Friday, October 10, 2008

WAR OF THE WORLDS (Byron Haskin, 1953, USA) Based on H.G. Wells’s great science-fiction novel, the story is bereft of the bitter metaphor of British Colonialism and Americanized and updated to circa 1950 technology. Also gone is the blood-draining cattle like harvesting of the human race as food; in this version the Martians are just killing machines who wish not only to conquer the earth but kill every damn human being in the process! The film follows all the standard conventions of 50s science-fiction movies: beautiful woman falls for world famous professor, evil rubbery aliens, cool plastic spaceships, some bible-thumping and scripture-quoting, atomic power, the powerlessness of the US Army, and scientists become humanity’s last hope. The SFX are dated but very good and the alien rays with accompanying sound effects are chilling! Though our heroine has a master’s degree she is relegated to fawning love-interest and coffee & donut serving wench. And she screams a lot! This film breaks with 1950s tradition because the scientists don’t come up with some Deus Ex machine technology to save the world. They are excited and perplexed by the alien technology and though they expound on magnetism and other possibilities, there is very little time wasted on unbelievable exposition. The story moves along as humanity is being slaughtered…and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. Even the priest gets fried when he ‘walks through the valley of death”. I suppose that was surprising to audiences of the time! Finally, as our protagonists are on the verge of being wiped out, the alien machines begin to drop from the sky. A pulsing rubbery arm reveals that the aliens are dying: they were exposed to bacteria in our atmosphere in which they have no immunity. Even though this is corny (highly intelligent creatures would have sampled our atmosphere before invading) it works fairly well in context. A happy but brutal ending since god let billions of people die: a bacterium was the best he could do? (B+)

No comments: