The War of the Worlds 

(NR) 5 stars

(NR) 5 stars
When the Martian ray beam hits the soldier, we see him awash in the color green against a background of mostly reds and blacks, frozen in time for a split second at the moment of death, just before he disintegrates before our eyes — his scream lingering after he is gone. In the 1953 cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, every death packs a punch. The freeze-frame visuals were jarring; the screams were horrifying. George Pal produced the movie and Byron Haskin directed. Together they produced a classic, and for one week beginning Friday, we get to see it back on the big screen, courtesy of Key Cinemas. Lucky us! H.G. Wells’ 1898 original story was set in Victorian England. On Halloween in 1938, the infamous Orson Welles radio adaptation moved the tale to New Jersey and presented it as a news broadcast, triggering panic across the nation from people that tuned in briefly and became convinced that humanity was actually under attack by invaders from outer space. The film moves the initial landing to California, with the crash of a “meteorite” into the earth near a rural town. Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), a suave scientist in the area for a fishing trip, soon becomes a key part of the investigation, but not before an evening of square dancing with local girl Ann Robinson (Sylvia Van Buren). The buildup to the first assault is delicious, from the deep, metallic rasp as a hidden lid on the buried projectile unscrews itself (the sound effect is perfect), to the naïve attempts of some local boys to make first contact. Then, at last, we see the first Martian warship rise into the air, hovering silently and scanning the natives below with a metallic tendril that resembles a cobra. Then it strikes and the war begins, with hundreds of similar landings all over the planet. The production is packed with memorable moments. My favorite scene takes place in the wreckage of a farmhouse, where Clayton and Ann hide from a nest of Martian ships. The tension grows as the couple chats nervously, discussing tactics and getting a little closer. And then Ann freezes, feeling something on her shoulder, something like fingers … The film has problem areas, I guess. Admittedly, the acting often strays into the forest, so to speak, like most genre movies from the era. And yes, the attempts to jam religion into the proceedings are far from subtle. The bottom line is that I love this movie so much that even the flaws are endearing. The War of the Worlds is an epic with dazzling special effects and a sweeping apocalyptic story. This is one of the great ones.

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