Aliens have sent super machines to Earth. The intent is obvious. They want to remove the human infestation and relocate from their own dying world. Independence Day, right? Wrong. Almost 50 years before Rolland and Emerich pitted mankind against killer aliens, George Pal brought us a wonderful interpretation of the famous H.G. Wells novel, War of the Worlds. Although not as faithful to the source material as a Wells fan might have hoped for, Pal created a classic film with groundbreaking f/x for the 1950’s. It’s a bit of a shame that this edition is hitting stores primarily because of the Spielberg version, also soon out on DVD. I like Steven Spielberg. I really do. I have to say, however, that I was disappointed in the “remained” version of the film. Purists will say there are moments that are closer to the Wells story, but they are wrong. How can you have War of the Worlds without Martians? George Pal gave us a wonderful milestone in science fiction history; it should be truly admired with this newly mastered DVD.
Martian machines have landed on Earth. Armed with hideous death rays, these flying machines have infested the entire planet. Dr. Forrester (Barry) arrives at the scene of the first machine’s arrival. He’s soon separated from his new love Sylvia (Robinson). Dr. Forrester finds himself battling panicked mobs and death rays to reunite with Sylvia.
This Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, while far from perfect, delivers a sound far brighter than I anticipated. There’s not a tremendous amount of lows, but the highs come off pretty dynamic for so old a film. Dialogue is crisp and always clear. The unique sounds of the Martian death rays are as cool as I remember them from childhood. Separation is remarkable for such an old film and a simple 2.0 track.
War of the Worlds is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Sources I have consulted seem to differ on the original aspect ratio. I have found evidence of both a wide and full screen presentation. I had only seen it on television so can not speak from experience. I suspect there was a wider version of the film at one time. The print quality is above average. The transfer maintains the almost painting quality of the color. The film uses several tinting methods that are reproduced faithfully here. There were a few print flaws evident, but nothing to take away from the overall experience. Black levels were adequate, particularly for the time the film was made. Unfortunately, too good a picture often hardens the dated special effects a bit. The opening stock footage displays considerable wear, but the effect actually adds to the realism of the film.
Gene Barry and Ann Robinson reunite for a wonderful commentary track. It’s presented quite well. I felt like a fly on the wall as these two actors reminisced about the film.
A second commentary features Gremlins filmmaker Joe Dante along with King Kong expert Bob Burns with Bill Warren. Here’s where you get more of the history not only of the film but George Pal and the studio system itself.
“The Sky Is Falling: The Making of War of the Worlds”: This feature plays out very much like an A&E Biography episode. The half hour piece talks about the film and its relation to Hollywood of the 1950’s. Nice clips of cast and crew members are worth the time to view this one.
“H G Wells: The Father Of Science Fiction” is a short 10 minute look at the man who wrote the original story, along with other classics such as The Time Machine and The Invisible Man.
A really nice touch is the inclusion of the Orson Welles Mercury Broadcast of War Of The Worlds over radio in 1938. The broadcast has become unfairly infamous over the years. The problem with this audio only feature is you can not rewind or fast forward, so you cannot get to a favorite portion of the broadcast.
There is also a trailer.
The disc forces you to step through previews before getting to the main menu. I really wish they would stop doing that. Give us the option to view the advertisements.
Of course Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds “looks” better. That’s what happens when you have tons of money and 2005 technology. Let’s not forget how groundbreaking this all was in 1953. There’s no doubt that science fiction films, including those by Spielberg, owe a lot to the path George Pal blazed in the 1950’s. This was a B film with very little studio support. We learn in one of the features it sat on the shelf for 30 years before the film was made. Still, with very little money and strong original material, War of the Worlds stands tall as a pioneer in science fiction filmmaking. “Who would have believed…?”