War of the Worlds

Year: 1953

Production: Paramount

Director: Byron Haskin

Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne

Screenwriter: Barre Lyndon

Based on The War of the Worlds (1898) by H.G. Wells

85 minutes; Color


Few details of Wells' novel remain. Following the success Welles had in updating the story in 1938, the setting is changed to 1950s California. The Martian war machines are altered from walking tripods to flying saucers shaped (rather beautifully) like manta rays. A stereotyped Hollywood love interest is substituted for the original story of a husband searching for his wife. Despite indifferent performances, the film is well paced and generates considerable excitement, partly through the spectacular special effects, which cost $1,400,000. The wires supporting the war machines are too often visible, but as a whole the effects - Gordon Jennings was in charge - are very impressive, especially in the final attack on Los Angeles: the manta-shaped vehicles gliding down the streets with their snake-like heat-ray projectors blasting the surrounding buildings into rubble are among the great icons of sf cinema. The dazed conservatism of the human response to the Martians is true to Wells, as is the subtext suggesting that a retreat into religious piety is also an inadequate answer, though here George Pal has it both ways: we are told that it was "God in his wisdom" who created the microbes that ultimately defeat the invasion. War of the Worlds is George Pal's most successful film production.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

Related links:
Classic Science Fiction Reviews I at scifi.com
Classic Science Fiction Reviews II at scifi.com


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