Classic Sci-Fi: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matt Donabie regarded this earth with envious eyes.

H.G.Wells' 1898 novel The War Of The Worlds remains a terrifying read. It recounts the story of aliens landing all over Victorian England and building cylindrical walking tripods to use as fighting machines. People were not just killed, but were eaten. A terrifying scenario. The population has nothing to match the sophistication of the Martians, and are absolutely helpless. When the invaders do die out it is not because of, but rather despite our every effort to destroy them.

It's been adapted multiple times, from the Orson Welles radio production in 1938 which convinced many Americans that creatures from Mars actually were invading Earth, to Jeff Wayne's 1978 musical album, which still holds up today in both its original and re-recorded formats. The film Independence Day was basically a semi-remake of the story, and of course we have the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg big budget movie from 2005. The new 2019 BBC production is a very promising adaptation. Finally we have a take on War Of The Worlds set in Victorian times but, on the strength of the first episode alone, writer Peter Harness has adapted the story to be a double hander, with Eleanor Tomlinson's Amy given as much of the heavy lifting, if not more, as Rafe Spall's George.

Somewhat forgotten amongst all these versions of The War Of The Worlds is the very first theatrical version, which is a shame. It's not perfect, and deviates form the book considerably, but it's still very enjoyable.

Just imagine how spectacular and frightening The War Of The Worlds must have seemed to 1953 cinema audiences when it was first released. Films about aliens visiting Earth had, up to then, been relatively low key. They would often have aliens taking human form, or coming in peace, or just taking over a small town. But here the aliens are intent on just one thing - the complete and utter destruction and extermination of everything and everyone on Earth.

The screenplay by Barré Lyndon updates and relocates the story to modern day California of the early 1950s, which was done primarily for budgetary reasons - a Californian locale being far cheaper than recreating Victorian London. But the updating of the story also serves another purpose which helps the movie substantially. Setting it in the age of nuclear weapons allowed the besieged Earthlings to confront the Martian invaders with a much more powerful array of weapons than anything dreamed of in 1898. So as audiences watched the Martian fighting machines proving to be invulnerable even to the most advanced nuclear explosives mankind had, weapons which in reality seemed like the most destructive force man could ever conceive, the impact is far greater to the audience than viewing the invaders being fired upon by the small and relatively crude horse-drawn cannons featured in the original story.

Of course to audiences today many aspects of the 1953 The War Of The Worlds adaptation will look dated and may even seem laughable. Amongst them the sometimes visible wires of the Martian fighting machines, and the repeated military stock shots. But perhaps the one element that gives its age away is the religious tone. H.G. Wells was an atheist and so included none of this in his original novella, but here we have the suggestion that it was God who got rid of the Martians. Something even more baffling when you consider that the main character has now become a scientist rather than a journalist. On a more personal level, I do miss the huge tripods, but the designs of the briefly seen Martians, their fighting machines (wires notwithstanding)  and their 'cameras' still look great.

For those of us willing to open our minds to an era of cinematic adventure, The War Of The Worlds has many scenes which are still extremely effective today. Most notable is the lengthy sequence in which the hero and heroine are trapped in a house by Martians, it's one that appears adapted in some form in all versions of the story so far, and it's one that still remains genuinely scary. Overall, for a movie more than 66 years old The War Of The Worlds is still worth your time, and, although not exactly faithful to the source material, easily ranks as one of the most impressive alien pictures of the 1950s.

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