The War Of The Worlds

The War Of The Worlds (1953)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Ann Robinson, Gene Barry, Les Tremayne
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Radio Play, Theatrical Trailer

Brushing up on the previous standard release of the movie, Paramount Home Entertainment is now finally bringing us a Special Edition of George Pal's 1953 science fiction classic "The War Of The Worlds," complete with bonus features and all. I couldn't be happier.

The 1950s were the golden era of science fiction films in Hollywood. The range of movies at the time covered all kinds of futuristic visions, from mutated insects in "Them!" and "Tarantula", the creatures and stories of Jack Arnold, all the way to the threat from outer space. Interestingly, all these movies have one thing in common. They all center around atomic bombs and radiation as part of their main story, and as such have been reflecting people's fear of the unknown dangers of modern warfare, with the horrors of World War II still vividly in their minds.

The invisible threat, as well as the unexplored consequences of radiation, have been material for a great many stories, while others simply tried to make a point that the atomic bomb is still not the ultimate weapon as many politicians tried to make their nations believe. "The War Of The Worlds" is a story by British science fiction novelist H. G. Wells, and it has turned out to become his most famous one. From Orson Welles' radio play that literally scared people out of their homes, over a number of films, all the way to more recent efforts like "Mars Attacks!" and Steven Spielberg's new remake of the materials, Wells' "The War Of The Worlds" has always been an inspiration to creative minds and is still one of the central stories of our culture about Earth's invasion through aliens from Mars.

The original "War Of The Worlds" story by H. G. Wells is placed in Victorian England, but in an effort to keep with the times director Byron Haskin and his writer Barré Lyndon decided to relocate the story in space and time. It made its transformation all the way to the present – 1952 that was in this case.

When the resources on Mars seem to vanish, the Martians look over the solar system to find a new place for them to live. Out of all the planets only one suits their needs, Earth, and for a long time they study the blue planet and evaluate their options, forging plans for an invasion.

One summer night then, a huge meteor is seen in the skies above California and when it hits the Earth's surface it turns out to be larger than any other meteor that has ever struck our planet. Researchers quickly try to study the meteor but it is still too hot to even get close to it, so they decide to wait until it cools off. Before they can give it another studious look however, the meteor opens and space ships rise out of the shell of the meteor. A check quickly shows that many more of these meteors have hit all parts of the Earth, all revealing the strange flying machines. The Martian invasion has begun and every attempt to communicate with them is in vain. The ominous Martians lay everything to waste, vaporizing every living being with their hissing green beams. The army is brought in but not even their strongest weapons can stop the advancing Martians.

The world unites in arms, and all nations try in concerted efforts to stop the Martian invaders but no human weapon can stop or even slow down the Martians' progress as they sweep over the world to make this planet their own. The hope of the entire world rests on one of man's latest inventions to save the planet – the atomic bomb.

"The War Of The Worlds" has long become a classic and is widely recognized as one of the best and most ambitious science fiction films of its time. In fact, it is considered the movie that put science fiction on the map in Hollywood. Not only does it dazzle audiences with memorable images and a thrilling story it also displayed a technical excellence that was unsurpassed. Although some of the dialogues and characterizations may appear ridiculous today they were still a good notch above what people were used to see at the time. And if you wonder why these people don't worry about radioactivity a bit, well, it's probably because the long-term consequences of radioactive contamination had not really been studied at the time. The film is an outcry, similar to the one the world heard at the time. Afraid of rapid advancements in modern technologies, afraid of the unknown reaches of space, and with horrible memories of the Second World War, this film hit the right chord with audiences.

The film is presented in its original fullscreen aspect ratio on this DVD from Paramount Home Video. Boasting a new transfer, it is evident, just how much progress has been made in digital transfer and restoration technologies in the past few years. The transfer is significantly better looking than the 1999 DVD release and whatever grain was in the previous version, it is all but gone in this new release. Absolutely stable and clean, there is not a hint of a blemish anywhere in the picture. Edges are sharply delineated and even though it's using the 3-strip Technicolor process, colors are perfectly registering and never bleed. Image detail is very good as well and the movie's stark contrast is perfectly reproduced here, making this a breathtaking presentation, really. Colors are strong and vibrant with faithfully reproduced skin tones. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression is also without distracting flaws.

The original monaural soundtrack of the movie is included on the DVD but also a newly remixed Dolby Surround track has been added. It is not overly aggressive but has an expanded frequency response that allows for a much more pleasant presentation as it has a better bass roll off and gets rid of the harsh, nasal quality of the original mono track. Surrounds and stereo effects are used sparingly, but effectively, making for a great presentation. English subtitles are also included in this version of the film, finally.

To warrant the term Special Edition, Paramount has actually gone out of their way and crated some very exciting supplements. First and foremost is a brand new commentary track featuring the movie's main stars, Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. It is a wonderful track full of anecdotes and memories, but also filled with some light technical banter to tell us what it was like to make a film of this scale within the studio system of the 50s. Robinson dominates the track and always finds interesting things to tell, remembering even the names of some of the more obscure cast and crew members that were part of the production.

A second commentary track features Joe Dante, director of films such as "Gremlins" among others, film historian Bob Burns and book author Bill Warren. While all of this is second hand information, of course, the three of them have a unique knowledge of the movie and the people who made it. Especially burns is always great to listen to when he explains in quite some detail how special effects were achieved with minimal technology at the time, or what part certain props played, how they were built, etc.

Next up is a 30-minute featurette called "The Sky Is Falling." This is a new featurette with brand new interviews with cast and crew members, as well as people familiar with the production. It is filled with valuable nuggets and comments, drawing a nice picture, how daring the film was for its time and how it took some of the system's most inventive people to put it together.

Also included is a featurette about H.G. Wells, "The Father Of Science Fiction" talking a bit about the man who helped create this genre at the turn of the century. Giving us a brief portrait about the man and his ambitions, it is great to learn a bit more about the mind that created these memorable stories that ring true even to this day and that were almost prophetic in many ways.

Another 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 1938 that put people in a frenzy, making them believe that the alien invasion was actually happening as he spoke. It is still a mesmerizing piece of entertainment, though it is hard to find it as convincing today as it was back in 1938 when people were simply much more innocent. Still it is great to have this historic piece on this DVD for everyone to own.

"The War Of The Worlds" was as great a film then, as it is now. It's suspenseful and exciting, thrilling and unrelenting. It is a true classic that won an Academy Award for its special effects and it is still commonly regarded as the mother of all alien invasion films. Paramount's new Special Edition version finally pays full justice to this remarkable achievement, making this release a tribute to H.G. Wells and George Pal, filled with extras that you will love and treasure. With a meager $14.99 price tag, this is a DVD that simply belongs in every DVD collection, without ay second thoughts.