The War of the Worlds Reviews
Dull. Very little suspense or originality in the way HG Wells' story is told. Pretty much just a paint-by-number, blow-by-blow telling adaptation of the classic novel. Even the fact that the "meteors" contain Martians is given away in the opening narration. This ruins any intrigue re what the meteors are, or what is going to happen.
Add in some cheesy dialogue, predictable plot development and sub-plots and mediocre performances and this is a pretty weak movie.
Since the story is a very thin one, the success of The War of the Worlds becomes predicated on its value as a spectacle. Still to this day The War of the Worlds contains to retain a legacy for being one of the most visually stunning science fiction films of the 1950's. I'll admit that the effect has not aged perfectly as you can see the string suspending the Martian ships fairly consistently and many objects in the film are clearly just minuscule props pretending to be much larger. However, considering the time that the film was produced in and the genuinely powerful dramatic effect of the film, it truly does end up succeeding.
As director, Byron Haskin takes The War of the Worlds extremely seriously, and this is a major benefit to the film as it prevents it from falling into the same category as the cheesy science fiction adventure films prominent in the 1950's. The film is slim on characterization, but it does not waste time trying to pretend that there really are any. There are minimal cheesy archetypes in the characters, but rather just a lot of startled human beings of all different states of status and such. They play out as insignificant against the invading martians, and as a result the genuine scale of the film feels larger as the focus is significantly more on spectacle than characters. The cast of the film are strong, but there is more time dedicated to seeing Martians blow up buildings and conquering cities than anything else. There are some frustrating moments in the film where this stops so that the film can pretend it has much in the way of story or human drama, but they do not drag on as the meager 85 minute running time of the film stands out more for its effective imagery than anything else. The imagery depicted in The War of the Worlds carries over to modern day very effectively as the revolutionary nature of the effects for their time maintain a sense of colour in this day and age while also putting a sense of nostalgic value into the experience through showing a turning point in the history of science fiction cinema. One thing that I find really impressive is that since the film really wants to emphasize the Martian ships as being large, the feature cleverly goes between different shots that change the size of things cleverly and integrate them together well. All this is thrown at the viewer with a pace that is fairly consistent with speed, keeping things energetic throughout the experience.
And as a means of ensuring that The War of the Worlds is truly a spectacle, the quality of the audio is also impressive. The sound effects are loud and edited very timely without being overwhelming, and they have a distinctive technological feel to them. On top of that, the musical score plays out when the film requires the appropriate dramatization and it really works. The War of the Worlds lays down a powerful effect on the viewer through the eyes and the ears, so its production values are all too obviously their finest element in every inch of the production.
I will admit though, there is a sense of repetition in the narrative. As effective as the imagery is, viewers are treated to largely just the same basic shots of Martian ships again and again for the majority of the film. As strong as the production values are, the versatility of it all is not as effective when seen in this day and age, particularly when the strings are so clear. While the effects are amusing at first, I can't help but feel that they could have been put to better use in their war against humanity. But at the same time, there is genuinely not that much story development.Even though the spectacle of The War of the Worlds is impressive, the lack of characterization in the film takes its toll. Since the film is very thin in story and very heavy in spectacle, the moments of the film which try to be more about story prove to slow the experience down. They would have more entertainment value if there was really any characters during them, and since there aren't any it largely just a dull affair any time they have anything to do on screen. But it is more a problem because the story doesn't have any way to put them to use except put them on the run or against the aliens. The entire time this is happening, the humans are constantly failing in their efforts and so the disaster elements of the film fuel the narrative with nihilism. This means that there is essentially no hope, and the thin nature of the characters as well as the lack of gimmicks maintained by the cast mean that there is little attachment to the story. This makes it all the more frustrating when a resolution happens all of a sudden without preceding notice and then the film ends within seconds. All in all, The War of the Worlds is more of a disaster movie than anything and it certainly succeeds at being one. The only thing is that it wants to pretend that it's more of a complex science fiction film even though the material is overly simplistic. I'm sure that H.G. Wells had more in mind when he wrote his original story than was delivered by Byron Haskin on the film, but I guess they both stand out in their respective fields for different merits.
So The War of the Worlds has a thin plot and no characters, but the powerful production values and genuine large scale disaster atmosphere make it a nostalgic piece of science fiction cinema.