The War of the Worlds (1953)

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Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy

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The War of the Worlds (1953) Review


Though he died more than 50 years ago, novelist H.G. Wells was a visionary, and many of his visions have stayed with us. A utopian and socialist, Wells nevertheless wrote dark books that were out of step with the progressive mood of his time. (For example, in The Time Machine he offers a rosy picture of the future - where one half of the human race eats the other half as food.)

Wells was one of the inventors of science fiction, and perhaps the first writer to think about just how bad an alien invasion could be. His novel The War of the Worlds was so effective that a generation later, the radiocast by Orson Welles convinced many Americans for a few hours that the invasion was real.

The first movie version, made in 1953, departs from the book in some ways but captures its foreboding mood, and it's a cut above most of the thousands of sci-fi thrillers made during the '50s/'60s drive-in era. The special effects are unexceptional even for the time, and serve as only a blueprint for the scary vision fleshed out by Steven Spielberg in 2005. But the filmmakers tell the story straight, and it's a strong one. There's even an inspiring moral: Sometimes the little guys win. In this case, really little guys (bacteria). (Wells is partly responsible for the fact that early sci-fi movies usually included a moral.)

Spielberg's remake is visually overwhelming. The visual impact of the 1953 film, to put it nicely, does not compare, but that doesn't mean it's not a good film in its own way. When the alien finally appears on screen, wow, that's some bad puppet work, but since the alien only appears briefly, it doesn't spoil the atmosphere. There's a principle of good filmmaking here: Sometimes the less you see, the scarier it is, and that's true even when the puppet work is good. This is vintage Cold War-era sci-fi, and one of the best films in the genre.

The new Special Edition DVD features a cleaned up picture, two commentary tracks, a historical featurette, and Welles' original Worlds radio broadcast.


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The War of the Worlds (1953) Rating

" Excellent "

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