Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite, Cedric Hardwicke, Lewis Martin
Directed By: Byron Haskin
Written By: Barré Lyndon
Rating: Approved (US) Running Time: 1 hr 25 min
Director Byron Haskin’s War of the Worlds, is a very loose adaptation of the classic H. G. Wells novel, and certainly inspired by Cold War era paranoia prevalent in the 1950’s. Set in California (as opposed to the book’s late 1800’s setting in Woking, Surrey), the film mainly delivers (at the time) ground breaking visual effects and sound design.
Gone are the novel’s commentary on evolutionary theory and undertones of Fin de siècle (end of an age); the fear of a pending apocalypse at midnight on the last day of 1899. And instead, Barré Lyndon’s adaptation focuses more on spectacle, and playing up a religious angle as the ultimate solution to humanities difficulties with the Martian invaders.
As an unabashed science fiction spectacular, it doesn’t get much better than this, and as the Martian’s destroyed iconic LA Landmarks, I was reminded of the big visual effects movies we get today from the likes of Ronald Emerick. Who also delivered his own interpretation of the H. G. Wells story with Independence Day, back in 1996.
Like that modern-day equivalent, beyond the great visual effects, this version of the story doesn’t have a lot to offer. Scenes without attacking alien robots drag, and the human characters aren’t given a lot to do beyond staring, pointing, screaming, running, praying and waiting for the end.
Despite the dated visual effects, this is still worth checking out, and at only 85 minutes long, it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. Keep in mind, this was the only film nominated for a visual effects Oscar in 1954. And the sound effects created for this movie were used in TV productions for decades after the film was released. Watched any classic Star Trek? Well every time the Enterprise fired a torpedo, they were using the sound of the Martian’s ‘skeleton beam!’
It would be nice to see this in a theater, but a screening on your TV at home will do. This wouldn’t be nearly as much fun watched on anything portable.
The visual effects and sound design are the single best reason to check this film out. A touch dated by today’s standards, but still surprising effective.