The War of the Worlds Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 1 release of The War Of The Worlds.The most famous adaptation of H.G.Wells’ classic novel on a disc that could do with major improvements. Read the review to find out if the film still has its charm.

The Film
War Of The Worlds is a classic H.G.Wells novel and the concept always had fantastic potential for a big screen version. The novel however, was set in Victorian England and the film would have proved more costly to produce if choosing to remain faithful to the original setting. Producer George Pal (famed sci-fi producer of When Worlds Collide and The Time Machine) therefore decided to set the film adaptation in contemporary times, which was fifties America.

Everyone is aware of the synopsis: Martians invade Earth at various key cities around the world and embark upon a wave of cold-blooded destruction and Earth has to fight back.

After a mysterious pod lands in California, the inhabitants, led by Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), approach it first with caution and then with panic after the pod opens and various Martian mini-crafts begin attacking the town. Soon, the world is at risk, as the Martians have taken over every major city and Earth’s defences have been rendered redundant.

Considering the film was made nearly fifty years ago, you’d forgive it for seeming dated now. Some of the effects are awesome in their ambition. Some effects however, are laughable, such as the paintings of Saturn and the visible strings on the Martian mini-crafts. The effects are the stars of the film however, and more than half the budget was spent on them. This is very noticeable when it comes to the quality of the acting. Gene Barry as the hero Dr. Forrester is extremely wooden and extremely dull, and he encapsulates the sanitised image of the fifties American man. What I find hardest to swallow about the film is the fact that principal love interest for Forrester – Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) is a library science teacher at USC, yet spends the entire film pandering to the stereotype that she either screams hysterically or tries to act the doting wife. It is clear that director Byron Haskin is very preoccupied with the special effects, because he directs the actors along the guidelines of an Ed Wood textbook. It’s a struggle to sit through the first act of War Of The Worlds due to its reliance upon establishing dialogue. Even so, the film’s pace and quality increases towards the final act.

There are other annoying factors about the film. Firstly, the over zealous use of stock footage, which is very noticeable. Critics or bandwagon jumpers have often claimed a parallel of the film with the anxieties feared by Americans in the height of the Cold War, but this is no Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

Another annoying point is the fact that although atomic weapons cannot even destroy the Martian Pods, Clayton Forrester manages to destroy one of the periscope-type extensions with a mere axe! Surely they would have been more robust?

Presented in the original fullframe 4:3 aspect ratio, the picture has been remastered and the colours appear very vibrant and powerful for a 1952 film, although there are still elements of grain and scratches on some sequences.

Presented in the film’s original mono mix, the sound effects are quite good but some hiss is evident throughout the majority of the soundtrack and there are some dips in sound.


Trailer The Trailer is the only extra that is available on the DVD, and is the original theatrical trailer.

I cannot help but feel that surely Paramount could have at least funded a retrospective documentary. War Of The Worlds is a renowned classic of the science-fiction genre that deserves better treatment on the extras front. The film is more memorable for its effects than for its plotting or acting. Even so, the film is presented in an adequate fashion with regards to audio and visual qualities and every fan of science fiction should own a copy.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Jul 21, 2001

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