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 Post subject: WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) Review by TOM WEAVER
PostPosted: Sat Dec 24, 2005 11:57 am 
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Martian War Lord

Joined: Wed Jan 12, 2005 7:01 pm
Posts: 1259
Location: UK
It was the Mother of All Battles: The combined military might of every nation on Earth taking on the war machines of Martian invaders in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. More action-packed than the original H.G. Wells novel, producer George Pal’s Paramount filmization transposed the fighting to the modern day (1953), equipping it with Technicolor, large-scale production values and special FX that went on to win an Oscar. It became a top grosser of ‘53 and still stands as the benchmark space-invasion movie over 50 years later, as close as any oldie ever got to capturing the thrill-ride feeling of today’s FX extravaganzas.

WAR’s onslaught on the home video market began with tape; it later conquered laser (a deluxe two-platter edition) and then advanced on to DVD (a mono-only, no-frills release that probably had most fans sticking with their laserdiscs). The recent remake no doubt prompted this second DVD unveiling, which is one positive thing that can be said in Tom Cruise’s favor.

The sound is now stereo and the color and clarity better than ever—in fact, perhaps too clear, because the wires suspending the Martian war machines have never been more apparent, probably much more visible than they were when the movie was first shown theatrically. Are DVD technicians forgetting their place when they bring out details the moviemakers didn’t want you to see, and which they succeeded in obscuring in the original film prints (the outline of the Invisible Man, the face of the reporter in CITIZEN KANE, the panther in CAT PEOPLE’s poolside scene, etc.)? That’s a war to be waged elsewhere.

On the bonus-features front, there are dual commentaries: In one, memorabilia collector/monster-movie maven Bob Burns, cult director Joe Dante and SF historian Bill Warren very knowledgeably lay out the production history of WAR, which first threatened to come to the screen as early as the silent days. When it was over and I was thinking it couldn’t be topped, I moved on to the commentary by stars Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, which is as good or even better because of one person—and her name isn’t Gene Barry.

The actor brings little to the table, speaking but saying nothing (indicating himself on the screen: “Who’s that nice-looking young guy up there?”), while Ann (too lovable to be called “Robinson”) talks with infectious enthusiasm about multiple aspects of the movie’s making in perhaps one of the best commentaries of this sort that’ll ever be recorded. Between anecdotes and great observations (and buttering up Barry, reacting positively to his every “Who’s that nice-looking young guy up there?”), Ann also charmingly pokes fun at some of her line readings, indicating when her slip is showing, etc. She goes from pointing out her wig, to pointing out her falsies, to pointing out her false eyelashes, until the listener begins to wonder how she knows so much about the movie when so little of “the real her” was there, according to Ann herself! A boom shadow, a mike dipping into the top of the shot, a muffed line, moments that provoked unwanted audience laughter then and now—nothing has escaped the eagle eye (and ear) of Ann Robinson, who gives the impression that she not only starred in the movie, but has watched it once a month since 1953, picking up new details every time! “Who’s that nice-looking young guy up there?” Go home, Gene.

There’s some repetition between the two commentaries, and a bit more in the 30-minute The Sky Is Falling: The Making of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, and yet that’s a delight as well. Ann, Barry and Burns show up once again, joined here in talking-head bits by co-star Robert Cornthwaite, assistant director Michael Moore, WAR authority Robert Skotak, art directors Albert Nozaki (in archive footage) and Jack Senter, Ray Harryhausen (who shows footage of the stop-motion-animated Martian he created when he was trying to get his foot in the door) and Diana Gemora (daughter of makeup maestro Charlie Gemora; the two of them made the Martian, Charlie was in the suit on camera and Diana helped operate it). The docu also references (with lots of clips) Pal’s Puppetoons career and features visual FX test footage, great behind-the-scenes stills, etc. Burns, displaying a Martian vehicle from the 1980s TV series, breaks the bad news to us that all the war machines made for the original were given to Boy Scouts conducting a copper drive and melted down!

Rounding out the package are a short subject on Wells’ career and the entire Orson Welles’ 1938 Mercury Theatre (radio) recreation of WAR that panicked listeners—who, as Welles no doubt intended, got the impression it was an actual news broadcast. One of my few quibbles with this DVD: Instead of the common-as-dirt Welles broadcast, I’d have preferred the 1955 Lux Radio Theatre version of the movie with Dana Andrews (in Gene Barry’s role), Pat Crowley (in Ann’s) and Tremayne (in his own).

When the smoke clears, DVDevotees of horror/SF oldies will proclaim 2005 the Year of KONG (the magnificent Warner Home Video release)—but, taking price into consideration, WAR OF THE WORLDS is almost as amazing an achievement. Impressively packed with extras, it’s just $14.99—or $10 on many deep-discount cybersites, and just eight bucks and change in places like Circuit City. You get the feeling that if this DVD had had even more extras, somewhere somebody would be giving ’em away!

FROM : http://www.fangoria.com/ghastly_review.php?id=5313

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