*WARNING: The following contains spoilers. If you haven’t watched seasons 1 and 2, we suggest you head to SBS On Demand and catch up before reading on.
Back in 2020, the bold remake of H. G. Wells’ classic story War of the Worlds asked, if life as we know it was destroyed, how would we cope? It was eerie timing given the pandemic that was about to unfold – not invading aliens, to be sure, but nonetheless there were plenty of drastic events and hard decisions to be made in real life, just as there was for professor of neuroscience Bill Ward (Gabriel Byrne), astrophysicist Catherine Durand (Léa Drucker) and all the others caught up in the events following an alien attack in WOTW.
And now, with season 3 about to hit our screens, in the wake of a shocking season 2 finale, there’s still plenty we’re likely to find grippingly relatable, as writer Howard Overman, and executive producers Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps reveal.
Read on to find out about what challenges the characters will face in season 3, how the team created the sinister dogs that are such an unforgettable part of the alien threat and the twistiness of time travel.
HOWARD OVERMAN – WRITER
Why does HG Wells’ original story still resonate with audiences nearly a century after it was first written?
When Wells first wrote the story, he was speaking to the anxieties around colonialism, which was the cornerstone of many enterprises at the time. As adaptations have progressed, we’ve seen how this narrative pointed to 9/11, and this iteration is no different in how it tackles the issues of today. We project whatever our fears are at the time of the story. Those fears change over time, so the story will feel relevant whatever the time period.
A taste of the gripping drama of season 1:
What makes the stakes for season 3 so high?
We’ve already seen the level of destruction that the aliens can bring in previous seasons. We’ve seen the aftermath of that devastation, and how hard it was for our core characters to survive that. Bill has sacrificed everything he has to bring us into a world where that crisis has been averted. Having spent so much time not only with him, but with our other heroes as well, the idea that his sacrifice could be for nothing is devastating. I think audiences will carry that as they watch the series.
What aspects of the character journeys do you think audiences will be able to relate to the most?
Catherine in particular is driven by the conviction that she should have done more to help her sister. I think if you had a chance to rebuild a relationship with a loved one, you’d take it. It’s a very human thing to desire, so viewers will be able to see themselves in that scenario. For Bill, no one appreciates the sacrifice he has made. He no longer has a relationship with his family, and that deeply affects him. Zoe, on the other hand, is plagued by the dread she feels because she knows the world is under threat and yet she’s not able to convince her colleagues.
What lessons can we learn from the humans and the aliens alike?
That we are very quick to see our differences but actually we’re very similar. In fact, we’re often more similar than we are different. Moreover, on both the alien and human side, we see people that are just trying to protect the ones they love. Of course, they’re coming at it from different sides, but ultimately this is their driving force, and I imagine this drives many of us, too.
What are you most excited for audiences to see?
There’s a real sense that this is the climax to the three seasons which we see through the characters, but I think this plays out visually too. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time in a ravaged world so I’m excited for everyone to see the characters in some semblance of normality. There’ll be a real tension around how quickly that’ll unravel. I’m also excited for audiences to see a new aspect of the story unfold in space. Not only is it going to look good, but it’ll add another layer to the narrative.
JULIAN MURPHY – EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
What parallels can one draw between the world in War of the Worlds and our world now?
There’s one superficial parallel in that we live in a world where the possibility of alien life is closer than it’s ever been. We discover planets all the time, we explore worlds on a level we never have before, and the idea that we could find something other than ourselves somewhere, is tantalising and close. I think that resonates with a modern audience who are very aware of the level in which we explore space. Space to us is what the new world was to explorers in the past.
I think also on a very simple level, this story depicts a world where we’ve lost pretty much everything – most of our technology, most of our structures, all the complex things we rely on and that bring life back to a very basic and raw level. I think that sense that our incredibly elaborate lives are very fragile, and that the world isn’t a certain place is something we live with a lot at the moment. I think that is why we’re fascinated by post-apocalyptic worlds, and the one in War of the Worlds is a very real one – one that could happen.
What were the biggest challenges with VFX for this series?
This is the first time we’ve ever done sustained VFX in space. Famous films like Gravity and Interstellar have paved the way for us, but we’ve never actually done it. We have a whole story strand set on the International Space Station, so we had some problems like how to film weightlessness, for example. The truth is we’re able to do things now that weren’t even available before, so I think that weightless movement is challenging but we’ve made it work.
We were lucky because we were able to learn from another program which allowed us to come watch them as they filmed the International Space Station so we could go from the lessons they learned. The minute we moved outside the Space Station, when the astronauts were doing space walks, that was unbelievably challenging. From how we create shadows because of the Station’s relationship to the sun, to how we move around the Space Station in a consistent way given the speed at which it’s moving, to how we use tools. We had to create all these 3D objects in VFX that the astronauts could interact with. The objects, something as simple as an astronaut picking up a bolt tightener, were the most complex things we did.
Speaking of VFX, the dogs provide an unforgettable manifestation of the threat that runs through this show. Can you walk us through how they were created?
All the dogs when they move are pure VFX, they simply don’t exist. We have two models for dead creatures, but they’re mostly for scale reference and for lighting reference, but the rest is CGI. Ninety-five per cent of the creatures you see are VFX in the series. These things are strange, occasionally cute, but also very sinister. They were sculpted and created by a concept artist, then turned into a 3D computer rendering, then the animators took it and figured out how they would move. We had a lot of versions of a creature walking, jumping, running and doing all sorts of things. We found the one that we felt was scariest then latched on to it.
The problem when you film with non-existent creatures is how they interact with the world, the set and the actors. For example, we need to make sure the actor’s eyeline is where the creature would be because frequently it isn’t even there. If the actor hits it, we need to make sure that they move in a way that they would if they hit a heavy metal object and that’s actually quite hard.
What parts of the visual landscape struck you the most?
There are two things that really grabbed me visually this season. One was a big location choice which audiences will see is a brilliant set. It was visually fascinating and a clever choice on the part of the designers and director. The other thing that is amazing is space. A lot of the images of Earth we see through the ISS were there on set, we projected them onto a huge screen. You get a little glimpse of how extraordinary, magical and fragile Earth is from space and what astronauts see.
JOHNNY CAPPS – EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
What makes the narrative in War of the Worlds so gripping for modern audiences?
I think what’s gripping for me is you constantly ask yourself, “What would I do in that situation?” It’s all about the human instinct to survive and whether you’d lose your humanity or gain more humanity. Do you set out to be totally selfish to survive, or do you embrace and help other people? I think that’s totally relevant to the world that we live in at the moment with all the polarisation and disinformation. So for me, this is one of those dramas where the audience can put themselves in that position and that’s what makes it such an interesting story.
What Howard’s done very well is create this extraordinary backdrop of an annihilated world with a few survivors being hunted by the alien race. At the same time though, he’s created these great human relationships where people fall in love and fall out of love. What would you do as a parent, or as a single person looking for love against this extraordinary backdrop? Also, I think it asks quite profound questions about where are we as humans now.
What about the time travel here do you think will be compelling for viewers?
I think time travel is always really fascinating. As a viewer I always love the concept of time travel because of the question of whether specific actions will undo things and the whole notion of the butterfly effect. Here the time travel isn’t necessarily true time travel in that one must accept the string theory where lots of things happen at the same time. I always find the thought of there being multiple versions of myself in different timelines living very differently to how I am now, to be interesting. It speaks to the crossroads we often face in life where we could have made different decisions.
What makes the stakes for season 3 so high?
There’s an interesting Cassandra syndrome with Bill’s character in that he knows he’s saved the world but in doing so, he’s wiped everyone’s memory. So no one believes or understands the sacrifice he’s made. Even though what he did in some respects was cruel, ultimately he saved the human race, and that’s interesting, especially for the audience who knows what’s going to happen. This also plays into the tension of our heroes needing to stop the aliens from annihilating humankind again. Moreover, just as Bill made a heavy personal sacrifice, the other characters will also need to make their own to make sure the human race continues.
How has filming evolved as the series has progressed?
I think with all series, as you continue to film, you get better and more confident. As you understand the tone of the show even more, you become better at making it. As Julian, Howard and myself are such perfectionists, we always ask ourselves how we can make the next season even better and we become much more confident about things such as high-end CGI and VFX. It enabled us to tackle the aspects of the story such as the Space Station.
I think interestingly the curveball was, seasons 2 and 3 were shot during the pandemic. We were limited in what we could do, so not only did we have to achieve our ambition as program makers to improve the show, but we also then had to do it in a situation that was incredibly precarious. It was weird on two levels; it made the show much more stressful to make, because we understood the importance of keeping our crew safe, but didn’t want to pull back on the ambition of the show. On another level, whilst we were doing a show about the annihilation of the human race, there was a pandemic going on as we were shooting it. So, in season 1 we spent a lot of time finding the best locations where we could edit out signs of human life, but in season 2, the London streets were actually desolate.
What makes the emotional journeys of both sides of the struggle so human?
I hope audiences will relate to all the character journeys for different reasons. Bill’s journey is amazing because he feels guilty about what he’s done but he struggles with the fact that what he’s doing may never be recognised, and he may never get forgiveness. Zoe’s journey is interesting because she also goes to great lengths to save humankind. The aliens also have touching stories and we should care more for them in this season too. We realise they’re people too, they’re not just an evil race. Just like humans, they have their devils and issues, but also their vulnerabilities.
War of the Worlds Season 3 is an SBS On Demand exclusive. Watch it here now. Or catch up on all of War of the Worlds seasons 1 and 2 here. Watch to jump into season 3? Here it is: