The War of the Worlds made in 1953 is one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made and deservedly so with its top-notch performances, cutting edge technology (for the time) and completely engrossing story. Based upon the novel by H.G. Wells with some obvious differences, it remains to this day a true classic of the genre and set a bar for the following decades that other science-fiction movies could only hope to attain. The story has been adapted many times over the years, to both the big and small screen, in comic form and more famously, a radio drama by Orson Welles. Aside from that aforementioned radio broadcast and the novel itself, the best interpretation has been this first movie directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal.
The movie begins with a narration by Sir Cedric Hardwicke in what can only be described as a perfect opener. It seems a little strange at first, like you are almost watching a newsreel or documentary, but it all fits together like a glove and you would not have it any other way. The film is absolutely riveting from that first moment until the last and part of that is due to that brilliant opening. As things progress from the simple falling of a meteor and the introduction of the main characters, to the possibility of alien life and what it could mean if it were to exist and then to the near-destruction of the human race; it is all both incredibly thrilling and terrifying at the same time. More than anything, it is the terror of it all, the horror that these aliens have come to Earth with the express purpose of scrubbing the human race from the face of the planet and have no compunctions about doing so that keeps you watching and waiting in anticipation of what comes next.
For the longest time during this film, you have no idea if man will win or even if he can. The main character of the movie is Dr. Clayton Forrester as played by Gene Barry with Ann Robinson starring across from him as Sylvia van Buren. The film essentially follows them from beginning to end as it not only gives humanity a face for the viewers to associate and empathize with, but a witness to chronicle the end of the world. Forrester is so hopeful at the beginning, filled with wonder and curiosity at just what the meteor might be when it first lands. Even with the reveal of the aliens, he never even thinks that they might be as dangerous as they turned out to be. By the end of the film, the man that he was is essentially gone, replaced with one that only knows fear and desperation like much of the rest of the populace and you feel for the man and for Sylvia. Though the two lose each other for a time, they meet up, finding love and some measure of comfort in the other’s presence before what they believe to be the end, only to realize that a miracle has taken place and life of some sort will continue on.
The special effects are incredible for a film made in the year 1953. As is most often the case, you might see cheaply made ships and costumes, strings and masking tape and what have you and the only thing holding the movie up would be the performances and the script – if they were good enough. Here, everything works in tandem, the ships and the aliens looking fantastic and truly out of this world, the incredible script and direction and all of it creating and adding to that feeling of creeping dread and you can only stare in wonder as the aliens emerge and begin their reign of horror. Thankfully by the end of it all, there is a happy ending, the Martian race being defeated by the most unexpected of things. Gripping thriller, horror or science-fiction – however you want to categorize this movie, one thing that is a constant is that even to this day, it remains a truly great film.
5 out of 5