The War of the Worlds (1953)

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*. A no-name cast, because the Martians are the stars. You may not know Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, but those iconic manta-ray, cobra-headed Martian ships have entered the SF collective consciousness. And for good reason.

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*. And it’s not just a no-name cast. Pop quiz: Who directed this film? Hint: It wasn’t George Pal.
*. There’s no global or even national response to the invasion, despite Washington being said to be in touch with other countries. Instead we get local solutions to local problems. Certainly (two-star) General Mann’s response is wholly inadequate to the initial landing. And there’s no indication that the handful of scientists at Pacific Tech Institute are working with anyone else.
*. Not that the scientists are of much use anyway. Humanity can only be saved by divine intervention. A conclusion Wells would not have endorsed, but one very close to George Pal’s heart.

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*. Sincere or not, the business of having the pastor walking toward the Martians as a martyr, and duly getting blown away, strikes me as ridiculous. It advances the movie’s strained Christian message (underlined by the film’s closing prayer), but it’s just a repetition of seeing the three men incinerated after trying to make contact by waving a white flag. How does Pastor Matthew think he is going to communicate with the Martians? Does he think they are going to recognize the Bible he’s holding up?
*. To his credit, however, the good pastor does get in one remarkably subversive line just before his death, remarking how since the Martians are more advanced they must be nearer to the Creator for that reason. Ha! This invasion is the wrath of Darwin’s God!
*. The model work is great. From the farmhouse to the streets of L.A., the buildings look as close to real as you could expect. Added to the use of studio sets and a palette of primary colours, it almost feels like a trip to Legoland come to life.

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*. I think showing the Martians is a mistake. The creature isn’t very scary, and was apparently a rush job (though I want to note that the build-up to its first full appearance is excellent).
*. The eye looks particularly silly, almost like some pre-school electronic game. The best that can be said of it is how well it reinforces the film’s garish use of Technicolor.
*. There’s so much irrelevant technical information introduced. The Martians are radioactive. So? This “epidiascope” lets us see how the Martians see us, with some noticeable “shift in their spectrum.” So? Their laser beams disrupt the force of mesons, disintegrating matter. So? How is any of this news we can use?
*. A classic of the golden age (of SF, not Hollywood): suffused with a strange, theatrical, otherworldly beauty that we never saw again.

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