Classic Sci-Fi: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

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Matt Donabie regarded this earth with envious eyes.


H.G.Wells' The War Of The Worlds remains a terrifying novel. 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 time, 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. But somewhat forgotten amongst all these versions is the 1953 film, 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. Films about aliens visiting Earth had up to than been relatively low key, they would 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 (1953) California, 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 War Of The Worlds 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 all versions of the story, and it's one that still remains genuinely scary. Overall, for a movie more than 60 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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