So once again we tackle the sci fi classic War of the Worlds, this time with its first theatrical adaption, also this film scared the (profanity) out of me as a child… but then I was a child, nowadays it takes 80s practical special effects to scare me to the point of not being able to sleep (The Thing and The Blob).
So how does this version differ from the rock opera (Sgathaich:War of the Worlds Rock Opera)? First obviously it’s not a musical. Second like all modern day (it was then) versions of the story it was moved to the United States, which as mentioned before makes sense, moving it to the current super power. Other changes I assume had to be made because of technological limitations (not so much budget as it cost 2 million to make, which was a lot of money back then and not due to stupidity like Cleopatra).
So first the aliens go about in floating crafts rather than actual Tri-pods, but they show them seemingly floating on 3 magnetic energy lines, so there is a nod to the Tripods. The other major change is the lack of the red weed, which creates one of the most odd scenes in the film when the female lead freaks out at the sight of blood in one of the alien machines but at no point do we know if it is using blood either theirs or ours at that point. A later scene implied it was their blood.
That being said many of the scenes were true to the original book, the falling of the cylinders, the heat ray used by the Martians ( which was an impressive effect and one of the things that scared me), the priest going out to face the Martians with just the Bible, and the lead being trapped in a destroyed house with Martian craft about.
The designs also must be commended, the alien craft is very well done, the slow hovering unstoppable machines with the bendy head thing that fires the heat ray are very well realized. But for me the really impressive design was the aliens themselves. We only see one properly for a brief second, and this does not look like a man in a suit. It’s small, no head, thin arms with 3 long fingers, and a strange eye like formation in the centre of its head. It looks genuinely alien, which is impressive for the 50s and in fact the design stands up very well to this day as one of the best alien designs I’v seen (helped by the fact it wasn’t cg...)
But there are flaws. Randomly it brings up the British Isles as of strategic importance… which looking at aliens seems odd as other places close by on a geographical position would seem much better, I just assume this was a nod to the original book and shake it off.
My real problem with the film comes from how much they throw God into it. Now yes the line in the end says that the bacteria in our atmosphere which God in his infinite wisdom placed there, killed the Martians, but that was it. It could really be taken metaphorically. In this film they really hit you with the God stuff. The lead woman making references to it and the final scene having the lead going from church to church.
The aliens were invading the whole world, yet were told, nope no other gods just the Christian one did it… (I would love to have seen a version where the hindu deities descend and smite the Martians with their many arms, THAT WOULD BE AWESOME) but hey, at least it doesn’t have any annoying children who deserve to die only to show up alive at the end (profanity you Spielberg version)
It should be noted that originally the great Ray Harryhousen wanted to do this film, even made tests showing his versions of the Martians that looked much more octopus as in the original. But the ‘powers that be’ in charge felt no one wanted to see that, and look at this now, one of the most influential films of all time and included in the national film registry in the Library of Congress. So those people angry at how stupid the Oscar choices are just remember… the people in charge have always been mistaken and will be the first to go when the Martians invade.