For anyone that reads this blog regularly, you know that I am a huge fan of the science fiction films of the 1950s. No other decade has produced more genre films that were all enjoyable, perhaps at times for the wrong reasons. The writing was very original. The special effects, though cheesy at times, worked and the artists were often very creative with the miniscule budgets they had. The pacing was also really good in these films as many of them ran eighty minutes or less, making the stories much tighter.
Though most of the films from this era were in black and white, a few were in color, taking full advantage of the capabilities afforded by the still relatively new technique. One of the first science fiction films to utilize color film was the 1953 film WAR OF THE WORLDS.
Prior to this Criterion release of this film, the only version available was the 1999 DVD put out by Paramount. The DVD only featured the trailer as a bonus and though the picture quality was passable, it was the only way to see it up until now.
Criterion has knocked it out of the park with this edition. The picture quality is crisp and the colors strong and very natural looking. I have seen this movie many times over the years and it was like seeing it brand new with this version. The 4K digital restoration is absolutely beautiful. For audio, you have a choice of either listening to the original, uncompressed monaural soundtrack or a new alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, created by sound designer Ben Burtt.
One thing that always bothered me with the original DVD release was with the special effects. The colors seemed muted and you could often see the wires holding up the alien ships. The visuals here are stunning with the ships looking amazing as they blast their way through civilization, all the while reflecting flashes of light on the bottom of the ships. The wires are no where to be found here.
The miniature work is also showcased here. In the 1999 release because of the lack of clarity, a lot of details were easily overlooked. The craftmanship on the buildings are very realistic and with the use of forced perspective, you truly get the impression of a much larger area. The detail in the alien costume is also much clearer here, showing why is it one of the greatest alien designs of the 1950s. Here you can see the veins of the creature pulsating in much more detail.
There are also some great features on this disc. There is audio commentary with filmmaker Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns and author Bill Warren, of Famous Monsters of Filmland fame. There is a documentary called Movie Archaeologists about the film’s visual and sound effects. Another documentary, From the Archive, covers the restoration of this amazing film. From 1970 is an interview with producer George Pal. Another documentary, The Sky Is Falling, from 2005, covers the making of the film. There are also a couple of radio programs. One is the original broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS by Orson Welles and the second is from 1940 featuring a discussion between Orson Welles and H.G. Wells, the author of WAR OF THE WORLDS.
This has always been an amazing film and now it can finally be seen as it should be. This is a must have in every science fiction movie collection. I will be doing a FILMBOOK OF FEAR on this film soon which I why I didn’t go into the plot at all. Don’t forget to read the other blogs in my BASEMENT BLU-RAY REVIEW series.
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