Director: Byron Haskin
Writer: Barré Lyndon
Cast: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Bob Cornthwaite, Sandro Giglio, Lewis Martin, Housely Stevenson Jr., Paul Frees, Bill Phipps, Vernon Rich, Henry Brandon, Jack Kruschen, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Composer: Leith Stevens
Release Date: 8/26/1953
MPAA Rating: G
When a meteor crashes into a small California town, Dr. Forrester (Gene Barry)—a former member of the Manhattan Project—decides to investigate. Shortly thereafter, a spaceship emerges from the impact site and vaporizes all who stand in its path. Unable to penetrate the craft using conventional weapons, Dr. Forrester—now enamored of a local woman named Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson)—attempts to defeat the aliens, revealed to have originated from the planet Mars, by exploiting a weakness in their biology.
The quintessential alien invasion film of the 1950s, The War of the Worlds is a phenomenal—albeit unfaithful—adaptation of the most popular science fiction novel ever written. Thus, for those who enjoy the works of H. G. Wells, this offering will make for an entertaining and inspirational viewing experience.
The action sequences in The War of the Worlds highlight a variety of top-notch visual effects that, when used to illustrate the skeleton beam and heat ray weapons housed in every alien fighting machine, realistically convey the overwhelming force with which the Martians intend to devastate mankind—an aspect that contributes to the mood of defeat, helplessness, and vulnerability required for the twist ending to impact the viewer on an emotional level.
Also worth commending is the air of suspense generated during Sylvia and Dr. Forrester’s personal encounter with the Martians, who possess many creepy, skin-crawling attributes as demonstrated during the farmhouse scene. Specifically, a common horror cliché is employed to harrowing effect when a Martian explorer—apparently determined to make physical contact with its victim—places an elongated, three-fingered appendage on the shoulder of Sylvia, alerting her to the present danger in a fashion that will likely revolt, disturb, and terrify the audience in a subtle but effective manner.
Despite benefiting from the gravitas of narrator Sir Cedric Hardwicke (whom creature feature buffs may recognize from The Ghost of Frankenstein), the opening monologue contains a number of scientific inaccuracies that undermine, if not entirely, an otherwise convincing depiction of two worlds locked in a war of self-preservation.
Though occasionally condemned by fans of the source material for its “preachy” subtext, The War of the Worlds deserves praise for emphasizing themes of self-sacrifice, good triumphing over evil, and faith in a higher power providing inspiration for those in desperate need of salvation—much in contrast to the nihilistic undertones that mar Steven Spielberg’s interpretation of the same story. Possibly the most poignant example of religious symbolism in this film concerns the martyrdom of Pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin), the unwavering courage of whom sets an example for others to trust in the divine—a definitive source of strength and resolution—over the uncertain technology of human scientists when combating the invaders from another planet.
The War of the Worlds is a haunting, rousing, and visually spectacular science fiction film. Especially incredible are the representations of alien technology in this production, which will likely impress the majority of viewers.
Overall Quality: 10/10
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