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War Of The Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953, USA)

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message 1: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Oct 20, 2008 07:19AM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
I still love this film and watch at least once a year. I despised the remake and nearly puked at the contrived ending. I'm not about to watch Spielberg's version again to write a review but if anyone would like to compare, I think it would make for interesting conversation. Maybe his version has some redeeming quality (besides cool special effects) that I just missed: or perhaps I'm biased because i don't like his films in general.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (Byron Haskin, 1953, USA) Based on H.G. Wells’s great science-fiction novel, the story is bereft of the bitter metaphor of British Colonialism and Americanized and updated to circa 1950 technology. Also gone is the blood-draining cattle like harvesting of the human race as food; in this version the Martians are just killing machines who wish not only to conquer the earth but kill every damn human being in the process! The film follows all the standard conventions of 50s science-fiction movies: beautiful woman falls for world famous professor, evil rubbery aliens, cool plastic spaceships, some bible-thumping and scripture-quoting, atomic power, the powerlessness of the US Army, and scientists become humanity’s last hope. The SFX are dated but very good and the alien rays with accompanying sound effects are chilling! Though our heroine has a master’s degree she is relegated to fawning love-interest and coffee & donut serving wench. And she screams a lot! This film breaks with 1950s tradition because the scientists don’t come up with some Deus Ex machine technology to save the world. They are excited and perplexed by the alien technology and though they expound on magnetism and other possibilities, there is very little time wasted on unbelievable exposition. The story moves along as humanity is being slaughtered…and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. Even the priest gets fried when he ‘walks through the valley of death”. I suppose that was surprising to audiences of the time! Finally, as our protagonists are on the verge of being wiped out, the alien machines begin to drop from the sky. A pulsing rubbery arm reveals that the aliens are dying: they were exposed to bacteria in our atmosphere in which they have no immunity. Even though this is corny (highly intelligent creatures would have sampled our atmosphere before invading) it works fairly well in context. A happy but brutal ending since god let billions of people die: a bacterium was the best he could do? (B+)

message 2: by Tom (last edited Oct 20, 2008 08:00AM) (new)

Tom | 166 comments Just some notes:

I can defend Spielberg's version, despite its obvious problems. I think it is possibly his best film, until it isn't. It is certainly his single darkest film, a non-stop parade of horror bloodshed destruction and death.

Yes, it all falls apart at the end, as Spielberg delivers what has to be the single stupidest happy ending in the history of invented narrative. The audience at the screening I attended yelled "BULLSHIT" at it. It is unwatchable.

Tom Cruise delivers probably his best performance as a working class Joe Sixpack who finds himself having to deal with family issues (his clearly emotionally damaged daughter for example) as the world literally falls apart around him. Society is collapsing, sanity is disappearing. At one point he simply can't take it anymore and just starts crying. His journey is an interesting and complicated one: he finally has to become the parent his children need him to be, while dealing with the end of the world as we know it.

The action/horror sequences are magnificent. That horrible sequence of the Martian war machine rising up out of the ground is pure bloody brilliance, the kind of thing that Spielberg can pull off better than anyone else. The breakdown of everything is presented clearly and ruthlessly, there's nothing cute or cuddly about any of it. Make no mistake, this is one harrowing goddamn film.

OK, the film has some lapses in logic:

It is made very clear that the Martian War Machines were buried here millions of years ago. This means that the Martians came to Earth and then WENT BACK HOME TO MARS. Why didn't they just take over millions of years ago when there was even less organized defense than there is now?

You'd think that the Martians, who have conquered interplanetary travel via lightning bolt, would have considered the possibility that drinking water out of gutters on alien planets isn't the best possible idea. Is there no microbiology on Mars?

Ultimately, WAR OF THE WORLDS is the clearest demonstration of Spielberg's considerable strengths and even more profound weaknesses. Ultimately, his best work will always be undone by his apparently unconquerable and clearly pathological need to make everything okay for mommy daddy and baby, total interplanetary invasion notwithstanding.

message 3: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Oct 20, 2008 09:00AM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 342 comments Mod
Tom, that was perfect! I think you captured the strengths and many weaknesses of the I remember it. I like the bloody harvesting of the human race and the vats of human blood...but when Cruise escapes from an alien machine it just seems so contrived. Visually, the film has its moments of awesome terror.

message 4: by Manuel (last edited Oct 20, 2008 10:26AM) (new)

Manuel | 144 comments I thought the Speilberg version was OK, though I despise Tom Cruise, he did a good job playinig the emotionally distant father to his kids. There is an unforgetable scene where he is trying to comfort his daughter, and he suddenly realizes he knows virtually nothing about her.

I understand Speilberg tried to get away from alien invaision cliches: No scenes of large cities getting destroyed, no famous landmarks getting wasted. He still managed to give us some astounding and unforgetable (almost beautiful) images:
-The bodies casually floating down a river.
-The functioning railroad crossing signal, when the crowd of refugees suddenly realize a train is still working and quickly coming into town. Suddenly the terror of the commuter train rushing by in flames.
-The floating clothes of Martian victims floating from the sky like left over candy wrappers.
-The miles and miles of stalled cars on the freeway and Tom Cruise weaving in and out of traffic in the only functioning vehicle.

Tom's post mentioned several plot holes. Here is another.
Tom Cruise and family have spent a horror filled afternoon trying to get away from New Jersey. He and the kids have seen thousands of their neighbors vaporized and the destruction of Newark, they have the only functioning vehicle on the turnpike. When he finally arrives at his ex-wife's suburban house and neighborhood, everything is still OK......
There is electricity and food and all appears OK with the world.
WHY????Doesnt anyone suggest they turn on the TV or radio??????
Most of us would want to know what the hell was going on. Perhaps the TV and radio signals no longer work? but we never find out because no one even bothers to switch them on. Instead, Tom decided to make peanut butter sandwiches, and when he fights with his kids, THEY DECIDE TO GO TO SLEEP!!!!

I prefer the original 1950's version. The movie is fast paced and still fun to watch. I love the feeling of helplessness that grips the scientist/hero of the film. In the end, he knows science and mankind are helpless, the aliens begin the destruction of Los Angeles. The scientist hero just wants to be with the woman he loves when they die. Yes the ending is a little corny, but it is still effective.

By the way.
Did anyone notice the parents of Tom Cruise's ex wife, when they are standing in front of their house in Boston???
They are the stars from the original 1953 version.

message 5: by Angie (new)

Angie I just watched the 1953 version for the first time which I didn't think was that bad. AMAZING though how technology makes the 1953 and the newer version so different. Does anyone know if the original radio version is available? I am not sure about that. I have never read the book but I do know that there are many different covers and I found a website that shows many of the different covers kinda neat:

message 6: by Tera Marie (new)

Tera Marie The older version is fantastic, but the newer was also well made albeit a bit contrived in some spots. Watching it in the theater was terrific!

message 7: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Rob, you can download the original WotW for free at The Internet Archive (, which has lots of free audio books & old films that are now public domain.

It's a great place, even if some of the files aren't of the highest quality. My old video tape of "Attack of the Giant Leeches" isn't much better than the free download here.

message 8: by Angie (new)

Angie Yea I am about to check that out! I think it would be really neat to listen to what people listened to once and thought it was real!

message 9: by Tom (last edited Nov 03, 2008 07:10AM) (new)

Tom | 166 comments King, don't get me wrong: Spielberg's remake is a terrific movie, for the most part. Well made, well acted, everything, with scenes that are as effective as any in movies.

It just falls really hideously apart in its final moments. Until that point, it is one of the best horror/adventure/sci-fi films made recently.

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