One of the less well-remembered parts of the ID4 mythos is this audio movie written and directed by Dirk Maggs which was broadcast on Radio 1 on the Sunday before the movie opened. Like Stephen Molstad’s two novels – Silent Zone and War in the Desert – it weaves around the events of the film while telling its own tale. (Unlike those books, annoyingly, it’s not included in the official timeline for the new movie.)
It starts off as a “UFO Watch” featuring DJ Nicky Campbell and astronomer Patrick Moore as themselves, with the arrival of the aliens told in real time right up to the point where London is obliterated… at which point David Arnold’s score crashes in, and the next 35 minutes is a British-focused version of the film, with Patrick Moore getting the close encounter with the alien that Will Smith’s Steven Hiller has in the movie. The first part has an Orson Welles War of the Worlds feel, with people playing themselves alongside the acting cast – which includes Colin Baker and Toyah Wilcox, both of whom give great performances – but once we’re into movie territory, it’s a full-on tale of alien invasion, picking up the spirit of the movie but never losing the British feel. There’s a lovely little dig at the end that anticipates films like U-571 which downplay the British involvement in the success, and more than one occasion where the slightly absurd nature of the story isn’t hidden (the aforementioned Moore vs. Alien scene being one of them).
Moore seems to be having the time of his life, even if Campbell isn’t always quite as comfortable in the latter part as Moore (which is fair enough – he’s not an actor by trade!). Dirk Maggs treats the two parts quite differently: there’s an escalating tension throughout the “real” section (the bit with “John Major” and “Tony Blair” is quite alarming for all sorts of reasons), and then everything just gets bigger and bigger in the clearly fictional part, feeling like those moments in fantasy movies where the film starts in 4:3 and monochrome, and then suddenly goes into full-blown IMAX!
Copies cost a small fortune on eBay (and the version on YouTube for some reason runs about 4 minutes faster than the original, so everything’s gone up a tone), but if you get a chance, this is well worth an hour of your time.
Verdict: An under-acknowledged, highly enjoyable ID4 sidestep. 8/10