WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953)
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Classic 1950s science fiction flick is based on the equally classic novel by H.G. Wells. It has a meteorite crashing into the California mountains near a small rural town. Scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is nearby and heads there to investigate. When he arrives, he meets pretty Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), who joins him and soon they discover that the meteorite is actually a spacecraft with a trio of hostile Martian war machines inside. With more of these craft landing all over the world, the military surround the Martians in hopes of stopping them. The Martian technology is too advanced and our most modern weapons…most modern for 1953, that is…are no match for the invaders. As the Martians begin a wave of global destruction, Forrester and Sylvia begin a desperate attempt to find some way to stop them, before the planet falls to this seemingly indestructible enemy.
Film is directed by Byron Haskin for legendary producer George Pal. The screenplay is by Barré Lyndon based on H.G.Wells’ 1898 novel. The film takes some liberties with Wells’ book, such as with the design of the Martians and their weaponry, but most by way of simply updating the story to the 1950s and moving it to the United States. The basic tale is still there. It’s the original Independence Day and is a far superior movie, aging much better over a longer period of time. The SPFX may seem antiquated by today’s CGI heavy standards, but the wire-work, models and visual FX were quite impressive for the time and still have impact even today. The sound effects and Leith Stevens’ epic score are also very effective and add atmosphere. The battle sequences are intense and Barry and Robinson make a very good hero and heroine and have nice on-screen chemistry. The film is filled with gung-ho military types and strong religious overtones, as was typical of films of this era. It is very strong dramatically, even a bit scary in some of the earlier sequences, and has some pretty devastating scenes of city destruction and the panic and terror of the citizens within. It is simply a great movie and tells a lot of story and accomplishes a lot in it’s economic 85 minutes without ever feeling overcrowded, or it’s main characters shortchanged.
Overall, this is simply a great flick that still resonates almost 70 years later. The SPFX were impressive at the time and are still powerful today, even if the techniques have become outdated and antiquated. The Martians and their war machines are made scary and the film is populated with some fun characters that are stereotypical of this era of science fiction films. The leads are endearing and well performed and the narration from Sir Cedric Hardwicke adds atmosphere and dramatic intensity. A classic movie that has aged far better than a lot of more contemporary films with similar premises. War of the Worlds is currently available on a wonderfully restored blu-ray special edition from the Criterion Collection.
Rated 4 (out of 4) Martian war machines.