Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Uuuullllllaaaaaaaaaa !!!

As a kid I listened for hours to Richard Burton's epic journey through Victorian England under the Martians in Jeff Wayne's musical version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Probably the best part was when Burton described the appearance of the first Martian in Horsell Common and the Heat Ray:
Two luminous disc-like eyes appeared above the rim. A huge, rounded bulk, larger than a bear, rose up slowly, glistening like wet leather. Its lipless mouth quivered and slavered and snake-like tentacles writhed as the clumsy body heaved and pulsated.
The album triggered my love for sci-fi, and a tech fascination as a likely spin-off. I never really cared for the first movie adaptation (1953), in which the Martian's tripods were replaced with space ships and 19th century England became the 1950's rural America. I may however go see Spielberg's upcoming version, which is where this small War of the Copyright Wars starts. Not an alien invasion, but a cinematic one has given rise to a bit of copyright row between Paramount and an obscure DVD distributor called AUV. Just before Paramount is set to release Spielberg's War of the World this summer AUV will release...War of the Worlds.

AUV's version is produced by Pendragon Pictures, and as a project initiated before that of Paramount's. Pendragon has been giving signs all along the production trail that the movie would get a theatrical release. Now it seems that it will go straight to DVD and be available in 60 000 outlets across the US. Paramount is not amused and fears that consumers will be confused and buy AUV's version, instead of its $130 million Tom Cruise-Spielberg production. AUV has done this kind of free-riding before with Disney animations and by making Russel Crowe a headliner on the DVD cover of Prisoner of the Sun, in which he had a very tiny role. This action comfortably coincided with the release of blockbuster Master & Commander.

Paramount has warned AUV not to release War of the Worlds in Europe and Asia or face a lawsuit over copyright infringement. While H.G. Wells' work is in the public domain in the US (death Wells in 1946 + 50 years=1996), Paramount has claims on the movie rights outside the US, negotiated thtrough contract with Wells' heirs in 1951. Pendragon Pictures has supposedly gotten a statement from Paramount acknowledging the right to make its version of the War of the Worlds, but this does not release AUV from copyright infringement claims if it distributes the movie outside the US. And it looks like Pendragon was aming all along at a US straight-to-DVD release, rather than theatrical showings. Different copyright terms from different copyright worlds may keep at least one War of the Worlds from raging on a global scale.
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Martian Linkfest:
Jeff wayne's War of the Worlds: Introduction and The Eve of War (MP3s)
War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells Project Gutenberg book download
Orson Welles' War of the Worlds Mercury Theatre Broadcast (1938) (MP3, long download) + Script
New York Times article (1938) on mass hysteria caused by Orson Welles' broadcast
War of the Worlds (1953) IMDB
War of the Worlds (2005-Pendragon) IMDB
War of the Worlds (2005-Paramount) IMDB
Forum on Pendragon's War of the World


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