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'War of the Worlds' or How to Survive an Alien Attack
February 16, 2020  | By David Hinckley

The good news is that when most of the human race drops dead in the latest War of the Worlds, they don't haul themselves back to their feet a few minutes later as zombies.

No, they're just dead, which come to think of it isn't really very good news at all.

This new made-for-TV War of the Worlds, the third time TV has crafted some version of the H.G. Wells sci-fi classic, premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Epix.

The premise arrives swiftly. French scientist Catherine Durand (Léa Drucker), working at a space observatory station high in the Alps, hears sounds that seem to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

The confirmation of her discovery electrifies the scientific community and the world, though their excitement is tempered when these noisy extraterrestrials crash large impenetrable metal objects to the ground all over the Earth.

Further killing the buzz, scientist Bill Ward (Gabriel Byrne, top) realizes that the sounds emitted from these large metal objects operate on the same frequency that Earth doctors use to stimulate neurons in human brains.

And the space sounds are becoming so intense they are about to fry all those brains.

All this gives the population of Earth a short time to be united in panic before the waves become so intense that most people topple over dead in their tracks.

This is not your father's ET.

A handful of earthlings manage to survive, either because they sought places sheltered from the sound waves or by sheer luck. A man who had been catapulted into the river survives because he was underwater. A thief who ducked into an insulated truck to avoid being busted by the cops was protected.

Bill Ward survives because he's smart enough to hop into an elevator. Who knew? He also saves the life of Helen Brown (Elizabeth McGovern, top), which is a nice touch because she had a restraining order against him.

The survivors all seem to have interesting backstories. Durand saves her estranged daughter, Sophia (Emilie de Pressac), thanks to an impressive burst of reckless driving.

The survivors also seem like pretty easy targets after that first wave of waves. The aliens don't quickly follow with a second round, however, giving the survivors time to start finding each other, slowly, and saying, "Huh?"

They don't have the hardware or training to hop into Earth's highest-tech weapons and fight back that way. But that's okay because a quick shootout isn't what this War of the Worlds is going for.

Since a number of the key survivors are pointy-headed intellectuals, they start trying to outthink the aliens. Specifically, they start wondering why the aliens wanted to wipe out all the people on Earth in a way that didn't poison the air, water, or other resources.

Running over eight episodes, this WOTW takes a slightly different approach than other incarnations of the Wells story. It doesn't abandon action. It just makes action share more of the spotlight.

Byrne is terrific, as always, and Drucker conveys nicely the bewilderment of a science geek who suddenly has to help salvage the world.

It's a good sign that we viewers never find ourselves wishing that all those dead people in their cars on gridlocked roads would turn into zombies.

And in the end, it's even educational. If you ever find yourself at the flashpoint of an alien invasion, get into an elevator.

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