Thursday, July 16, 2020
Invasion! Watch: War of the Worlds (1953)
Format: Criterion BluRay
Director: Byron Haskin
War of the Worlds (1953) the movie and the Mercury Theatre radio play from 1938 are so baked into my formative years, they're alongside Superman, King Kong, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and other popular fictions that make up the mythology and common language for a lot of born in the shadow of the mid-20th Century.
I saw the movie after buying and listening to the Orson Welles radio program when my dad found out I was interested in the radio show and the events surrounding it that I'd read about in a magazine. My dad, always one to say "if you liked that, you need to check out this", got me to the video store within a few days and we sat down and watched it together.
What's remarkable is how genuinely *thrilled* I was by the movie, in both senses of the word. The movie only has one or two quasi-jump scares, but - as was the novel (which I finally read about 15 years ago) and the radio show - the movie is so relentless in putting all of Earth on its heels, from the moment the three pals approach the ship waving a white flag onto get atomized, it's some weird viewing. There's no brilliant but dangerous plan to be enacted that defeats the aliens - humanity loses this one.
As I've pitched the movie - in the middle of a pandemic, it's a lovely reminder of the time germs were our friends.
Lovingly restored by Paramount and just released by Criterion, War of the Worlds is a movie geek's dream. There's so many technical aspects to the movie worth discussing, from the original three-strip technicolor to the construction of the Martian crafts, to the myriad visual effects, matte paintings and absolutely perfect sound effects - an army of character actors, and two leads who've somewhat otherwise fallen through the cracks of film nostalgia - it's an amazing technical achievement, done so well it holds up as a visual masterpiece. And, in fact, with this restoration, is just an astonishingly crafted, visually beautiful film.
If the last time you've seen the movie was from the 2005 re-release, run (don't walk!) to watch this version, which recovers the original color palette employed in almost punchy candy colors, restores the visual effects to maximum effectiveness, and has cleaned up audio and re-created sound effects by no less than Ben Burtt.
The movie features the typically generous collection of extra features that get me to pay the entry fee for Criterion discs. There are a few documentaries, the 1938 radio drama, an interview from San Antonio's KTSA with Orson Welles and HG Wells, and more.
The movie itself is just as gripping as ever. From small town America to the final scenes in the fall of Los Angeles, it's anchored by focal characters Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) - a scientist and professor of Library Science, who happened to be there when one of the initial craft came down and are there throughout. And, of course, there's a romance a-bloomin' between the two. Through Barry and Robinson, we get the realization of the horror of the situation, but the still very human need for connection in the darkest hour. A parable for any time, really.
If you've never seen the movie - now is the time! This restoration is utterly remarkable. If you have seen it but it's been a while - do it for the same reason and to remind yourself of one of the md-20th Century's finest technical filmic achievements, and to get all the bonus materials from Criterion.