The War of the Worlds (1953 movie)

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The War of the Worlds DVD

The War of the Worlds (1953), was directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pál (the second of three H.G. Wells science fiction stories to be filmed by Pál), and starred Gene Barry, Les Tremayne and Ann Robinson. It runs for a taut 85 minutes.

This movie adaptation of The War of the Worlds is considered to be one of the great science fiction films of the 1950s. It won an Oscar for its special effects.


The story is updated to the 1950s for this film, and the Martians face more impressive weaponry, including an A-bomb (dropped by a "Flying Wing"); but, unlike the book, the human weapons have absolutely no effect on the Martian fighting machines. All is lost, with humanity defeated, until the Martians succumb to the "smallest and humblest of Earth's living creatures"(viruses).

Instead of walking tripods, the movie presents the Martian war machines as sleek, sinister-looking bowed crescent-shaped spaceships that float above the ground. Tipped with glowing green and featuring a towering mobile eye, pulsing, peering around and firing beams of red sparks, all accompanied by thrumming and a high-piched clattering shriek when the weapon is fired.

The special effects hold up quite well even when viewed over fifty years after the movie was made, although the briefly glimpsed Martians are rather weak. The movie is a visual feast, and one of the few science fiction films that do not talk down to the audience. There is plenty of scientific debate, while the Martians rampage across the Earth.

It was one of few science films to show a full-fledged invasion by an extraterrestrial army, and World War II stock footage was skillfully used to produce a montage of destruction to show the worldwide invasion, with armies of all nations joining together to fight the invaders.

Wells used the second half of his novel to make a satirical commentary on civilization and the class struggle. Pál did not write the satire into the movie, though he did add a religious theme to the film, which would probably have annoyed the atheistic Wells.

The movie stars Barry as Dr. Clayton Forrester (whose name was also used in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV series as a homage to the film), Robinson as Sylvia Van Buren, and Tremayne as Major General Mann. The voiceover commentary was by Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Haskin, the director, was a veteran of television who directed episodes of a number of TV series, including several episodes of The Outer Limits.

Fictional influences

  • Independence Day (1996), directed by Roland Emmerich. The aliens (not from Mars) apparently never heard of computer security, and used Earth satellites for their communication system. They were defeated by the plucky heroes installing a computer virus onto one of the motherships, a "clever" update of the microbes that wipe out the Martians in The War of the Worlds.
  • Mars Attacks! (1996), directed by Tim Burton. A more humorous treatment, and very loosely based upon the original story. The title comes from a series of bubble-gum cards issued in the 1950s; the appearance of the Martians in the cards and in the film appears to be derived from the 'mutant' in the film This Island Earth. In this version, the aliens are repelled not by the natural germs on Earth, but by Slim Whitman's yodelling which causes their heads to explode.
  • Ann Robinson reprises her role of sorts in two latter films: first as Dr. Van Buren in 1988's Midnight Movie Massacre and in 2005's The Naked Monster as Dr. Sylvia Van Buren.

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