The War of the Worlds

Inside the pantheon of great science-fiction/fantasy filmmakers is a special hall dedicated to producer George Pal. George Pal is one of my favorite people. His films not only entertained me, they inspired me. I still count “The Time Machine” among my all time favorite films.


Pal’s productions are filled with interesting characters, gorgeous scenic design and spectacular special effects (at least for their time). waroftheworldsGeorge Pal and author H.G. Wells seem to be a perfect match.

Their idealism seems to go hand in hand. Both enjoy bringing fanciful entertainment to life, either through words or through pictures. That is why Pal was the perfect person to bring Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” to the big screen.

Shot in the early 1950’s, “The War of the Worlds” may look a little clumsy by today’s standards, but it is still grand entertainment. Directed with flair by Byron Haskin (a former special effects technician), “The War of the Worlds” is a technical marvel.

The interior sets and miniatures make the film, a combination of reality and Hollywood magic. The plot is simple and to the point. When their planet becomes uninhabitable, the Martian race sends scouts to the planet Earth. Their mission is to clean up the place before the new owners arrive. That means evaporating the population with their heat rays, and destroying entire cities with their flying saucers. The pivotal characters are scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), a former science student whose uncle was killed by the aliens.

The film is loaded with close calls and close encounters as the humans try to fend off the attack which threatens their existence. It’s a blast to watch the military square off against the alien machines, only to find themselves understaffed and ill-equipped to handle the situation. There’s lots of Cold War mumbo- jumbo that writer Barre Lyndon cleverly slips into the film. Are these aliens really the evil Russians? I’m sure Wells drew from real life parallels of his time, but the material really works well as a metaphor in the 1950’s. Often imitated yet never equaled, “The War of the Worlds” is so ingrained as a piece of pop culture that you can’t make a reference regarding the film without getting a reaction. Now that is the true sound of a classic.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ X ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

While the image that is delivered is generally quite good, one can’t help but wonder why this science- fiction classic wasn’t transferred in widescreen? Obviously it was show in widescreen. Otherwise, there would be no reason to add the “this video has been altered from its original format” warning. So, we get a full-frame version that looks good for the most part, except for some obvious wear and tear on the original negative, and the occasional compression artifact. The colors hold up nicely, and look sharp. Their saturation is natural with no dramatic fading or bleeding. Even the blacks hold up after all of these years, providing nice, tight shadows. The whites look clean when the original negative doesn’t dot their landscape. Images on the whole look sharp, while attention to detail is remarkably vivid for a 46 year-old movie. A little shimmering, but not enough to call the whole thing off.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

The DVD features Dolby Digital mono tracks in English and French, and for the most part, they more than get the job done. There’s nothing award-winning here, but the dialogue mix is strong enough to keep the characters well above the ambient noise level. No big deal, but not much distortion or hiss, which is saying a lot considering.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Poor

No closed captions or subtitles.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Handsome main and scene access menus (why the scene access menu features wide frame stills is beyond me), plus the film’s original theatrical trailer.

PROGNOSIS: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

It’s not perfect, but the DVD of “The War of the Worlds” shouldn’t be alien to your collection.

VITALS: $29.99/Not Rated/85 Minutes/Color/13 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#053037

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

BIRTH DATE: 1953

HMO: Paramount Home Video



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