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Byron Haskin
Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite, Sandro Giglio, Lewis Martin, Houseley Stevenson Jr., Paul Frees
Writing Credits:
H.G. Wells (novel), Barré Lyndon

The original invasion!

Widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, the adaptation of H.G. Wells' chilling novel of a Martian invasion of Earth, becomes even more frightening in this 1952 film adaptation. An Oscar winner for Best Special Effects, The War of the Worlds delivers eye-popping thrills, laser-hot action and unrelenting, edge-of-your-seat suspense. No one who has seen the film's depiction of the swan-shaped Martian machines-ticking and hissing menacingly as they cut their path of destruction-will ever forget their ominous impact!

Box Office:
$2 million.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby 2.0
English Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 11/1/2005

• Audio Commentary with Actors Ann Robinson and Gene Barry
• Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Joe Dante, Film Historian Bob Burns, and Author Bill Warren
• “The Sky Is Falling: The Making of War of the Worlds” Documentary
• “HG Wells: The Father of Science Fiction” Documentary
War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The War Of The Worlds: Special Collector's Edition (1953)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 31, 2005)

Just in time to tie-in with the home video release of 2005’s Steven Spielberg hit, we get a new DVD edition of 1953’s The War of the Worlds. The first film version of the HG Wells tale, War opens with a prologue that tells us about the inhabitants of Mars. Their planet is dying, so they need new digs. All the other spots in the neighborhood won’t work for them, so they set their sights on Earth.

They come to our planet in disguise as a meteor, and the first one hits ground near a small California town. The inhabitants get all excited at first, and local scientists like Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) also get involved. Although the rock seems destined to turn into little more than a tourist attraction, it soon shows its deadly side and turns some locals into ashes.

From there the military gets involved as everyone finds out the real nature of the new arrival. More of them start to fall from the sky and the battle ensues. The movie follows the titular war between Earth and the Martians, with an emphasis on Forrester’s actions as well as his relationship with a sexy student named Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson).

Whenever a movie gets remade – or a novel readapted, in this case – folks will come out the woodworks to denounce the new version and acclaim the old. Heck, I did this for the 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory myself, and plenty of viewers assailed Spielberg’s War as inferior compared to the 1953 affair from producer George Pal and director Byron Haskin.

Hogwash, say I. I won’t call Spielberg’s take perfect, but in virtually every category, it outdoes Haskin’s version. This movie is so impossibly stiff and cheesy that I find it tough to imagine it played well 50 years ago, and it certainly hasn’t aged well.

To some degree, it seems unfair to attack the effects. They’re resolutely weak, but one may believe that this interpretation stems from the higher level of sophistication we now possess when it comes to visual effects. And that argument has some merit.

But only a little. Good effects are good effects regardless of the era in which they were created. The Wizard of Oz was made 14 years before War and it still looks great. There’s no excuse for the poor quality of the work on display here.

Rarely have I been taken out of a story as badly as the cheap visuals did in War. The Martian spaceships are the worst of the lot, as we can make out the wires that hold them up with no difficulty at all. Other related elements look bad as well, and the problems don’t limit themselves solely to visual effects. Most of the film was shot on soundstages and in studios, and that seems readily apparent. There’s always an artificial look to the presentation that saps any believability from it.

The weak script doesn’t help. This is one chatty war. The climax improves somewhat, but until then, we hear a lot more than we see. The movie pours on discussions and interpretations of events but rarely shows them. This makes the short movie plod along without much to interest us.

We certainly won’t find entertainment or intrigue from the stock characters. Forrester is the typical stiff scientist, while Sylvia exists for no reason other than to provide him with someone to tag along during the disaster. As for the other characters, they rarely register. Sylvia’s peacenik uncle Pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin) makes the biggest dent, and he gets one of the film’s best scenes. However, he doesn’t stick onscreen for long, and the other personalities lack much spark.

The only real amusement I got from this War came from recognition of references to it found it later movies. The 2005 War used at least one or two very similar depictions, and the segment in which the military drops an A-bomb on the Martians was clearly paid homage in 1996’s Independence Day.

I must admit The War of the Worlds disappointed me. I didn’t expect the flair and panache of the Spielberg version, but movies don’t need to be shiny-new to be good. Heck, I liked 1940’s Mark of Zorro although it was much less sophisticated than 1998’s Mask of Zorro. The 1953 War is just cheesy and dull.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

The War of the Worlds appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not without flaws, the transfer usually looked very good.

The main issues stemmed from edge enhancement and sharpness. Haloes popped up from time to time, and those left more than a few shots with less definition than I’d like. At best, the image provided well-delineated elements, but these occasionally turned a bit mushy. Still, most of the movie offered good detail, and I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering. The print seemed blissfully free from flaws. The only marks that appeared did so during stock footage used in the film; shots created specifically for War came free from problems. This was a surprisingly clean presentation for a movie from 1953.

Colors also looked solid. At times the image seemed a little brownish, but mostly it offered clean, concise hues. The tones were accurate and without bleeding, noise or other problems. Blacks were neatly dense and tight, while low-light shots presented good clarity and delineation. Without the occasional soft shot, this would have been an “A” level transfer. As it stood, it still earned a “B+”.

I felt even more impressed by the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of The War of the Worlds. In 1953, most films remained monaural, so the presence of a stereo track surprised me. I was even more startled that it sounded so good.

War boasted a very strong soundfield. Music featured moderately stereo imaging. Elements popped up from the front side speakers throughout the movie, and they helped created a smooth, natural feeling. Material panned cleanly and turned this into a lively setting. Of course, the attack sequences fared the best, and they also brought the surrounds to life. They never became tremendously active, but they bolstered the presentation and made this a surprisingly involving affair.

Audio quality also seemed solid for a movie made more than 50 years ago. Speech was generally concise and natural. I noticed no edginess and had no problems with intelligibility. Music appeared clean and lively, as the score presented good definition. Effects could be a little bright at times, but they still remained reasonably accurate and distinctive. Bass response was very good. Low-end reinforced the louder elements and brought character to the track. I rarely give “A-“ grades to older soundtracks, and don’t mistake that mark to mean that it compares with modern audio, for it doesn’t. However, within its age-related constraints, this one was too impressive for it not to get a high grade.

Though it comes with a list price under $15, The War of the Worlds packs a pretty positive roster of extras. We find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from actors Ann Robinson and Gene Barry, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific discussion. That fact will probably delight the movie’s fans, but not much else in this dull commentary seems likely make them happy.

Robinson heavily dominates the chat. Barry only pops up a few times; he tells us a little about his life and career early and talks about how great the film is at the end, but otherwise he remains mostly silent. Barry doesn’t seem to remember a whole lot about the movie and he adds almost nothing to the discussion.

Robinson proves much more involved and informed, though I can’t say I feel like she tells us a whole lot of value. She goes into many general production notes and anecdotes. She tells us little bits like problems with shoes and wigs, and she also talks about the film in general. A fair amount of dead air occurs, though Robinson makes sure the gaps never become too extended.

Too bad she simply doesn’t give us a whole lot of great information. Her notes usually stick with trivia and don’t dig into the film with much depth. We also get many comments of appreciation for the flick, as Robinson remains very impressed with it. That’s fine, but I’d like more concrete data along with all the praise. This commentary meandered and rarely became particularly engaging.

For the second commentary, we hear from filmmaker Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and author Bill Warren. All three sit together for their own running, screen-specific chat. This one works much better than its predecessor, as it covers many useful subjects. We get basic biographical notes about the actors and filmmakers, and we also learn a lot of tidbits related to the flick’s creation. These largely focus on technical areas, as we find out how the visuals, effects and sound were created. We also get some very good notes about producer George Pal, with nice personal recollections.

Some of the best parts look into prior attempts to make a film of War. We get info about a 1925 script and hear about others who considered taking on the project; for instance, Alfred Hitchcock once nearly took the reins. The participants all maintain enthusiasm for War; I may not agree with their feelings, but I respect their attitudes and think they bring a spark to the track. This comes through when they chat about their personal experiences with the film and how it impacted on them. Overall, this commentary offers a nice level of detail about the movie and becomes consistently entertaining and enjoyable.

Next we get a documentary entitled The Sky Is Falling: The Making of War of the Worlds. In this 29-minute and 57-second piece, we get movie snippets, archival materials, and interviews. The latter come from Robinson, Barry, Burns, the Paramount art department’s Jack Senter, art director Al Nozaki, first assistant director Micky Moore, visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, George Pal: Man of Tomorrow author Justin Humphreys, visual effects supervisor Robert Skotak, costume designer’s daughter Diana Gemora, and actor Robert Cornthwaite.

“Falling” covers the atmosphere at Paramount in the early Fifties, the slow path War took to the screen and the impact of the Orson Welles radio show, producer George Pal’s prior work, casting, locations, sets and various aspects of the shoot, visual design and Martian elements, other effects like miniatures, cut sequences, and the film’s success and legacy. Inevitably, some of the material from the commentaries repeats here. However, “Falling” keeps those elements to a minimum and brings out a lot of new information. Even better, we get some fine behind the scenes footage. I love the test animation created by Harryhausen, and we also find many interesting raw clips. This is a tight and enjoyable little show.

HG Wells: The Father of Science Fiction runs 10 minutes and 28 seconds. We hear from filmmaker Nicholas Meyer, the HG Wells Society’s The Wellsian editor Dr. John S. Partington, and “Mr. Sci-Fi” Forrest J. Ackerman. We get some basics of Wells’ life, the comparisons between Wells and Jules Verne, Wells’ prophecies and his politics, and how the War movie connected with its era.

“Father” is enjoyable and moderately informative, but it really needs to be longer. A life and career like Wells’ deserves more than 10 minutes of discussion. At least we get a decent basic overview and some fun elements like Ackerman’s spot-on impression of Wells’ squeaky little speaking voice; the program follows this impersonation with actual footage of Wells, so we can acknowledge what a good job Ackerman does.

A very fun addition, we get the infamous October 30, 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast. This lasts 59 minutes and seven seconds. The faux newscast format continues to work really well. I can see why it freaked out audiences so much back in the day, and it still seems chilling; the attack on Manhattan is particularly effective. It's a very good listen and a nice addition to this set.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the DVD presents some Previews. This area includes short ads for The 4400 and Star Trek.

During her audio commentary, Anne Robinson states that nothing dates 1953’s The War of the Worlds. Oh sure – nothing other than the visuals, effects, storytelling, acting, and all the hair and clothes styles. Almost everything about War dates it. I know that it maintains a prominent status in the history of science-fiction flicks, but more than 50 years down the road, it doesn’t offer much entertainment for modern audiences. The DVD provides very strong picture and audio along with a pretty nice set of extras marred only by one dull commentary. Fans will dig this nice package, but I can’t recommend this clunker to those without a pre-existing affection for the movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 45
3 3:
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