The War of the Worlds (1953)
(Premiere Date: August 13, 1953)
(USA Wide Release Date: August 26, 1953)

What's in the Bowl, Bitch? Oh. Cereal! MARTIAN CEREAL?What's in the Bowl, Bitch? Oh. Cereal! MARTIAN CEREAL?What's in the Bowl, Bitch? Oh. Cereal! MARTIAN CEREAL?What's in the Bowl, Bitch? Oh. Cereal! MARTIAN CEREAL?

Oh, Hello! Welcome to Earth, can I show you aro-

J.C. Maçek III... The Demolished Critic!
J.C. Maçek III
(The War Of)
The World's Greatest Critic!

Many literary purists complain about the fact that the "Martian War Machines" in the 1953 version of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds weren't the canonical "Tripods", but were instead "Gliders". This isn't precisely true as many film purists will tell you. In actuality, the "gliders" are indeed "tripods" as "THE ORIGINAL" Doctor Clayton Forrester shows us. The war machines are held aloft by three "invisible" legs of energy allowing them to walk, never glide. So meticulous were the effects technicians (led by Al Nozaki) in this illusion that everywhere the machines stepped you could actually see the ground catch fire in their footprints. As Forrester describes them upon their first appearance, you can actually see the beams flickering beneath the ships, emanating from the three glowing lights on the hull. Of course these tripod legs are much easier to see in the production and concept artwork, but they are there. Interestingly enough, the main reason these legs are primarily invisible was sort of a cheat on Nozaki's part. He, Executive Producer George Pal and writer Barré Lyndon had always planned to use Tripods, though Paramount Pictures decided that these would be cost prohibitive and that nothing (but nothing) should be holding them up.

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You can't see the legs in this one... and they couldn't 'fly' this high!!!

Of course, much more visible than the force-field legs of the Machines were what was really holding these things up... namely, a whole butt load of wires. I mean it, man. You can see the strings! I know, I know, it was 1953, they did the best they could, and the special effects are not just good for the time, but actually Academy Award Winning. I know, and I respect that, but, aw, man, you can see the Strings! And I don't mean that you can just kind of see them, maybe one or two minor apparitions in the mist. No, this is full on Robin Cook's Coma forest of filaments, hanging from the ceiling like a Christmas Mobile. That's why the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines couldn't beat 'em. They were shooting at their copper hulls! All they really had to do was aim at the strings and break them, or hell, just shoot old Gepetto up there holding the Marionette Wires, and they'd go crashing down like the second weekend's gross of Battlefield Earth! To be fair, this obvious Sci-Fi flub is the exception, not the rule here, and most of the special effects are pretty impressive (and reflect the attention to detail shown the hot tripod legs). One can't quite forget the fact that you can see the strings, though.

The plot follows the original H.G. Wells novel pretty well, and also owes quite a debt to Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre Radio Broadcast (even to the point of having a Radio Announcer acting as a sort of "Greek Chorus" to the events that transpire). A series of Meteors impact around the planet and interrupt electrical signals everywhere. Doctor Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is conveniently on hand (after having his campfire weenie roast interrupted) and is naturally fascinated by the smoldering crater that is now his to study. But, because he's also pretty darned interested in local smoldering Mater, Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), he decides to leave the scene of the crash-down to... and I'm not joking... to go square dancing with her. This may well be the only Science Fiction Film EVER in which an Alien Invasion had to wait for a do-si-do to end, man! Anyway, while Sylvia and Clayton are sharing a glass bottle of Coke with a straw shoved in it, the Crater begins to come to life, and the low-coasting walkers begin to hoist themselves up, and flash-roast the citizens of the greater Los Angeles area.

The military is useless against them as their heat-rays can disintegrate tanks, jeeps, buck privates, heavy artillery and even old Clay's Coke bottle. The Monsters! The film quickly gets going and, in spite of its "G" rating, manages to become pretty frightening as attack after attack leaves more humans dead, and still more running away like someone had just announced pre-production on Gigli II: The Armageddon! The film continues to follow Forrester and Van Buren as they become privy to more horrors, including, but not limited to, those proverbial Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's Clayton Forrester, along with his team at the Pacific Institute of Science and Technology (PIST???) who study the Martians the closest and determine just how to spank them silly.

Naturally, the film gets more interesting the bleaker it gets, and Barry manages some pretty great action sequences and convincing desperation as Los Angeles dissolves around him. Sure there are some moments of melodrama, but all in all the film simply makes it all work. The acting is overall pretty good (comparable to most of the 1950's standards), the story is gripping, and the special effects (strings and all) are worth their awards, specifically for the time. This is also one of the most vivid movies you might ever see. The reds, coppers and glowing greens of the Machines, coupled with the beauties of nature, slowly being wiped out by Marvin and his Martian buddies make for a fascinating Technicolor experience.

Sure, we know how this one ends (and if you don't, I'm not going to be a-hole enough to tell you), but it's a joy seeing just how director Byron Haskin gets us to this point. In addition to the superb use of miniatures (which mesh well with the live scenes of the real Los Angeles), some wonderful work was put into the surprisingly atypical aliens here. The way they move, breathe and pulsate, all without the benefit of CGI is just plain worth your time to check out The tri-colored glow of the Martian faces are similarly a must-see, particularly considering the dazzling Technicolor we see them in.

George Pal considered this one a dream project, and the dream paid off. My dream project is about as accessible as Dinty Moore Beef Stew to a man with no can opener. Pal's has become a deserved classic, and arguably was the main film that lent legitimacy to the Sci-Fi Genre. Maybe a lot of it wouldn't hold up today, but taken for all with all, I'm giving this one Four Stars out of Five. Now, if you'll excuse me, my neighbor keeps ranting about Tripods with heat rays and not a Martian in 'em! Not a Martian in 'em but men! He wants to turn them on Martians and Men. I, instead, want to take a nap, dammit! I think I'm coming down with a bit of a cold. I hear that sometimes they can be fatal! See you in the next {cough! cough!} Reel.

Now, if the Martian dudes had just attacked an Echinacea and Vitamin C Warehouse First, maybe they'd be our Overlords today!
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War of the Worlds (1953)
Reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
who is solely responsible for his views
and for the fact that when the lil' dude came
and knocked on my door with the glowing finger and red chest,
I said sure he could use my phone, man!
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