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The War of the Worlds (1953)

The original invasion!

Directed by:

Byron Haskin

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 85 minutes

US Certificate: G UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: United States

Way back in the 1930s, radio-listeners the length and breadth of America famously cacked their slacks after mistaking a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ for a real-life alien invasion. Now, I might be sticking my neck out a bit here, but I’m guessing nobody will ever walk into a room, catch a glimpse of this movie version on their screens, and run screaming for the hills – unless they happen to suffer from a deep-rooted irrational phobia of extremely silly films from the 1950s, that is.

In this unintentionally daft sci-fi extravaganza, Earth is under threat from a gaggle of dastardly, highly intelligent and frankly ridiculous-looking Martians. It seems, you see, that they’ve been secretly plotting against us for years – or, at the very least, looking at some brochures. The reason? Well, it’s bloody freezing up there on the red planet, and the locals have finally had enough of buying summer outfits and never getting to wear them. And, as handily explained by boomy-voiced narrator Vittorio Cramer, Pluto and Saturn are even colder, Mercury’s too hot, Neptune and Uranus are too dark, and Jupiter’s just plain rubbish – so, really, Earth’s their only option. Picky lot these Martians, aren’t they?

Anyway, it’s not long before they arrive down here in their flying saucers and start causing all sorts of problems – but is all mankind completely helpless in the face of such an attack? Not if dapper doctor Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) has anything to say about it!

Make no mistake about it: ‘War of the Worlds’ is a pivotal film in the history of blockbuster alien movies. Watching it today, you can’t fail to notice just how heavily modern day equivalents such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Signs’ have borrowed from it (indeed, both movies feature scenes which could easily have been lifted straight out of this one).

But, massively influential or not, there’s little escaping the fact that the acting is terrible, the sets are shoogly, and – perhaps worst of all – the story is brought to a halt with one of the most quick, unconvincing and completely unsatisfactory endings I’ve ever seen. With the running time rapidly running out, it looks like there’s no possible way the film can round itself off properly – and, in fact, it doesn’t. I seriously cannot remember ever being quite as underwhelmed by any movie’s finale as I was by this one.

After years in the celluloid wilderness, ‘The War of the Worlds’ is set to be catapulted back into the public eye again thanks to the rapidly-approaching Steven Spielberg remake (due for global release in June and July 2005). Does the planet’s best-known director have it in him to top this 1953 original? Well, let’s just say that if he doesn’t, he should retire now.

It's Got: War-mongering Martians who look just like E.T. would if he swallowed a disco ball.

It Needs: To hang its head in shame over that climactic cop-out.

DVD Extras Just a trailer. Version reviewed: The War Of The Worlds also WOTW from Amazon,com DVD Extras Rating: 1/10

Alternatives:

Independence Day, Mars Attacks!, Signs, The Day of the Triffids, War of the Worlds

Summary

This creaky slice of cinematic history is fun to watch, but gets blown out of the sky by its modern-day relatives.

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