Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The War of the Worlds (1953) * * *

H. G. Wells' 1898 science fiction novel "The War of the Worlds" describes an invasion of Victorian England by Martians using tripod fighting machines equipped with advanced weaponry. The novel is narrated by an anonymous journalist who lives where the invaders land. Throughout the narrative he struggles to reunite with his wife and brother while witnessing the Martians destroying southern English counties and London. Finding London an abandoned ruin, and seeing little hope for humankind, he decides to sacrifice himself to the invaders, only to discover that they have succumbed to the effects of Earth bacteria, to which they have no immunity.

(first lines)
Radio Reporter: In the First World War, and for the first time in the history of man, nations combined to fight against nations using the crude weapons of those days. The Second World War involved every continent on the globe, and men turned to science for new devices of warfare, which reached an unparalleled peak in their capacity for destruction. And now, fought with the terrible weapons of super-science, menacing all mankind and every creature on the Earth comes the War of the Worlds.

Commentary: No one would have believed in the middle of the 20th Century that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than Man's. Yet, across the gulf of space on the planet Mars, intellects vast and cool and unsypathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely joined their plans against us. Mars is more than 140 million miles from the sun, and for centuries has been in the last status of exhaustion. At night, temperatures drop far below zero even at its equator. Inhabitants of this dying planet looked across space with instruments and intelligences that which we have scarcely dreamed, searching for another world to which they could migrate.

The story is updated to the 1950s for this film, and the setting is moved from London to southern California. Narrator Cedric Hardwick opens the film with a prologue in black and white that switches to Technicolor at the opening title sequence. Pacific Tech scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry), a renowned physicist, is on a fishing vacation in Pine Summit when a giant meteorite lands in the hills above the nearby town of Linda Rosa. Along with the residents, he goes to investigate. At the impact site, he meets Sylvia van Buren (Ann Robinson) and her uncle, Pastor Dr. Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin). Finding the meteorite too hot to examine closely, he decides to wait in town for the meteorite to cool down.

Sylvia: Did you see it come down?
Forrester: Yes, I was fishing up in the hills.
Sylvia: Well, you must have caught plenty with all that tackle!
Sheriff Bogany: What is that gizmo?
Forrester: I'd say that gizmo is a machine from another planet.

After most of the people have gone home, the meteorite turns out to be a Martian spacecraft which unscrews and disgorges a machine. When the three men who remained behind approach with a friendly greeting, it kills them without warning. Forrester and the sheriff are also attacked when they return, but survive. Amid reports of numerous other meteors landing throughout the world, a regiment of United States Marines arrives and surrounds the Martian ship. Three Martian war machines arrive. Pastor Collins approaches one of them in peace, but they kill him with their Heat-Ray without attempting to communicate. The Marines attack, but the Martians are protected by an impenetrable force field. The invaders use their Heat-Ray and disintegrator rays to vaporize most of the Marines, then move out.

Forrester: Any news from abroad?
Major General Mann: Washington is in constant touch with the leaders of other nations. Apparently they're coming down all over. South America; Santiago has two cylinders. They're outside London. They're in Naples. We've got them between here and Fresno, outside Sacramento, two on Long Island.
Forrester: They're just coming down at random?
Major General Mann: No. According to information from foreign sources, they're working to some kind of a plan. Now what it may be isn't clear yet. Simply because once they begin to move, no more news comes out of that area.

Pastor Collins: Colonel, shooting's no good.
Col. Ralph Heffner: It's always been a good persuader.

Forrester and Sylvia flee along with the rest of the civilians. After their plane crashes, they take shelter in a nearby abandoned farmhouse. They are trapped in the basement when another meteorite crashes into the house. The couple comes in contact with a Martian when the creature leaves its machine to look around, but they manage to fight it off. They reach Los Angeles, eventually rejoining Forrester's co-workers who are trying to find a way to defeat the aliens. With a sample of Martian blood and an electronic eye obtained from the farmhouse encounter, the scientists learn a good deal about Martian physiology, especially that they are physically weak creatures.

They then leave to observe a United States Air Force YB-49 drop an atomic bomb on the Martians advancing on Los Angeles. When this fails to destroy the machines, the government initiates large-scale evacuations of cities in danger. Refugees head for shelters set up in the Rocky Mountains. However, widespread panic among the general populace scatters the research group and their equipment is wrecked. In the confusion, Forrester and Sylvia become separated.

All seems lost, with humanity helpless before the onslaught. Forrester frantically searches for Sylvia in the burning ruins of a Los Angeles under attack. Suddenly, an approaching Martian war machine crashes. Upon investigating, Forrester realizes that the seemingly all-powerful invaders are dying. As in the book, they have no biological defense against Earth's viruses and bacteria. At the end, Forrester finds Sylvia in a church, and bells ring as the people praying in the church for a miracle witness the crash of the saucers as the Martians begin to die.

(last lines)
Commentary: The Martians had no resistance to the bacteria in our atmosphere to which we have long since become immune. Once they had breathed our air, germs, which no longer affect us, began to kill them. The end came swiftly. All over the world, their machines began to stop and fall. After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth.

When this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ famous novel hit the screen it wowed audiences with its visuals and the film won an Academy Award for special effects. It's official premiere was in Hollywood on February 20, 1953, and it was the year's biggest sci-fi box office hit. World War II stock footage was used to produce a montage of destruction to show the worldwide invasion, with armies of all nations joining together to fight the invaders. The city of Corona was used as the shooting location for the town of "Linda Rosa". Wells had used the second half of his novel to make a satirical commentary on civilization and the class struggle. Satire was removed from the film and replaced with a religious theme, to the point that the Martians begin dying shortly after blasting a church. The movie itself is understood better when you consider it was made at the height of the Cold War--just replace Martian with Russian. WAR OF THE WORLDS is considered to be one of the greatest science fiction films of the 1950s.

The New York Times noted the film was "an imaginatively conceived, professionally turned adventure, which makes excellent use of Technicolor, special effects by a crew of experts and impressively drawn backgrounds...Director Byron Haskin, working from a tight script by Barre Lyndon, has made this excursion suspenseful, fast and, on occasion, properly chilling", Variety felt it was "a socko science-fiction feature, as fearsome as a film as was the Orson Welles 1938 radio interpretation...what starring honors there are go strictly to the special effects, which create an atmosphere of soul-chilling apprehension so effectively audiences will actually take alarm at the danger posed in the picture. It can't be recommended for the weak-hearted, but to the many who delight in an occasional good scare, it's sock entertainment of hackle-raising quality."

This movie made such an impression on sci-fi that when a 1988 TV version of WAR OF THE WORLDS was produced, it was conceived as a direct sequel to the 1953 film, rather than a derivation of the Wells novel. The 1988 TV series uses several elements from the film, including having Ann Robinson reprise her role as Sylvia Van Buren in three episodes. Robinson also quasi-reprised her role in two later films, first as Dr. Van Buren in MIDNIGHT MOVIE MASSACRE (1988) and as Dr. Sylvia Van Buren in THE NAKED MONSTER (2005).

The cast also includes: Les Tremayne (Maj. Gen. Mann), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Pryor), Sandro Giglio (Dr. Bilderbeck), Houseley Stevenson Jr. (Gen. Mann's aide), Paul Frees (Second Radio Reporter / Opening Announcer), William Phipps (Wash Perry), Vernon Rich (Col. Ralph Heffner), Henry Brandon (Cop at Crash Site), Jack Kruschen (Salvatore), Edgar Barrier (Prof. McPherson), Russ Bender (Dr. Carmichael), Paul Birch (Alonzo Hogue), Walter Sande (Sheriff Bogany), Hazel Boyne, Tony Butala, Mushy Callahan, Ann Codee (Dr. Duprey), and many others. Leith Stevens composed the original music. Barré Lyndon wrote the screenplay based on H. G. Wells' novel. Byron Haskin directed.

WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) is a science fiction-disaster film based on H. G. Wells' original novel. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Josh Friedman and David Koepp, and it was released on June 29, 2005. It is one of four film adaptations of the novel, preceded by two straight-to-video versions released the same year and the original 1953 film version. Spielberg's film transposes the setting of Wells' story from Victorian England to modern New Jersey.

The story opens in Newark, New Jersey, with dock worker Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) finishing the third shift in the morning. His pregnant ex-wife Mary Anne (Miranda Otto) and her wealthy new husband Tim (David Alan Basche), drop off Ray's 10 year-old daughter Rachel (Hannah Dakota Fanning) and teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) at his house. They are staying with him in Bayonne, New Jersey, while Tim and Mary Anne visit her parents in Boston, Massachusetts for the weekend. Rachel suffers from a panic disorder, while Robbie harbors resentment and outright disrespect towards his father. Later that day, Ray wakes up from a nap and is told by Rachel that Robbie has stolen his car and left.

Ray immediately sets out to find him, but is distracted by a strange cloud formation near his neighborhood. As he and Rachel view it from the garden, the clouds unleash electromagnetic pulses, disabling all of the working electronic devices in the area, including cars. Ray finds an apologetic Robbie, and tells him to take care of Rachel in the house while he goes to look at a hole in the ground that Robbie mentioned. Traveling past, he advises a mechanic to replace the solenoid of a car he is repairing. Ray and many other people find the mysteriously cold hole in the intersection, from which a large tripod machine emerges. It begins to vaporize all humans within its range, and starts to destroy all the buildings in its path. Ray however, manages to escape and returns to his house. After packing food, Ray and the kids abandon their home and steal the car with the new solenoid, the only operating vehicle in town.

The family drive to Tim's house and take refuge in the basement for the night. During the night, a tripod destroys an airliner that crashes into the development, demolishing many of the houses. In the morning, Ray meets a news team, who show close-up video footage to Ray of the lightning in the previous "storm". In slow-motion, they see what they believe to be a pod and deduce that the aliens "rode" down the lightning into the ground where the tripods were located. One reporter believes that the machines were buried in the Earth long before there were humans. After hearing the siren of a nearby tripod approaching the area, the news crew flees, leaving Ray with the intention of driving on to Boston with his kids. The movie goes on and on and on. At the end the narrator reveals that the Tripods are breaking down because the invaders and their weeds are suffering from terrestrial diseases, for which they have no immunity.

This WAR OF THE WORLDS uses elements from the H. G. Wells novel, and also the 1938 radio play and the 1953 film. Spielberg described the movie: It's nothing you can really describe. The whole thing is very experiential. The point of view is very personal--everybody, I think, in the world will be able to relate to the point of view, because it's about a family trying to survive and stay together, and they're surrounded by the most epically horrendous events you could possibly imagine."

Extraterrestrials invade the Earth in a spectacular way, but the event is more disaster than spectacle. When characters stare at the looming tripods in awe it is never for long, as terror and the need to run for their lives inevitably takes over. Spielberg is not interested in entertaining us, he wants to terrify and shies away from nothing. His camera shows many incredible things, hints at others, swirls around the actors and effects in virtuoso displays of action movie artistry, and we realize that the PG-13 rating is a mistake.

Spielberg edits not for convenience, but for force. There is never the sense that something was done because of a limitation, budgetary or otherwise. He flawlessly assembles individual shots and entire complex set pieces, integrates them seamlessly, and makes us believe every frame. When the alien tripods unleash their fury, we do not question them, the aliens, or the people running away. They are there and Tom Cruise is right there with them.

Ultimately WAR OF THE WORLDS is frightening not because Spielberg has made a horror movie, or because of the way he assaults our senses. It's that he has taken the fantastic concept of an alien invasion and made it as realistic as possible. The result is that we watch it not as science fiction but as horror. We are not seeing some vague, distant movie universe violated and pulverized, but our own world, here and now. And we are not observers but participants, as astonished and scared as the people on the screen.

The three leads are pivotal elements of this connection. Though Tom Cruise represents the center of the film, it is the kids who make the greatest impact. Dakota Fanning provides the most primitive emotional base--sheer terror, bewilderment and despair, all the way through. If you think otherwise, that's not an easy task. Justin Chatwin is convincing as his character goes from the expected confusion to anger to a fierce and surprising determination.

WAR OF THE WORLDS would have been incredible had it consisted only of its first two acts. The third is somewhat disappointing, narrows its focus, dumps one character and strands us in a basement with the rest of them. By this point it had taken us to the edge, but it seems that it doesn't have the nerve to jump. The resolution does not quite ring true, as modifications to the story lessen the impact of Wells' original ending, and there is one particular reappearance that is like a slap in the face. However, you can criticize the plot and the script, find flaws in the storytelling, get irritated at the ending, but there is no way to look at what Spielberg has put together in the first two-thirds of this film and not be humbled and amazed.

Reviews have praised the film for its special effects and the direction of Steven Spielberg, but have criticized the film for gaps in the logic and holes and inconsistencies in the story line. Some critics such as Glenn Whip (LA Daily News) and Bruce Westbrook (Houston Chronicle) consider the film a near masterpiece. Critic Armond White, who also named the film the second best of the year, stated that "the film steps beyond the simple conventions of genre filmmaking (a sci-fi flick about an invasion from Mars) and expresses our very contemporary concern with survival", also describing the scene where the Rachel Ferrier character asks "Are we still alive?", as the "unexpectedly avant-garde moment" in the film. Critic James Berardinelli wrote: "WAR OF THE WORLDS may not stand up well to careful inspection and it may not be the smartest science fiction film brought to the screen (although, when considering movies such as the like-themed INDEPENDENCE DAY, it's far from the dumbest), but it is an intense, visceral experience." Roger Ebert regarded it as: "a big, clunky movie containing some sensational sights but lacking the zest and joyous energy we expect from Steven Spielberg."

H. G. WELLS' WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005), also known as INVASION and H. G. WELLS' THE WORLDS IN WAR, is a modernized adaptation much like Spielberg's version. It was released by production company The Asylum whose budget may be more on par with the Pendragon version. No theatrical release date had been planned. Instead the film was a direct-to-DVD release. The story tells of a man who is separated from his wife and child when a Martian invasion begins. He tries to make his way to Washington, D.C. to reunite with them as the world is torn apart. The protagonist is an astronomer named George Herbert (C. Thomas Howell), and the film does not attempt the voice-over narration that accompanies other versions of the story.

The film's Martians are insect-like in their appearance with four legs. These aliens also have the ability to spit acid, which melts anyone who is attacked. They also have an appetite for humans as in the novel. The tripods have been changed to six-legged crab-like machines called "walkers" Fighting machines do not appear to have heavy protection against modern human artillery, leaving their ability to crush resistance unexplained. The aliens do have a substance vaguely similar to the black smoke, which they distribute in shells, but is more of a green colored gas with an inability to rise above ground level, allowing the characters to escape by getting to high places. A major deviation from the text is that the protagonist actually tries to produce a means of stopping the Martians, but the film does not elaborate on whether their eventual downfall is due to these efforts, or whether their deaths simply coincided with his efforts.

Ralph Rieckermann composed the original music. David Michael Latt and Carlos De Los Rios wrote the screenplay based on H. G. Wells' novel. David Michael Latt directed.

The DVD was released on June 28, one day before Spielberg's film, and has a few notable stars including C. Thomas Howell, Peter Greene, and Jake Busey. The alternate title of INVASION is probably for the film's overseas distribution since Paramount claim to own exclusive film rights to the "War of the Worlds" title in the European Union. The chapters on the DVD are named after the chapter titles in the novel, something also done for the Pendragon and Spielberg films.

On April 1, 2008, the sequel WAR OF THE WORLDS 2: THE NEXT WAVE was released direct-to-DVD. The film begins two years after the original and the Martians return to complete their plan of human domination. Appearing in a town of a few survivors a new type of Martian fighter arrives and vaporizes all who come across it. Unlike the originals, however, these appear to be able to move through space at will.

Hiding out in their home that was left untouched in the first invasion George Herbert (C. Thomas Howell) and his son hear an odd sound from the radio used to talk with others. Eventually after reaching his work station George learns that the machines were controlled away from the planet and that the reason they could not see the invasion arriving was due to the use of a type of wormhole between Earth and Mars.

George meets another soldier who had his unit wiped out and is captured as is George's son. When the invasion truly begins we see a new group of battle ships used by the invaders, including a flying-machine and larger metallic machines used to attack Paris. Eventually, using new technology and with help from a virus, a United States Air Force team led by Major Kramer (Fred Griffith) travels to Mars and destroys the invaders' home.

The movie ends with the noise in the beginning of the movie playing over again in the radio during a picnic. It is unclear what happened to George's wife who died prior to the movie. If it was due to the first invasion or not is never revealed. The ending allows for another possible invasion to occur.

Ralph Rieckermann composed the music. Karen Forsberg wrote the screenplay from Steve Bevilacqua's story based on H. G. Wells' novel. C. Thomas Howell directed.

H. G. WELLS' WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005) directed by Timothy Hines follows the novel's plot, almost in exact detail, with some minor deviations. This version was produced by the independent film production company Pendragon Pictures and is distinguishable from the other film adaptations of the novel in that it is not a contemporary retelling, but rather set in the book's original time period and location. It is also the first film adaptation to be set in the United Kingdom as opposed to the more popular setting of the United States. The budget was approximately $25 million. A direct-to-DVD release, it was released on DVD in America and has been released through GAGA on DVD in Japan.

Although the film's music score by Jamie Hall was well received, the movie as a whole got mixed reviews by critics who often praised the good intentions behind the project and its faithfulness to the source material, but described the result as "unendurable" and "terrible in almost every way a movie can be", with "awful" effects.

Film rights to "The War of the Worlds" are in the public domain in the United States, with Paramount claiming rights in the European Union, leaving the rest of the world markets wide open and thus allowing adaptations such as Pendragon's version to be legal. However, Hines claimed that Paramount had harassed him over legal issues and held up the release of his film, showing a letter from Paramount to Susanne Ault, which pointed out that he had no right to distribute his movie in the European Union.

In July 2006, Pendragon Pictures gave formal legal notice that the Dark Horse Comics publication comic book, with the identically named "H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds", lifted certain unique elements, such as camera angles, from Pendragon's film. The production company set up a site that displayed comparisons and let audiences decide for themselves, but as part of a settlement of the legal action with Dark Horse, this site no longer exists.

H. G. WELLS' WAR OF THE WORLDS: DIRECTOR'S CUT was released in September, 2005. After complaints about the original film's three hour running time, this version cut about forty-five minutes from the running time. The version was only available in regions 2 and 4, and thus not available in the United States and Canada.

THE CLASSIC WAR OF THE WORLDS was released on December 25, 2006. This edition is the special final cut edit of H. G. WELLS' WAR OF THE WORLDS and is 125 minutes long, fifty-five minutes shorter than the original film. It has added scenes, re-edits, and re-tooled special effects. The director says this is the definitive version. THE CLASSIC WAR OF THE WORLDS replaces the 3 hour rough cut version, H. G. WELLS' WAR OF THE WORLDS, that was widely distributed and is now discontinued.

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