Blu-ray review: “The War of the Worlds” (1953)

“The War of the Worlds” (1953)

Sci-fi

Running Time: 85 minutes

Written by: Barré Lyndon based on The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

Directed by: Byron Haskin

Featuring: Gene Barry and Ann Robinson

Radio Reporter: [voiceover] “In the First World War, and for the first time in the history of man, nations combined to fight against nations using the crude weapons of those days. The Second World War involved every continent on the globe, and men turned to science for new devices of warfare, which reached an unparalleled peak in their capacity for destruction. And now, fought with the terrible weapons of super-science, menacing all mankind and every creature on the Earth comes the War of the Worlds.”

Critical Commentary

Released this month on Blu-ray is the now classic science fiction movie “The War of the Worlds” (1953) based on the novel of the same name, which sees an alien invasion of Earth with a narrative that sees mankind almost wiped out but saved in the end by something that is unseen but important meaning that this story can be reinterpreted as a story about keeping the natural world intact free from mutation in any forms by humanity. The novel and later the movie when produced were ahead of their time and even though there was little appetite for the film in the 1950s it was only made through the determination of the producer, George Pal and Ray Harryhausen who was not part of the movie at all in the end. After all these decades the movie is still a stunning work, it precedes all the blockbusters that were to come with the human characters taking a backseat to the spectacle of the action as well as the mass destruction.

To be honest there has been so much written and talked about “The War of the Worlds” that I doubt I could very much at all but I will endeavour to offer some small insights into what this movie means to me anyway.

Firstly the movie is set in Southern California, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), a well-known atomic scientist, is fishing with colleagues when a large object crashes near the town of Linda Rosa. At the impact site, he meets USC library science instructor Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) and her uncle, Pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin). Later that night, a round hatch on the object unscrews and opens; a Martian weapon disintegrates the three men standing guard at the site. The United States Marine Corps surround the crash site, as reports pour in of identical cylinders landing all over the world and destroying cities. Martian war machines emerge from the cylinder. Pastor Collins attempts to make contact with the Martians, but is disintegrated. Seeing this, the Army attacks, but bullets, bombs, and missiles are unable to penetrate force fields protecting the machines. The machines counterattack and effortlessly defeat the military, with their Heat-Ray and skeleton-beam weapons burning, melting, and vaporizing weapons and soldiers.

Whilst “The War of the Worlds” was produced by George Pal it was directed by Byron Haskin, although Pal’s fingerprints are all over this movie especially in terms of harnessing the plot and narrative together while keeping a balance that at threatens to come undone but ends up being a milestone in the sci-fi genre. Of course none of this would be possible without the source material written by H. G. Wells who still remains a giant of the sci-fi world having penned some of the greatest stories ever made, that have been and still remain a deep source for film-makers world-wide. One of the most amazing elements of Well’s own career is that the novels he is most well known for including The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898), The First Men in the Moon (1901) were all produced within a six year period which defies almost every modern author. What a time it must have been for Wells who wrote about the present and the future as well as themes that still haunt us to this day such as the fear of the other, how external forces can shape us, what it means to be a minority in any form and a host of others. Within his work it is easy to see the timeless wonder that so enraptures fans to this day and way with simple changes of time they are easily retold, just last year there were two more adaptations of War of the Worlds.

When George Pal was setting a cast he did not want to employ actors who were stars to overshadow not only the story but the special effects as well, which he did by casting Gene Barry, Ann Robinson as well as a host of other character actors who would be able to grapple with the script as well as the huge amount of special effects in the form of miniatures, models, costuming and a host of other elements that are now common place. To be fair all of the actors quit themselves well especially for a movie made in the 1950s, however in terms of those same performances they are dated so the idea that they take a backseat was a wise one in hindsight.

Of course as this is very much a special effects based movie the question is how does it look in 2021 with a new transfer to blu-ray? The answer is the effects still look amazing especially with the use of miniatures that were ahead of their time then but still hold the attention of audience. Not only that but the decision to use a three colour process meant that the image quality was superior to many movies that followed when the process was discarded for cheaper quicker methods. This is a movie that needs to be seen on blu-ray it looks incredible with all the colours popping even with some negative aspects that may be noticeable.

If there was any movie to purchase from the Imprint range that has become the go to range of Blu-rays over the past year it is this one, not only is the movie one of the best, it also has great effects, the transfer has been done very well and there are some truly great special features.I recommend this highly as it is a must have for any real film viewer.

Technical Commentary

Video

Imprint’s Blu-ray release is mastered from a brand new 4K scan and restoration of the original negative elements done by Paramount in 2018. It’s presented here on disc at the proper 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio. For the most part, the resulting image is gorgeous. Fine texturing is lovely, with a significant increase in detail over past DVD editions. Film grain is present and natural-looking but never distracting. Contrast is excellent, with deep blacks. But there is one issue: For some inexplicable reason, in the process of colour grading the film, the opening image of Mars (as painted by artist Chesley Bonestell) was left with too strong a bluish cast—it should be red with just a touch of blue.

Audio

Audio-wise, the Imprint Blu-ray includes the film’s English soundtrack in both remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 as well as an LPCM 2.0 track that preserves the original theatrical monaural sound experience. Note that while the film’s sound was originally recorded using Western Electric’s then-new Multi-track Magnetic Stereophonic Sound System in “three-track stereo,” only a small handful of theatres were able to exhibit the film that way at the time.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary with film critics Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman
  • Audio Commentary with cast members Gene Barry and Ann Robinson
  • Audio Commentary with famous fans Joe Dante, Bob Burns, and Bill Warren
  • The Sky is Falling: Making The War of the Worlds (SD – 30:00)
  • H.G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction (SD – 10:26)
  • The Mercury Theater on the Air Presets: The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast from 1938 (HD – 59:10)

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