I try to not notice the wires that are inevitably visible in the effects in 50’s science fiction. So here was something that shocked me: not only did I not once accidentally see wires suspending George Pal’s spaceships in War of the Worlds, I couldn’t even find them when I started looking for them. As far as special effects go, the 1953 War of the Worlds has among the best I have seen of movies from that era.
Roughly triangular in shape, the invading ships have a unique design: each have a death ray on top, a large red light at the end of a telescoping neck. It swivels around looking for things to obliterate, swaying like a cobra getting ready to strike. It’s as if the ship itself is a sentient being.
The invaders are Martians. Opening exposition explains why planets other than Earth would be unsuitable for attempted colonization. Through rather beautiful artwork, we see and hear about all the planets of the solar system except Venus. I guess this is another one of those 50’s sci-fi pictures with an anti-Venus bias. Suck it, Venus!
As impressive as the effects are, the dialogue and performances are better than average for this kind of thing, though not too much more than that. Gene Barry plays the same general character he plays in most of his other films. He’s named Dr. Clayton Forrester, which is the name Trace Beaulieu borrowed for his evil scientist on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Damn, did I ever smile every time this name is said in War of the Worlds.
Dr. Forrester (*chuckle*) is one of the scientists at the Pacific Institute of Science and Technology trying in vain to find the aliens’ weakness. There’s a pretty neat scene where the camera from an alien probe is hooked up to a projector so the people in the room can see how they look to the aliens. Seeing the separate blue, green and red “eyes” of the alien camera made me of the Technicolor process, which was used for this movie. I also couldn’t stop wondering why anything would name an institute something anybody would be abbreviated to PIST (say it aloud).
This is one of the few films of this type where the portrayal of human nature is as insightful as often as it is daft. On one hand, a riot during the evacuation of Los Angeles is a surprisingly bleak portrayal of human nature for its time. On the other hand, you get a laughable moment where, in response to an estimate the invasion will be over in six days, Ann Robinson utters, “It only took six days for the Lord to create the Earth”. Oh, how I laughed over that doozy.
The original movie of War of the Worlds is a justifiable classic but, though there’s much I enjoyed in it, it didn’t resonate with me as strongly as similar pictures like Forbidden Planet. The special effects may be top-notch. The writing and acting, not so much.
Dir: Byron Haskin
Starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson
Watched on Criterion Collection blu-ray