War of the Worlds: 1953 George Pal Movie

In 1953, movie mogul George Pal brought The War of the Worlds to the big screen. He had already produced Destination Moon and When Worlds Collide and would soon produce Conquest of Space and The Time Machine, a film he would also direct. For The War of the Worlds, George Pal enlisted the talents of Director Byron Haskin, who would he again used for Conquest of Space.

The film took its direction more from the Mercury Theatre radio adaptation than the original novel. Writer Barre Lyndon once again modernized the plot, moving the main action across America to Los Angeles. The film’s hero, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and female lead, Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson) fought a Martian invasion that dispensed with H. G. Wells’ original ideas of the conquest of conquerors and replaced it with a Martian ambition to completely exterminate all mankind. Like the original novel, the military is ineffective against the Martians, even hurling the fury of the atomic bomb against the Martian machines only to watch them cruise, serene and unscathed, out of the mushroom cloud. Like their warrior counterparts, the film’s scientists are equally useless. Despite gathering intelligence and formulating hypotheses, the biotechnicians fail to develop a way of beating the Martians.

In the film’s climax, as the Martians are devastating Los Angeles, apparently without any force to stop them, on Martian heat rays blasts out the window of a church in which Dr. Forrester and Sylvia have taken refuge. At that moment, as if receiving direct retribution from God, the Martian War Machine veers off course and collapses into the street. Leaving the church, Forrester and Sylvia watch as a hatch on the crashed machine opens and the dying Martian’s hand reaches out and then lays still. Once again, bacteria kill off the Martians but do so with a distinct vengeance.

The War of the Worlds movie is among the most classic of classic science fiction. The floating Martian Fighting Machines are among the most memorable designs ever shown on screen. Originally planned to be a walking device, as described in the novel, the production team decided that the necessary special effects would be too expensive and would not look real enough to be believable. In the end, they settled on the black-and-green curved design used in the film, which Dr. Forrester supposes is in fact walking on magnetic legs. The cobra-headed, blinking-eye Heat-Ray device also plays into religious imagery; not only are these beings Godless, they are also the agents of the Serpent himself.

– written by Rob Farquhar