Sensing realism – Howard Koch’s Invasion From Mars
In October 31, 1938, one of the most controversial dramatized events was aired over the radio. Howard Koch’s Invasion From Mars, based on HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, aired on CBS at 8:00 PM. After this story, science fiction would never be the same. In this radio play, the Mercury Company preformed a play over the air about a Martian invasion that many listeners believed was a actual event happening. In the radio play Invasion From Mars; Howard Koch was able to convince many listeners that the performance was a valid new broadcast by music, sound effects, and tone of voice. Being preformed in 1938, the play was well produced and had great dialogue and description, making it seem very well.
By incorporating the cutting in and out of music, Howard Koch was able to give the audience a sense of realism. Howard Koch knew that in order to make the radio play become real, he would have to cut in and out of actual radio play. For example from pages 252 to 254, they play popular music in that time period and frequently cut in and out to report “breaking news”. This makes it seem like they are actually broadcasting news rather then making it fake and just starting out with the news about the Martians invading. Having Phillips interrupt the music time after time caused the audience to believe that this was a real broadcast. This is because if Phillips did not interrupt the music or real broadcast, it would seem way too fake. In addition, music in the broadcast provided a soothing effect and gives a sense of stability for listeners who tuned in. On page 252, they started out with Ramon Raquello’s La Cumparsita.
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The piece sounded very mellow and peaceful and then suddenly, half way through the song, the announcer cuts in and talks about the news about the eruptions on Mars. After speaking for about 2 minutes, he continues with the song, which ends with an applause. At that time, the song was probably pretty popular so cutting in and out of a song that everyone enjoyed had to mean that they were trying to tell the audience something important. This shows that the eruptions on Mars were in some extent important. This is because a radio station would not interrupt a song unless the information was truly worthwhile for the listeners. As a result, by interrupting the music with news, the audience believed that the broadcast was a real one.
Secondly, Howard Koch used different sound effects in Invasion From Mars to make the broadcast sound like it was actually taking place. On page 254, Phillips arrives at Grover’s Mill to give a first hand interpretation of what is going on. In the background while he is there, you can constantly hear the crowd screaming and oohing and ahhing and also the sirens of the police. By hearing the audience around the space capsule, you can listen to how they react to different things happening. The police sirens tell the listeners that something is wrong. Whenever you hear police sirens, the first thing you would probably think about would be a crime. This shows that something was wrong at Grover’s Mill. You would think this because of the crowds frantic reactions to the capsule opening and also because of the sirens from the police. This shows that there are actually people witnessing the event making the audience think that it is very real.
Howard Koch is able to use sound effects effectively again on page 262, where the observer and officer and calculating the degrees to shoot the Martians. They see the tripod release a thick black smoke and as it nears them, they start coughing more and more to the point that they can barely talk. By having the officer and the observer cough while we know the smoke is over them shows us that the black smoke is indeed poisonous. This shows that the black smoke is very harmful and caused the officer and observer to cough frantically. There is no way that they could have just started coughing for no apparent reason at all. There was something wrong. This is because the smoke came over them and got into their immune systems making them react by coughing. Howard Koch is able to add a greater sense of realism to the story with different sound effects.
Lastly, by using tone of voice, Koch showed an even greater sense of realism in the radio play. For example, when the lid of the Martian ship comes off, we can hear the voices of the crowd reacts differently. On page 256, it reads: “She’s a movin! Look, the darn thing is unscrewing…!” By using these quotes, we can tell that they are very nervous and surprised. The tone of voice is able to give the audience a first person reaction, maybe even causing them to look outside to see if any Martians landed in their yards. This shows that the people watching the capsule unscrew are very surprised and anxious of what is happening. This is because they have never witnessed a event even close to this one, which is why there are so many exclamation marks used by the playwright On page 267, Professor Pierson meets the stranger. They begin conversing and you see a part where it says [Nervously]. A bird flies through the air and the stranger became very nervous because he thought it was a Martian. This shows that they are really worried about the Martians invading their area and killing them. This is because if he weren’t nervous, he wouldn’t sound frantic and desperate. As a result, by using different tones in the voice actor’s voices, the audience was able to relate with the situation.
In “Invasion from Mars” Howard Koch made the story sound very real by using sound effects, descriptive dialogue, and also tone of voice. We should all pay tribute to this radio play because this play started the whole sci-fi fiction fantasies that we all like, Such films like Independence Day, Mars Attack, and Star Trek are all very like this movie. In this play, the audience actually believed that they were actually being invaded by mars, which would be pretty scary. By reading this story, we were able to understand how to show realism in different stories.