The War of the Worlds

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(8/10) In a nutshell: With his third try at a science fiction epic, producer George Pal finally ironed out some of the kinks that made his first two attempts fall below the mark. This adaptation of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion classic is a stunning tour de force of special effects, aided by a fast-paced script and beautiful design. The breezy plot helps to partly cover up that Pal has stripped Wells’ story of all ideology and satire, and reversed the author’s position on key issues, and Pal’s insistence on drowning his movies in schmarmy religious tirades makes for a cringe-worthy ending. Despite this, The War of the Worlds is a brilliantly entertaining nail-biter and visually a true masterpiece.

The War of the Worlds (1953). Directed by Byron Haskin. Written by Barré Lyndon. Based on the novel The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite, Lewis Martin, Paul Frees, William Phipps, Cedric Harwicke, Charles Gemora, Carolyn Jones. Produced by George Pal, Frank Freeman Jr. & Cecil B. DeMille for Paramount Pictures. Tomatometer: 85%. IMDb score: 7.2/10

The iconic war machines of The War of the Worlds, designed by Albert Nozaki.

The iconic war machines of The War of the Worlds, designed by Albert Nozaki. Look closely and you see the wires.

There are a few films that stand towering over science fiction like giants in respect to their influence on the genre. George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902, review), Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927, review), and Woman in the Moon (1929, review), James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931, review), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and the Wachowksi Brothers’ The Matrix (1999) are among these. They are not always the best in their subgenre and some of them are hampered by by serious problems. They are not always first in their field with their ideas, but execute them in ways that make them milestones to which you can pin flags and draw a line: this was science fiction film history before this-and-this film, and this is what it looks like afterwards. George Pal’s The War of the Worlds is one of these films, it is the Magnum Opus of a filmmaker that wasn’t always savvy to what made a good sci-fi script, but without question one of the great visionaries of movie history. Continue reading

The Thing from Another World

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(9/10) The film that finally blew the doors open for science fiction in Hollywood was the 1951 picture The Thing from Another World. Directed (uncredited) by legendary Howard Hawks and starring an unknown ensemble cast, this film about a walking, murderous alien vegetable inspired a generation of filmmakers like John Carpenter, James Cameron, George Lucas, Joe Dante and Ridley Scott. The suberb overlapping dialogue, the strong female character, the great special effects and the claustrophobic atmosphere make this one of the all-time greats, even if you don’t agree with the jingoistic right-wing science bashing.

The Thing from Another World (1951). Directed by Christian Nyby and Howards Hawks. Written by Charled Lederer, Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht. Starring Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Arness. Produced by Howard Hawks for Winchester Pictures Corporation and RKO Radio Pictures. Tomatometer: 88 %. IMDb score: 7.3

The iconic title of The Thing.

The iconic title of The Thing.

After a tentative start in 1950, Hollywood finally sank its claws deep inside science fiction in 1951, releasing two of the most influential and acclaimed science fiction films in the history of cinema. The second of these was the liberal, pacifist epic known as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, review), about an alien landing in Washington to deliver a message of warning and of intergalactic peace. Five months prior to that, a completely different beast, set on destruction and world domination, crashed in the glaciers of the Arctic. This Thing from Another World gave birth to the later movie’s ideological counter-part, steeped in red-scare, militarism, science-bashing and paranoia. Despite the ideological differences, the films are equally revered by both camps, and the jury still seems to be out on which was the better entry. It has, however, reached the conclusion that few, if indeed any, sci-fi films of the following decade came even close to the quality of these to trail-blazers. Continue reading