THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Since the earliest days of DVD, I've been disappointed by the almost total absence of classic 1950's science fiction titles. I guess that certain home video companies feel that there isn't a market for great titles like CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD or THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. The fact that these science fiction classics aren't available on DVD makes Paramount's decision to release THE WAR OF THE WORLDS ($30) something fans should be shouting from the rooftops.
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is based upon the H.G. Wells story of the same name, with a good deal of fifties communist paranoia thrown in for good measure. Hence, the invasion by the RED planet takes on significance not contained in Wells story. Additionally, the period and location settings of Wells' story were transplanted to 1950's California; to make the film more cost effective and keep the special effects first rate. Obviously, this was a good decision by Paramount Pictures, since THE WAR OF THE WORLDS won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects. Although the film's nearly fifty-year-old special effects are generations away from the digital era, they remain impressive, and have the desired impact. The Martian war machines still truly standout; it is their sleek and ominous design keeps them as imposing today as they were in 1953.
The film begins with what appears to be a large meteor crashing into the California countryside. After cooling, the "meteor" opens up and unleashes three Martian war machines that obliterate everything that moves. As quickly as the Martians begin wiping out parts of California, other "meteors" begin landing all over the planet, bringing devastation to every corner of the globe. While the special effects are the real stars of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, the cast features Gene Barry as Clayton Forrester, the first scientist to encounter the Martian crafts in California. Ann Robinson takes on the female lead as Sylvia Van Buren- the supposedly modern woman with a masters degree, who becomes a hysterical stereotype at the first sign of trouble. Also lending support are Les Tremayne, Lewis Martin, Robert Cornthwaite and Paul Frees. Keep an ear out for the majestic voice of Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who provides the films narration.
Paramount Home Video has done a beautiful job bringing THE WAR OF THE WORLDS to DVD. The film predates wide screen, so viewing the film in the television ratio is almost exactly on the money. This transfer superbly recreates the look of an original IB Technicolor print of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. Colors have the rich saturated of the old Technicolor process, as well as a true black level and good contrast. Flesh tones are a bit too intense to be natural, but have the characteristic look of the long gone film process. Hot colors are occasionally fuzzy, but the transfer really cant be faulted for the intensity of Technicolor. Also, in comparison to todays finer grain motion picture film stocks, some may find that THE WAR OF THE WORLDS looks a bit soft. Again, the transfer cannot be faulted for the peculiarities of nearly half-century-old Technicolor film elements. Image detail is generally quite good, although certain stylistic choices prevent extensive shadow detail. There are occasional age related anomalies on the print, but overall this presentation is very satisfying. Proficient DVD authoring managed to keep digital compression artifacts in check.
Its obvious that THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was a very well recorded movie because the Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack presented here is exceptionally clean and clear. A few years ago, a stereo re-mix of the soundtrack was prepared for a Laserdisc re-issue. Unfortunately, that stereo soundtrack was omitted from this DVD. A French monaural soundtrack has also been encoded into the disc.
The interactive menus are very basic, providing access to the scene and language selection features, plus a theatrical trailer.
Paramounts DVD edition of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is the finest home presentation of the film ever offered. This science fiction classic deserves a place of honor in any genre fans collection. Recommended.
Lets hope that WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE is next on Paramounts 1950 sci-fi classic agenda.
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