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War Of The Worlds

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: War Of The Worlds

Starring: Gene Barry, Les Tremayne
Director: Byron Haskin
Rated: G
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: August 1953
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Classic, Action, Drama

*Also starring: Ann Robinson, Robert Cornthwaite, Henry Brandon, Jack Kruschen

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Whenever a superior civilisation, state or life form encounter its inferior counterpart, the latter is almost always subdued or eradicated by brutal force. At least, that was the case with the state of international politics in late 19th Century when H.G. Wells tried to speculate about such practices on inter-planetary level. The result was THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, one of the first classical sci-fi novels that, like THE TIME MACHINE by the same authors, established the sub-genre of First Contact stories. Images created by that novel later proved almost prophetic, in the unimaginable and utter destruction of two world wars. The technology of the destruction was man- made, but for the victims, faced with certain destruction by unstoppable and technically superior machines, it didn't make any difference. The proof for that came in the form of famous radio-adaptation by Orson Welles, when the ensuing panic pre-ceded later horrors of London Blitz, Dresden and Hiroshima. The same feeling of fear and helplessness in front of the superior technology also resonated well with the anxieties of people in the atomic era, who used to live in the shadow of Cold War. Such atmosphere brought third incarnation of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, this time in the form of a 1953 science fiction movie, directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal, one of the legends of that particular genre.

The film begins with the narration by Cedric Hardwicke that describes Mars as the planet of superior, yet dying civilisation, desperate for rich resources of Earth. Martians are studying Earth and preparing for the invasion. First Martian probe lands in small Californian town of Linda Rosa. Group of scientists from a nearby observatory, led by Clayton Forrester (played by Gene Barry), comes to investigate, but the object is too hot and, before it cools off, Forrester takes much more interest in Sylvia Van Buren (played by Ann Robinson), daughter of the local priest. In the mean time, the crew of Martian probe awakens and the three local policemen guarding the site are the first to be pulverised with deadly Martian beams. Seeing Martians as hostile, authorities bring the military, but the best equipment of this world is powerless against the invaders from another world. Soon, the world is full of similar Martian crafts that start their unstoppable reign of destruction. While the governments of the world are working desperately to stop the invasion and apparent annihilation of the humanity, Forrester and Sylvia are trying to escape Martians that are now roaming the ground, outside their vessels. After they reach relative safety of Los Angeles, Forrester and his colleagues are trying to devise a weapon that would prove to be effective against Martians. But when even the atom bomb proves useless against Martians, all hope seems to be gone.

THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was one of the most successful science fiction films of its time. Its popularity came partly because the script seemed very much in line with the anxiety of the times, as well as with the traumatic memories of WW2. But the main reason was probably in the special effects, that were state-of-the-art for its times, and that could even be impressive today. The popularity of this film later transformed into cult status among the genre aficionados, and many successful and important science fiction films of the later age were heavily influenced with it. The example most often referenced is Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, although mostly in a visual sense, because those two films are extremely different in their depictions of First Contact and human reaction to the unknown.

When THE WAR OF THE WORLDS gets compared with another film that was heavily influenced by it, Devlin and Emmerich's INDEPENDENCE DAY, it becomes clearly obvious why the former is regarded as important classic and latter as nothing more than forgettable "thrillride of the summer". Its director Haskin was hardly a top Hollywood director, but the group of talented artists provided a whole series of memorable, spectacular and even today very effective scenes, especially those involving destruction of the cities and panic in the streets. The script itself, written by Barre Lyndon, wasn't so successful. Many times story meanders along unecessary subplots, especially those involving obligatory romance between the macho scientist and damsel in distress. The ending, although based on the original novel, seems somewhat too melodramatic and deus ex machina. And I don't think that H.G. Wells, known for his atheistic beliefs, would be too enthusiastic about its heavy religious overtones. But, despite those flaws, and despite the fact that it was firmly in the B movies category, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a classic that should be seen by anyone who really likes genre of science fiction in the cinema.

Copyright 1999 Dragan Antulov

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