Tuesday 18 March 2008

The War of the Worlds (1953)

While it would probably be more appropriate to watch 2001: A Space Odyssey on the day that Arthur C Clarke died, a film adaptation of one of the definitive works of science fiction can't be a bad choice. The War of the Worlds was written by H G Wells in 1898 yet deemed so relevant that there were no less than three film versions released in 2005 alone. The most famous version is probably still Orson Welles's radio adaptation, made in 1938, which scared the crap out of a lot of Americans at the time. Like that version, this first film version was updated to a modern setting, the California of 1953.

The story doesn't surprise though. What appears to be a meteor lands outside a small Californian town. Soon it cools and out come men from Mars, conveniently hidden within alien flying machines, horribly beweaponed and highly dangerous. The locals guarding the 'meteor' are quickly disposed of by the aliens' heat ray and the army and the air force fare no better. Caught right in the middle are Dr Clayton Forrester, a renowned scientist conveniently fishing in the nearby hills with an even more convenient geiger counter, and Sylvia Van Buren, a local girl with a major crush on him.

They're played by Gene Barry and Ann Robinson (no, not that one). Barry became something of a star on television after this, as the title characters in Bat Masterson, Burke's Law and The Adventurer. I couldn't work out if he was trying to be Cary Grant here or Victor Mature. Maybe there was a little Clark Kent in there to. Robinson appeared in further films and on TV but ended up reprising her role here in a bunch of future versions: the 1988 TV series, a spoof version called Midnight Movie Massacre in 1988 and another spoof called The Naked Monster in 2005. Both Barry and Robinson appeared as grandparents in the 2005 Spielberg remake.

However in 1953 viewers weren't watching for the actors, and that's a good thing because the acting isn't great, however pleasant Ann Robinson's legs were. It was the special effects that won the film's only Oscar and that's hardly surprising. The story is a patchy modernisation with plenty of hyperbole and deliberate exaggeration, but its great to look at. The Martian flying machines are very cool indeed, and we even get an atomic bomb explosion to gawk at. There are mass evacuations, riots, forest fires, you name it. There are deserted cities and destruction on an epic scale. Some of the superimposition doesn't work too well a half century on but I bet nobody noticed in 1953.

1 comment:

Lucio Fulci said...

There was always such a sense of occasion when this was shown on T.V. back in the 60`s and 70`s, the only other films where we used to get a real sense of event about the fact that they were being shown were Forbidden Planet, The Time Machine and West Side Story. By the way, i always used to hope that the Martians were going to win because they always looked as if they were having such a riotous, raucaus, rollicking good time destroying everything, they just knew how to have a blast (as it were).