Note: This is about the 1953 adaptation. For the 2005 one, see War of the Worlds.
The first of several film adaptations of H.G. Wells' seminal alien invasion novel, directed by Byron Haskin and produced by George Pal. It stars Gene Barry as the scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and Ann Robinson as Sylvia Van Buren, as they must survive a full-scale invasion of Earth by Martian forces.
The film is a Pragmatic Adaptation
of the novel, taking only the premise and ending with little else from the source material. Nonetheless in an age of alien invasion films such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
, Invaders From Mars
and The Thing from Another World
this film is regarded as one of the best of that category.
Many years later the film would get a sequel in the form of a television series. Due to history marching on
the series retconned
several aspects from the original film, namely the aliens coming from the planet Mor-Tax instead of Mars. Elements of the film would also inspire future science-fiction media, such as Mystery Science Theater 3000
, The Iron Giant
and Independence Day
This film contains examples of:
- Chekhov's Gun: When Dr. Forrester brings a Martian probe with blood samples to a group of scientists, they see that the blood is highly anemic. This foreshadows how they were eventually killed by terrestrial bacteria.
- Darkest Hour: The film's final act. It's probably among the darkest and bleakest atmospheres put into a 50's alien invasion film; there's absolutely nothing left to hold on to and the protagonist's last remaining goal is to spend the next few minutes of his life with his loved one.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The original novel took place in late 1800's England and the aliens piloted towering tripod walkers. This film takes place in 1950's California, and the aliens pilot hovering manta-ray/scorpion spacecraft.
- Originally the spacecrafts were meant to be tripods, but since a tripod effect was difficult to achieve the film instead states that the spacecraft hover via invisible tripod "stilts". In a few shots you can see vague outlines of the "stilts" along with sparks on the ground.
- Religion Is Wrong: Averted in a strange way. The source material (at least the second half) is a firm criticism of religion, and there are religious characters who eventually turn out unhinged and dangerous in the wake of the invasion. The film is almost the complete opposite - the main religious character is kind and righteous and is given a meaningful death, and the closing narration comments on how the smallest creatures of God's kingdom defeated the invaders.
- Technology Marches On: Back in the source novel the alien war machines were vulnerable to artillery fire and a torpedo ram, which were the most powerful weapons available at the time. In this film the aliens can survive an atom bomb blast, because otherwise they would be defeated very quickly.
- What Could Have Been: Ray Harryhausen apparently always wanted to take on the story, but never got the chance to do so.