Robert, Nat, and Cody celebrate episode 100 with a look at two high profile adaptations of H.G. Wells’s 1898 novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. First up is the Byron Haskell directed 1953 version THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and we complete the set with Steven Spielberg’s WAR OF THE WORLDS from 2005.
1953’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was a big hit and one of the most iconic science fiction films of the 1950s. With its vivid Technicolor, its dynamic sound editing, and its iconic design and special effects it’s a true technical marvel. It remains one of the most beloved science fiction films of the 1950s.
Tapping into the atomic age fears of its time and the war time memories, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a time capsule from a previous America. An America that had a lot of fears, but also had enormous faith in itself and God.
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) is perhaps lacking in human characterization and dimension. Gene Barry and Ann Robinson are certainly competent actors, but the film doesn’t care too much to explore them beyond moments. The romantic interest between the two is perhaps too small to really register.
The human story plays more in the big broad strokes than the details. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) plays more as a Biblical epic of the era, right down to SAMSON AND DELILAH playing in the town theater, There is apocalyptic imagery, people turned to ash, great exoduses of refugees, and people turning to church and God. Right down to God’s littlest creation being the one thing the Martians overlook.
Steven Spielberg was obviously a fan of the 1950s version, albeit his history with science fiction always had a more benevolent look at aliens.
Spielberg’s take on the material was clearly different than the 1950s. With one of the biggest stars on the planet in Tom Cruise, Spielberg fashioned a more character-centric take on the material. Where one, rather lacking, father does everything he can to protect his family amidst the chaos of a Martian invasion.
“Is it terrorists?” is asked more than once, marking WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) as clearly a post-9/11 parable. With ash falling from the sky, wreckage of all kinds including a passenger jet, photos posted of the missing, and fear and horror affecting Americans, it’s kind of a wonder that it wasn’t received with greater controversy. But, it’s a credit to Spielberg’s skill that while there’s great spectacle, he doesn’t dwell on it unnecessarily and it’s clear that he means the audience to receive it with shock and horror rather than enjoy it as pure popcorn entertainment. It’s one of Spielberg’s most intense and harrowing films.
WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) has a tight focus. There’s personal growth, mistakes, and a re commitment to family in Spielberg’s exploration of post-9/11 America.
It’s an open question if the ending of H.G. Wells’s novel fits with the needs of 21st Century America. But, there’s no question that WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) is a vital depiction of what America was going through in the early years of the 21st Century.
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Intro and H.G. Welles’ Radio Play Discussion: 0:00 to 15:43
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) Discussion 15:43 to 40:46
WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) Discussion 40:46 to 1:22:35
Next movie and Outro: 1:22:35 to 1:28:54
Bonus: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1938) 1:28:54 to End
Next month, we revisit the world of Afrofuturism with NEPTUNE FROST, a film that created a lot of buzz on 2022’s festival circuit. We hope you’ll join us.