No-one would have believed…
…that in the first years of the 2010s, a new version of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds would be created that is inferior to the 1978 original in pretty much every way.
The original album – featuring the dulcet tones of the late Richard Burton as the Journalist, is my favourite album of all time, so the release of a new version in 2012 replacing Richard Burton with Taken star Liam Neeson raised my eyebrows.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Liam. He was great in Schindler’s List, Taken (although the less said about the sequels the better) and, to be honest, pretty much every film he’s ever been in.
But I just couldn’t picture him (or hear him, whatever the right term should be) as the Journalist.
Being a bit of a fanboy for Jeff Wayne’s most famous work (I even went to the O2 Arena in 2009 for the 30th Anniversary tour, which was at the time touted as being the last tour they would do – only for them to do another tour the year after) I have listened to the 2012 release and I just cannot find anything to like about it.
Wayne explores the characters a bit deeper than in the original, which I suppose can be considered a positive. But, for me, the revised audio (including the frankly odd addition of some "dubstep" style elements) just doesn’t really work and dates the album even more.
My main beef with it though, is that Liam Neeson just does not have the right voice for the role – he almost sounds like he’s phoning in a lot of his lines, there’s no gravitas to them. Richard Burton’s slow, methodical recital of the lines, with emphasis in all the right places, makes for a far more engaging experience.
One of the best examples of the differences, for me at least, is in the track Dead London. Compare the dialogue in the original against the new version below – start at 3:00 if the embed doesn’t automatically forward you to that point.
Dead London (1978, Richard Burton)
Dead London (2012, Liam Neeson)
Neeson’s enunciation and general timing is all off, for me, and a general lack of ‘feeling’ in what is being said. Burton’s speech and the pregnant pauses between certain words adds a whole other level of emphasis that really drives home the emotion in what the character is feeling.
It also doesn’t help that there are weird echoes applied to the end of many sentences in the new version.
Perhaps it’s just because I’m so used to Richard Burton’s voice that I can’t get on with it – please comment below with your preferred version, it would be good to find out if it’s just me being overly picky.