The War of the Worlds Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Special-Effects Spectacle

Based on the 1898 novel by H. G. Wells, Byron Haskin’s The War of the Worlds transports the story of a 19th-century writer in London dealing with a Martian invasion to the mountains of (then) modern-day Southern California where the first “meteor” lands. The thrills created by the outstanding special effects make up for the story’s shortcomings.

Buy The War of the Worlds (Criterion Collection) Blu-ray

Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is called upon to investigate when a large meteor lands near Linda Rosa, CA. The locals see an opportunity to turn it into a tourist trap. One night, three men are on guard when a portion of it unscrews. What appears to be a mechanical eye stalk extends from the object and scans the area. As the trio try to communicate by waving a white flag, the stalk wipes them out with an intense energy blast.

The military is called into the area as it revealed other meteors have landed around the world. War machines, as dubbed by the narrator, come out of the meteors and approach the military. Ignoring what took place earlier, Pastor Collins (Lewis Martin) thinks the Martians should be met with open arms rather than firearms but everyone quickly learns the errors of his thinking. The military attacks but their weaponry is futile against the Martians’ shields in an extended sequence of fighting.

Forrester and Sylvia (Ann Robinson), who shrieks way too much throughout the movie, are resting in a house when a meteor crashes into it. The Martians close in during a very tense sequence. Forrester is able to break off one of their scanning devices. Around the world, countries fall to the Martians as governments are toppled and people are driven from their homes. When the aliens move onto Los Angeles, pandemonium ensues.

The special-effects sequences hold up over 50 years later, and they are not diminished by the Blu-ray’s high-definition video. Unfortunately, the story isn’t as strong. There’s not much to the characters as they don’t have any depth to allow viewers to attach to them. Wells’s story has a deus ex machina resolution. While it makes sense scientifically, it is anti-climactic. For the movie, the narrator gives credit to “God in His wisdom” which is a bit strange for a science fiction tale. Being made at a time the West was fighting the Cold War against the godless Communists may have been led to the alteration.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. According to the liner notes, “This new digital restoration was created in 4K resolution on a DFT Scanity film scanner from the original three-strip Technicolor negatives. Thousands of instances of negative and positive dirt, stains, scratches, streaks, hairs, and emulsion digs and several misregistrations of the YCM film elements were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS and Digital Vision’s Phoenix.” Colors have rich hues. The reds and greens associated with the aliens ships and weapons are particularly vibrant. Blacks are inky. There is very fine texture detail in the image, including in the model work, and light film grain.

The audio is available in LPCM Mono and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The liner notes also state, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered from preservation magnetic tracks using Avid’s Pro Tools and iZotope RX. The 2018 5.1 remix was remastered from preservation tracks, several single-strip monaural music cues, and archival sound effects, by Ben Burtt at Skywalker Sound in Lucas Valley, California.” Overall, I prefer the mono version. Dialogue is clear and balanced well in the mix with Composer Leith Stevens’s score and the effects. On the 5.1 track, dialogue sounds just as good. The score swells in the surrounds, and effects can be heard throughout the system. Unfortunately, some of the effects are set at too loud a level. For example, when the meteor’s circular door is opened and slides off, it’s comically loud, like a massive boulder crashing.

The Special Features are:

  • Commentary Produced in 2005,this track features a deep dive into the movie’s making with filmmaker/fan Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and Bill Warren, author of Keep Watching the Skies! about ’50s science-fiction movies.
  • Movie Archeologists (29 min) – Produced for this release, visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt discuss the production of The War of the Worlds. .
  • From the Archive: 2018 Restoration(20 min) – Produced for this release,Barron, Burtt, and Senior Vice President of Asset Management for Paramount Pictures Andrea Kalas discuss the movie’s 4K restoration.
  • The Sky is Falling (30 min)–Produced in 2005, this look at the film is nicely informed by interviews with members of the cast and crew, among others.
  • Trailer

The following are audio-only extras:

  • Wells and Welles
    • The Mercury Theater on the Air (58 min) – Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, this legendary radio adaptation of the novel aired live on October 30, 1938.
    • KTSA Interview(24 min) –On October 28, 1940, H.G. Wells and Orson Welles, whose names were now linked, sat for an interview on a San Antonio, Texas radio station.
  • George Pal (50 min)–Excerpts from an audio recording of George Pal’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar at the American Film Institute on February 5, 1970 about his career and special effects in his films.

The War of the Worlds is a classic of the era and of the genre thanks to its award-winning special effects. Wells was so impressed by the adaptation that he gave producer George Pal the choice to option any of his other works and Pal picked The Time Machine. Criterion’s high-definition presentation showcases the crew’s work and the extras allow fans to learn more about its creation.

Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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