War of the Worlds (1953)

by | Nov 10, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

War of the Worlds (1953)

Produced by: George Pal
Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne
Studio: Paramount
Video: 4:3 full screen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, English & French mono
Extras: Commentaries by Barry & Robinson, director Joe Dante, film
historian Bob Burns, writer Bill Warren; “The Sky Is Falling” – The
Making of War of the Worlds; H.G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction;
Original theatrical trailer, Complete Orson Welles radio broadcast of
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: ****

Now that you’ve seen the recent Spielberg blockbuster with Tom Cruise,
it can be interesting to go back to the original Hollywood adaptation
of the H. G. Wells novel done by Hungarian-born puppet animator George
Pal in 1953. The extras detail the struggles to get the story
translated into a modern movie.  Even Alfred Hitchcock was
interested in the project it turns out. Wells himself – vying with
Jules Verne for the originator of science-fiction – told someone
wishing to buy rights to the story that it was too out of date, taking
place in Victorian England. But then Orson Welles adapted it for his
Halloween 1938 radio broadcast which inadvertently caused chaos on the
East Coast.  Still, it wasn’t until 1938 that with the assistance
of Cecil B. DeMille the story came to the screen for the first time.
The documentary on H. G. Wells is especially worthwhile. And it’s great
to hear the original Orson Welles broadcast, especially if you’ve never
heard the whole thing before.  (Just keep in mind that audio-only
files on DVDs cannot be paused or fast-forwarded and there are no
chapter stops.)

The special effects person realized that it would be too expensive to
implement the Martian tripod machines of the original Wells story for
the film, so he came up with the evil-looking flying swan-shaped
weapons used so effectively in War of the Worlds. Each heavy
copper-clad machine, with various lights and a controllable
“heat-ray”  cobra head, was suspended by 14 wires. 
Unfortunately, the wires are clearly visible in many of the shots, as
are wrinkles in the sky fabric in the background of one shot. 
Hard to see how it won an Oscar nomination for special effects, but
that doesn’t detract much from a great adaptation, good Technicolor
images, and not-bad acting. It’s not quite up to The Day the Earth
Stood Still, but close. The Leith Stevens musical score is suitably
dramatic and sci-fi-ish (he also did Destination Moon).

– John Sunier

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