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Paramount Home Video presents
The War of the Worlds (1953) (1953)

"If they're mortal, they must have mortal weaknesses. They'll be stopped, somehow. "
- Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Berry)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: October 30, 2005

Stars: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson
Other Stars: Les Tremayne, Cedric Hardwicke, Robert Cornthwaite Sandro Giglio, Jack Kruschen
Director: Byron Haskin

MPAA Rating: G for nothing offensive
Run Time: 01h:24m:54s
Release Date: November 01, 2005
UPC: 097360263947
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B B+

DVD Review

Since its release in 1953, the original filmed version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds has been regarded as a triumph of science fiction filmmaking. Producer George Pal and director Byron Haskin's adaptation of Well's classic manages to create great visuals in a story that is as slick and focused as the alien spacecraft that it features. While the special effects have lessened with age, the film may be the better for it because Haskin's wonderfully taut direction becomes more noticeable.

After opening narration by Cedric Hardwicke informs of an impending attack by oncoming alien forces, action shifts to rural California where a meteor-like object has struck and attracted a large crowd of onlookers. One of them is Dr. Forrester (Barry), a scientist who seems to have the most logical ideas on just what the object is, and a woman named Sylvia (Robinson) who is destined to be his love interest. From this point the film becomes a chase, as Forrester and Sylvia run across the California countryside trying to escape while the government alternately tries to think of every possibility to bring the aliens down—including dropping an atomic bomb.

By changing the setting to 1950s America and removing the social commentary present in Wells' novel, screenwriter Barre Lyndon manages to streamline the story to make a fast-moving action picture. This helps the film to skip over the poor character development and two-dimensional protagonists and get right on to the next action sequence. The story floats along on the thrill of the swan-like Martian spaceships and the stylized design and effects that they carry. Long after the film has finished, it is the design and creation of the alien craft that prove to be the most memorable aspect.

Very little of H.G. Wells' novel remains, including many of the machines he had described in great detail. Another change is the presence of the alien creatures—in the film they are indestructible by everything our army attacks with, while Wells' novel has the humans defeating the aliens with a strong offensive effort. What does remain is the often heavy and foreboding sense of fear and terror that Haskin manages to exploit to craft a thrilling ride, by using, for example, reaction shots of his actors as they witness the attack off camera. Opening newsreel footage of the first two World Wars also provides an effective subtext of a country fresh off a victory and feeling invulnerable on the evening of an impending attack.

The performances by the leads are both sincere and comfortable. Barry's Forrester is a perfect combination of strength, intelligence, and alternately confusion. He crafts an intelligent performance, as his views of the invasion change as the film goes on. Robinson is given the chore of playing a woman in peril, but she does as well as she can with the material.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.33:1 transfer from the original release of War of the Worlds has been replaced by a freshly restored one that is far better on all accounts. Sharpness and detail are striking, with no evidence of grain or dirt on the print, and the effects have been cleaned to a point where the spaceships shine. The quality of the image does allow the exposed wires that support the ships to become visible, but the colors are so vibrant and rich that it only adds to the experience.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Aside from its original mono track, this boasts a Dolby Surround track that has expanded the sound field and in turn added a level of atmosphere absent from previous versions. Surround speakers as well as the left and right channels are used sparingly but effectively as they are always clear and crisp. Dialogue is well done with no distortion or dropouts.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by actors Ann Robinson and Gene Berry; film director Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and author Bill Warren
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Original Orson Welle's Radio Broadcast
Extras Review: Expanding greatly upon the previous release, this special edition of War of the Worlds has a good number of fun and informative features. First is a commentary by stars Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, full of anecdotes and other behind-the-scenes stories as well as some discussion of the scale of the film and what it was like to be involved. A second commentary features director Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and author Bill Warren. While this is a more technical track, it's infinitely more fascinating. Much of the discussion has to do with the effects, which were created by use of miniatures.

The Sky Is Falling is a new featurette with new interviews with cast and crew members, as well as people familiar with the production. The 30-minute documentary provides a great look at the making of the film and its lasting legacy. Also included is a featurette on H.G. Wells that looks at his life and works up to and including War of the Worlds. This is an interesting and rich piece, and makes comparisons between Wells and other authors, as well covering his personal political views.

The true highlight of this release is the Mercury Theater radio play of The War of the Worlds. This is Orson Welles' original broadcast from Halloween of 1938 that caused many to believe that it was in fact an actual event occurring at that very time. The piece still manages to enthrall the listener with its great description and storytelling. The play is presented while still images featuring Welles at the microphone slide by.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Still worthy of mention amongst the best of science-fiction films, the original War of the Worlds manages to stand up against time and countless imitators to remain a great film experience.


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