It’s a safe bet that nobody watching Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” will flee the theatre in panic or call the police to find out if the alien invasion is real. The film will play to an America that considers itself far more sophisticated than the CBS radio listeners who fell for the 1938 Orson Welles Halloween adaptation of the H G Wells novel.

But is it sophistication or saturation that brings the nation this 2005 tour de force of special effects? While the radio audience of 67 years ago may have been more gullible, it was also more imaginative than today’s moviegoers, who expect the horror to fill the wide screen. Immersed in that violence, today’s audience may be seeking escape in the booming, brash, gross bogeymen of Hollywood. They may want to see the blood spurt and know it’s not real. People today think in terms of blockbusters, big names, and box office.

But there is a lot to be said for the quiet that allows the ear to pay attention to the careful unfolding of a tale. H G Wells was most careful with his prose, and the radio drama respected the craft. Orson Welles, playing a survivor of the devastation, muses: “do days exist without calendars?” There is little time for existential questions in the video game atmospherics of the new cinematic war. But viewers might want to take a long look back and ask a few on their own. — The Boston Globe