPIX network. We all remember watching Tom Cruise blow up an alien with hand grenades in the 2005 film of H. G. Wells’s 1897 classic War of the Worlds. This new series, however, diverges from the action-packed alien-driven apocalypse that we have come to expect.
EPIX’s War of the Worlds offers a more personal perspective on an alien apocalypse: Imagine living through it. Vinnie Mancuso, over at Collider, captures the mood: “The Sci-Fi Classic Gets the ‘Walking Dead’ Treatment on Epix.”
Although the new series is set in Europe, the dialogue is mostly in English. We follow the paths of several apocalypse survivors who seek refuge from the alien robots that are killing any remaining humans. There are three main stories and each plays an important role in helping the audience see what is happening, why it’s happening, and how to stop it.
Unlike Netflix, EPIX is releasing the episodes one week at a time. As a result, there are only six episodes to date. If you’re like me, you might think about waiting for the season to finish before binging. If you give in and decide to watch the first few episodes, however, you’ll be stuck like me in the cycle of weekly anticipation.
So far, I love the series. It’s engaging and unique. Its approach to the source material is different from what I expected and it’s exciting. There are some mysteries in the series that I’m perhaps overly eager to resolve. I love the tension that the show conveys and the characters it seeks to develop.
While I can’t speak for the show as a whole until the season is finished, I can say that it’s probably going to make my Top Ten list for 2020. I even loved the fact that it takes place in Europe, which gives me, as an American, a refreshing, slightly distant perspective. If you’re stuck at home and desperate for sci-fi content to consume, I’d say go ahead and start that free trial. However, if you can wait until the end of the season, it might make the 7-day free trial a better value.
As a side note, in the very first episode, as the governments of the world scramble to contain the threat, most declare a state of emergency and order citizens to remain home. Now there’s a scenario we can all really get into just now.
Note: H. G. Wells’s early classic sci-fi novel, War of the Worlds started life in 1897 as a serial novel, published in instalments in a magazine. It has seen many adaptation, including (famously) a 1938 radio program which supposedly created a panic due to its realism. Later researchers have found that the panic was mostly folklore. But Wells’s vision clearly haunts many a century later. (The illustration above depicts a Martian fighting-machine battling with HMS Thunder Child (1906). Public domain.)
Here are some recent “wait out COVID-19″ binges, courtesy Sci-Fi Saturday at Mind Matters News:
Shelter in Place? Your Sci-Fi Video Game Binge List: You’ll never know where the long hours went. Has your ISP lifted bandwidth limits in your area due to thousands more Americans working from home? Great news for gamers too! Here’s my list of top-notch sci-fi apocalypse games.
How sci-fi treats pandemics Five sci-fi apocalypses to help you wait out COVID-19. One thing for sure, all those doomsday preppers, at whom we silently rolled our eyes years ago, are now crackin’ a secret smile. Never mind, us sci-fi buffs are going to need more than fizzy water and disinfectant. We need food for the mind! Here’s a sci-fi binge list, to keep our minds occupied.
Still stuck indoors and viewing the world through the silver screen? Here are some of Adam Nieri’s other recommendations and reflections:
2019’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV: 2019 featured many sci-fi television and movies that were less sci-fi than political narrative. In 2019, I fell out with Netflix. I felt bombarded by more and more edgy content, as though Netflix wanted me to know how “adult” it is. Rather than producing a few amazing originals, Netflix started vomiting up a ton of terrible originals.
Ad Astra: The Great Silence becomes personal. The film images the fate of those who seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.
Alita, Battle Angel A Mind Matters Review: If you love anime and felt betrayed by the flop of Ghost, I would highly recommend Alita.
Another Life All fun and games till an AI falls in love. Then it descends into a convoluted drift of uncertain storytelling. And the victim is not primarily the viewer, who has other options. The victim is the art itself.
Dirty Machines: Short time travel flick exceeds expectations
A Mind Matters Short Film Review: A tense soundtrack, intriguing ending, and thoughtful stylistic choices make Dirty Machines: The End of History a thoughtful exploration of a logically tricky subject. Now, if the director can just resist the temptation to get woke…
The Expanse: A Mind Matters TV Series ReviewThe attention to detail and the realistic portrayal of space set it apart from run-of-the-mill sci-fi. I love the deep mystery surrounding the show’s central narrative device, the proto-molecule. It is somewhat sentient and is desperately trying to figure out what happened to the civilization that created it and was then wiped out while it lay dormant in our solar system for millions of years.
The Expanse, Season 4: The Best So Far? A Mind Matters Perspective: Unlike critic Zac Giaimo, I preferred Season 3 but it really depends on what you are looking for. Season 4 is, as critic Zac Giaimo notes, integral to character building and plot development for the overall series. I gave it 9/10 in an earlier review. However, I don’t know if I completely agree with Giaimo’s Amazonian optimism. Season 3 set up urgent questions that should be answered by the end of the show, preferably beginning in Season 5.
The Feed—A Mind Matters TV Series Review: I started out thinking that the show was just the usual ho-hum tyrant-AI-takes-over flick and it is so good to be wrong! Imagine a world where your mind is stored on social media. Now, what happens if someone steals, then abandons it? What will you do?
Her (2013): If you created her, is it real love? In this retrospective Mind Matters movie review, Adam Nieri ponders the questions raised by a thoughtful AI film. Unlike Catherine, Samantha is exactly what Theodore was looking for. No surprise there; Samantha is, literally, adjusted and updated according to Theodore’s preferences from when he initially began speaking to her. She exists only to be Theodore’s soulmate. Is that enough?
How To Become Human—A Mind Matters Short Film Review. This new film turns a conventional sci-fi storytelling premise upside down. Rather than an AI struggling to become human in a human-dominated world, we watch a human struggling to be more like an artificial intelligence in an AI-dominated world.
Lost in Space, A Mind Matters TV series review. I was skeptical at first, based on Netflix’s track record, but was pleasantly surprised. If I could rewind time a week and add a piece of 2019 sci-fi to my list of the year’s Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV, I would add Netflix’s Lost in Space, Season 2—which came out just after I had published. Let’s fix that now.
Love, death, & robots Despite the trash and ruined expectations, several shorts were enjoyable and downright fun to watch
Nightflyers: A Mind Matters TV Series Review Despite its flaws, Nightflyers does not deserve all the criticism it received. It’s the saga of a ship of scientists making their way through the cosmos to unlock the secrets of a mysterious entity known as Volcryn. It turns out that Volcryn is not the only mystery; the good ship Nightflyer holds many of its own secrets.
The Outer Worlds—A Mind Matters Game Review: You must discover the dark secret of the Halcyon space colony, despite the greed and corruption of a handful of powerful corporations. After the raging dumpster fire that Fallout 76 (2018) turned out to be, I hesitated to invest my time and money in another role-playing game (RPG) epic. But I am glad I did.
Picard (2020): Episode 1 Is an AI-Themed Mystery. The mystery is related to another familiar Star Trek character. Seeing the Star Trek universe from a different perspective—that is, not from the interior of a starship—was super refreshing and rewarding. It gives viewers a unique look at what day-to-day life is like for other people (much as The Mandalorian did for the Star Wars universe).
Star Trek: Picard — On second thought, some serious quibbles. Now that I’m four episodes in, I’ve gotta say, the “haters” might be onto something. Not everything but something. Why does Picard seem to be obsessed with Commander Data? And what happened to The Federation? Star Trek fans are quick to point out that Star Trek: Picard takes an unnecessary malevolent tone towards The Federation. Why do the Romulans look different? I’m still watching but I’d like some answers.
Simulation: Would a simulated universe even make sense? A well-crafted short sci-fi film suggests, intentionally or otherwise, maybe not. I’ve seen quite a few sci-fi short films over the years and Simulation is certainly one of the better ones. However, beyond that, I’m not sure this film knows what it is; it’s an identity crisis.
Sprites: Will plausible robots replace movie stars? A short film prepares us to think about it.
Tales of the Loop: Pushing the boundaries of the possible. Simon Stålenhag’s captivating post-apocalyptic landscapes remind us that the world could, at any time, be different from what we think it is. Science fiction, as an art, has always meant to inspire. It’s meant to push the boundaries of the possible. And Stålenhag’s world isn’t just different, it’s unique.
Terminator: Dark Fate—A Mind Matters Movie Review. Aside from the fact that it felt like a retextured version of Terminator 2, I was constantly being reminded of the film’s obvious political agenda. Movies like Terminator: Dark Fate don’t seem to be made by people who care about the narrative. They seem to think that they need only make something that looks like a movie but acts as a medium for broadcasting their message to the masses.
Also, a defense of science fiction fans: Does science fiction encourage narcissism? As a sci-fi critic, I think most fans are just looking for a genre where they can understand and be understood. It’s true that many people who are attracted to science fiction feel like outcasts or disconnected from mainstream popular culture. And many of them feel welcome, loved, accepted, and validated in the sci-fi community. Does that really make them narcissists?