War of the Worlds (Blu-ray)
H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds had been on the Paramount Pictures docket since the silent era, when it was optioned as a potential Cecil B. DeMille production. When Paramount finally got around to a filming the Wells novel, the property was firmly in the hands of special-effects maestro George Pal. Like Orson Welles’s infamous 1938 radio adaptation, the film eschews Wells’s original Victorian England setting for a contemporary American locale, in this case Southern California. A meteorlike object crash-lands near the small town of Linda Rosa. Among the crowd of curious onlookers is Pacific Tech scientist Gene Barry, who strikes up a friendship with Ann Robinson, the niece of local minister Lewis Martin. Because the meteor is too hot to approach at present, Barry decides to wait a few days to investigate, leaving three townsmen to guard the strange, glowing object. Left alone, the three men decide to approach the meterorite, and are evaporated for their trouble. It turns out that this is no meteorite, but an invading spaceship from the planet Mars. The hideous-looking Martians utilize huge, mushroomlike flying ships, equipped with heat rays, to pursue the helpless earthlings. When the military is called in, the Martians demonstrate their ruthlessness by zapping Ann’s minister uncle, who’d hoped to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the standoff. As Barry and Ann seek shelter, the Martians go on a destructive rampage. Nothing-not even an atom-bomb blast-can halt the Martian death machines. The film’s climax occurs in a besieged Los Angeles, where Barry fights through a crowd of refugees and looters so that he may be reunited with Ann in Earth’s last moments of existence. In the end, the Martians are defeated not by science or the military, but by bacteria germs-or, to quote H.G. Wells, the humblest things that God in his wisdom has put upon the earth. Forty years’ worth of progressively improving special effects have not dimmed the brilliance of George Pal’s War of the Worlds. Even on television, Pal’s Oscar-winning camera trickery is awesome to behold. So indelible an impression has this film made on modern-day sci-fi mavens that, when a 1988 TV version of War of the Worlds was put together, it was conceived as a direct sequel to the 1953 film, rather than a derivation of the Wells novel or the Welles radio production.