September 25, 2020  (Web Review)

The War of the Worlds

Criterion, 85 min., PG-13, DVD: $29.95; Blu-ray: $39.95, July 7

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

The location was changed from England to California, the time frame moved from the 1890s to the 1950s, and the Martians came in flying saucers instead of tripods, but H. G. Wells’ 1897 novel is still quite recognizable in filmmaker Byron Haskins’ 1953 Cold War allegory. Wielding a deadly heat ray (raining down fire) and a skeleton beam (vaporizing all targets), the Martians begin a systematic invasion of Earth, beginning here in the small town of Corona, CA, where their initial meteor-like appearance attracts the attention of scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry). Along with Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), Forrester winds up fleeing the Martian onslaught and taking refuge in an abandoned farmhouse, where in an encounter he injures one of the creatures (the only time a Martian is seen in the film). Subsequent testing suggests that despite their invincible technology, the invaders themselves may be (in a twist particularly resonant in 2020) vulnerable to airborne microbes, which might finally accomplish what nuclear weapons could not. An Oscar winner for special effects, War of the Worlds bows on high-definition with a gorgeous 4K digital restoration in this Criterion Collection edition that features a slew of extras, including a 2005 audio commentary (by filmmaker Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and author Bill Warren), behind-the-scenes featurettes, an archival audio interview with producer George Pal, the famed 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds by Orson Welles that scared the bejeezus out of middle America, a 1940 radio program featuring a discussion between Welles and H.G. Wells, and a booklet with an essay by film critic J. Hoberman. Highly recommended. (R. Pitman)