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War of the Worlds (1953), The

The Criterion Collection // Unrated // July 7, 2020
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted August 4, 2020 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Based on the book of the same name by the legendary H.G. Wells and directed by Byron Haskin, the 1953 adaptation of The War Of The Worlds, which was produced for Paramount Studios by none other than George Pal, opens with a large object assumed by the locals landing in the woods near a small California town. The cops know that a team of scientists were fishing nearby and ask for their help in ascertaining just exactly what happened here. As some of the local men dream of cashing in on the space rock and using it to bring in those tourist dollars, one of the scientists, a nuclear physicist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), arrives on the scene and instantly hits it off with Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson).

The town\'s intrigue in the event soon turns to fear when it turns out that this wasn\'t a meteorite but in fact the arrival of some Martian war machines that soon lay waste to anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in its path. And, as luck would have it, there\'s more than one. Soon enough, a full-fledged Martian invasion is underway not just in California, but around the world and not even the mightiest military forces on the planet prove able to stop these machines, as they\'ve managed to clock themselves in electro-magnetic force fields. As the Martian lay waste to major cities across the continents, the American military decides they have only one option, and that\'s to use the atomic bomb, but will it be enough?

The War Of The Worlds is eighty-five-minutes of vintage science fiction heaven, a beautiful technicolor nightmare shot in blazing color and featuring loads and loads of trailblazing special effects (which would earn the film an Academy Award) that still holds up incredibly well today. The pacing is tight and the film is lean, getting right into the action from the start while still managing to build interesting characters with Forrester and Van Buren who, of course, develop a semi-romantic relationship as the story unfolds. The human element is important in a picture like this and leads Gene Barry and Ann Robinson both deliver very fine work here, making us like and care about their characters while also creating people we can believe in, as they react to what is going on around them as the attacks intensify.

Opening with a voiceover from Sir Cedric Hardwicke that gives us a quick rundown of the history of human warfare over the centuries before then declaring the events we\'re about to see a literal ‘war of the worlds,\' the movie plays well as a straight picture more than a half century since it was made. There are some truly dark scenes here, not the least of which is when Pastor Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin) approaches one of the Martian war machines, Bible in hand and quoting scripture, only to be fried in front of the members of his flock, something you really wouldn\'t have expected to see in a major Hollywood production in 1953. We won\'t spoil the ending for the few out there reading this review that haven\'t seen the picture but it gets quite intense before the end credits hit the screen, and this had to have been very strong stuff in its day.

The Video:

The War Of The Worlds comes to Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection on a 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.37.1 with the feature taking up just over 28GBs of space on the disc. Taken from a new 4k transfer of the original 35mm negative, the image quality here is gorgeous. First and foremost, the color reproduction on this transfer is amazing, the reds and greens in particular pop like never before, really pulling you into the action scenes. Black levels stay nice and deep throughout the duration of the film and skin tones look perfect. There\'s a lot of detail to take in here, evident in pretty much every frame of the picture, while the transfer remains virtually spotless, you\'ll be hard pressed to find even a speck of print damage here. No problems with any noise reduction or edge enhancement and the disc is free of compression artifacts, this always looks like film and it\'s beautiful.

The Audio:

English language options are provided in a 24-bit LPCM Mono track as well as in a 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Subtitles are provided in English only. The 5.1 mix is quite good, spreading out the effects rather well during the action and alien attack sequences, with gunfire, canon fire and laser blasts coming from behind you and the sound of engines roaring to life, giving the subwoofer some nice rumble. The mono track obviously can\'t have that range but it\'s obviously the more authentic of the tow options. Both tracks are clean and nicely balanced, no problems with any hiss or distortion at all. Dialogue remains very easy to understand and to follow.

The Extras:

Extras start off with an audio commentary from 2005 featuring filmmaker Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns and author Bill Warren. It proves an interesting look at the history of the film, its influence and importance within the genre film community and the themes and ideas that it explores. The cover the contributions of the cast and crew, the original source material and quite a bit more.

There are quite a few featurettes included on the disc as well, the first of which is Movie Archaeologists, a new half-hour featurette on the visual and sound effects in the film featuring Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt. It\'s a well put together piece that examines the groundbreaking way in which the movie used both visual and sound effects in its production that were, for its era, quite unique. From The Archive is a new piece that covers the film\'s restoration featuring Barron, Burtt, and Paramount Pictures archivist Andrea Kalas. Here, over the span of twenty-one-minutes, we see what was involved in getting the feature looking and sounding as good as it does on this disc as it undergoes a 4k restoration. Moving right along, we also get a vintage Audio Interview with producer George Pal from 1970 that clocks in at fifty-minutes. Here he speaks about what was involved in getting Wells\' work adapted for the big screen, working with the director and the studio, the significance of the film and more. The Sky Is Falling is a 2005 documentary about the making of the film that lasts for half an hour and features archival interview clips with many of the cast and crew members involved in the picture, it\'s quite interesting.

The Mercury Theatre On The Air radio adaptation of The War Of The Worlds from 1938, directed and narrated by Orson Welles, is just what is sounds like, a document of Welles\' infamous hour-long radio broadcast that wound up causing such a stir. Complimenting this is the inclusion of a radio program from 1940 that is a discussion between Orson Welles and H. G. Wells that lasts for twenty-four-minutes and features the two luminaries discussing their work together.

A theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection finish things up on the disc itself.

The disc also comes packaged with an insert booklet that contains credits for the feature, credits for the disc and an essay by film critic J. Hoberman.


The War Of The Worlds remains a highlight of fifties-era science fiction filmmaking, a movie that still packs quite a punch and makes you think. The Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection presents this legitimate classic in a reference quality presentation and on a disc loaded with extras. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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