Deep Ice: A Million to One, But Still, They Come (George Pal’s War of the Worlds)

War of the Worlds (1953) PosterI’ll Explain Later…

It is August 26, 1953. America is still reeling from the USSR’s recent demonstration of their shiny new H-Bomb, “Joe 4”, and even worse, last week’s publication of Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which made the controversial claim that women, some of them possibly the readers’ own mothers, may have, at some point, had sex, and, unthinkably, some of them might even have enjoyed it. The US and the UK are just finishing up overthrowing the democratically elected government of Iran to keep the Shah in power, an act which they reckoned could not possibly backfire and foment decades of animosity between Iran and the west.

Les Paul and Mary Ford top the Billboard charts with “Vaya con Dios”. TV is in repeats for the summer, but next week, NBC will announce an experimental color episode of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Super Circus is on the cover of the TV Guide.

Tomorrow, Roman Holiday will premiere in theaters, but today, the third of this year’s movies about Martians premiers (The other two are cult-classic Invaders From Mars and Abbot and Costello Go To Mars (Though technically, that one does not involve Martians; they actually go to Venus; the movie’s named for a scene where they mistake New Orleans at Mardi Gras for the red planet)): George Pal’s feature film adaptation of War of the Worlds.

There’d been talk about adapting The War of the Worlds as a feature film at least as far back as the 1920s. Cecil B. DeMille had been approached about it in 1925. and Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s. Ray Harryhausen shot some test footage of a novel-accurate Martian emerging from a cylinder-ship in the 1940s. But it wasn’t until the early 1950s that producer George Pal (already a big name in Science Fiction from Oscar-winners Destination Moon and When Worlds Collide) and director Byron Haskin adapted the story for the big-screen.

This is the big one. The definitive big old alien invasion movie. War of the Worlds (1953) War MachinesThere will be famous monster movies with aliens, or movies about alien wars in space, but with the possible exception of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, there isn’t going to be another full-on aliens-invade-Earth-in-force (I know technically The Thing and Superman II are both movies about aliens that invade Earth, but I think characterizing them as “alien invasions” in the same way as War of the Worlds, Independence Day, Battle: Los Angeles, Edge of Tomorrow, etc., are is a stretch.) film that really rises above the status of cult classic until the ’80s. Depending on how mainstream you need a movie to be to count, maybe not until 1996’s Independence Day.

Pretty much everything about this movie is iconic. And until the inexplicable decision of literally (not literally) every filmmaker on Earth to do their own adaptation in 2005, this movie’s imagery and iconography became the unquestioned, unchallenged dominant version of the story in the public consciousness.

But is it good? The short answer is “yes”. The long answer is… a qualified “yes”. It is possibly the first genuinely visually breathtaking science fiction movies to be filmed in color — it won an Oscar for its special effects. War of the Worlds (1953) Gene Barry and Ann RobinsonThey slot in a fairly convincing love story with human characters who are more fleshed out than in the other direct adaptations we’ve looked at. The pacing is pretty solid. Ann Robinson’s Sylvia van Buren is one of the strongest female characters that had ever appeared in a science fiction film at the time (That is not to say that she is actually a Strong Female Character; about half of her role is about screaming at things. But by fifties standards….).

When we get to the plot, though… Well, it’s… okay. I guess. You know how The Big Bang Theory ruined Raiders of the Lost Ark by making us notice that Indy doesn’t actually do a damned thing that affects the outcome of the movie? Nothing any of the characters do in War of the Worlds ends up having any bearing on the outcome of the story. This shouldn’t be a surprise at this point, after all, it’s the whole point of the original novel. But still, it’s not really the kind of story that works well as a movie — this is and always has been a big problem for adapting “traditional” science fiction for mainstream audiences. Traditional science fiction isn’t written like a proper story; it’s more like an RPG sourcebook. The author’s real goal is to communicate the details of this fictional world he’s come up with, and the narrative, such as it is, is just a framework for organizing the exposition. But, of course, humans like narratives. At a fundamental level, the thing the human brain does is to organize a chaotic collection of input stimuli into coherent narratives. Back when we talked about The Great Martian War, I pointed out that it wasn’t enough for them to just recount the “history” of the war: they needed an angle. That’s one thing The History Channel has come to understand about making documentaries: that people for the most part don’t want to watch an encyclopedic recitation of facts, but rather they want a story, even if the story is only there to organize that same set of facts. Turning a big pile of facts into a narrative is what makes history different from taxonomy.

Given all this, there are basically two ways you “solve” the basic problem with War of the Worlds as a narrative. First, you can just straight-up change the ending. That’s what The Great Martian War does, making the infection that brings down the Martians not simply a matter of them being immediately doomed upon landing, but the result of biological warfare by the Allies. That’s also what the Asylum’s 2005 version does, with its implication that the alien defeat may have been due to the actions of the protagonist, who injects one of them with rabies vaccine (We will deal with the fact that rabies vaccine is dead-virus and therefore does not work that way when we come to it). The other approach is to treat the story like a disaster movie: the protagonists can’t stop the earthquake or volcano or Hippocane (In the past three centuries, only about five hundred people have died from shark attacks. Hippopotamuses kill about three thousand people every year. Sharknado 3: Hippocanes, Sharknado 4: TropicAligator Storm, Sharknado 5: Polar Bear Vortex, and Sharknado 6: Mongoosesoon coming this fall on SyFy. And next year, Sharknado 7: Owlvalanche), their story is about survival under desperate circumstances, perhaps with an element of escape or rescue. That’s pretty much how Orson Wells and Howard Koch structured the second half of their 1938 adaptation, and it’s pretty much how the Spielberg 2005 version did it. Roland Emmerich combines both in Independence Day to make a film that, for its flaws, is eminently watchable.

The problem with the 1953 War of the Worlds is that it kind of half-asses the second approach. It has its moments; the farmhouse scene, and the final scenes in Los Angeles, but they don’t really add up to a cohesive narrative. The film is mostly “Look at us try and fail to fight the Martians,” interspersed with scenes of Sylvia and Clayton that are very nice and all but don’t add up to a whole story.

We open with a little montage of newsreel footage showing clips from World War I and World War II as a narrator, who apparently thinks this is a teaser trailer, speaks about how advanced science and technology of their respective days went into fighting the two great wars, and how now, “Fraught with the terrible weapons of super-science comes The War of the Worlds!” An animated introduction takes us on a little trip through the solar system. The narrator does a fairly close adaptation of the first four paragraphs of the novel, explaining the plight of the Martians as their world cooled and became unable to support life. He does a quick reconnoiter of the solar system, giving comically inaccurate assessments of each planet to explain why it wasn’t suitable for Martian colonization: Pluto’s atmosphere is frozen (Pluto has no atmosphere and isn’t a planet anyway), Uranus and Neptune have identical methane-ammonia atmospheres, Saturn’s surface is buried under miles of ice (Saturn has no surface), Jupiter, though the closest planet to Mars, has a rocky surface of lava-and-ice volcanoes with burning hydrogen fires (Jupiter has no surface, no volcanoes, and is further from Mars than Earth), Mercury is hot and has no air (So at least they got that right), War of the Worlds (1953)and Venus, though mentioned in the script, isn’t in the filmed version of the montage at all, so presumably the Martians just forgot it.

We transition to live action with a practical FX shot of a meteor falling to Earth, alarming some park rangers and townspeople outside a movie theater as it disappears between the two matte paintings of mountains at the far end of the set. You’re going to have to try to remember how impressive this all looked in 1953, because I don’t think there’s a single shot in this movie (excepting the stock footage) that isn’t on a soundstage, and it’s really blatant about it. The impact starts some fires, and the first responders are impressed by the “meteor”‘s size (if you know what I mean), so they send Comedy Relief Deputy Ranger Fiddler to go round up a couple of scientists they happen to know are camping nearby. Since it’s the fifties, “Science” is its own field, and one scientist is pretty much as good as another. Fiddler proceeds to eat their dinner, steal their cigarettes, and conscript them to go have a look at the meteor. This is where we meet the hero of our story, Dr. Clayton Forrester (No, not that one), played by Gene Barry. I suspect that Gene Barry had a lot of influence into the characterization of Dr. Clayton Forrester. He’s a bit unusual as Movie Scientists go, presented as a bit of a celebrity — it’s mentioned that he’d been on the cover of Time — and the fact that he owns his own plane seems suggestive that he’s got money. And, at least in his first few scenes, he’s hella suave. Post War of the Worlds, Barry was primarily known for playing wealthy ladies’ men with some connection to law enforcement. First as the titular Old West US Marshall in Bat Masterson, then later as an independently wealthy homicide detective in Burke’s Law. The other thing I personally remember him from is playing the killer, a wealthy philandering psychologist, in Prescription: Murder, the pilot movie for Columbo. Much later, in the ’80s, he’d originate the role of Georges in the Broadway adaptation of La Cage aux Foilles (Admittedly, he did not play a Ladies’ Man in that one). His last film role before his death in 2009 would reunite him with War of the Worlds co-star Ann Robinson for a cameo in the 2005 Spielberg version of War of the Worlds. Forrester, along with a couple of his colleagues, is an astrophysicist from the fictional Pacific Tech, out in the woods to do some fishing… And also some amateur prospecting. Is that really a thing? I have no idea.

At the crash site, the locals, who seem like a colorful and quirky bunch (I’m kinda sorry we won’t be seeing more of them), speculate on the possibility of turning the large, half-buried cylindrical metal object into a tourist attraction.

It’s here that Clayton meets his costar and obvious love interest Sylvia Van Buren — she’d been one of the locals outside the movie theater two scenes ago. They do the whole Meet Cute thing, with Sylvia, who knows of Forrester, but doesn’t recognize him in his glasses and camping gear, launching unprompted into a paean about the famous scientist who’s on his way to look at the meteor. He’s smooth, breezily dismissing her hero-worship before revealing his identity: “You didn’t wear glasses in Time,” she explains. “They’re for long distance,” he explains, “To look at something close, I take them off.” Then he takes off his glasses so dramatically that The Who try to summon themselves into existence a decade early to sing the first bar of “Won’t get fooled again”.

Since Clayton’s Geiger counter indicates that the meteor is radioactive, and it’s still too hot to approach, they all decide to go off and have a square dance instead. We cut to later that night. While the characters whose names I can remember are off doing that, the three yokels they left behind see a section of the meteor unscrew, and now we get our first look at the “Cobra-head” of the alien war machine. The locals mention that Mars is in opposition and guess that it’s the origin of what they now know to be an alien spacecraft. Their immediate reaction is to assume it’s friendly and put together a white flag to let it know they’re peaceful. For their trouble, post-production waves a sparkler in front of the camera and vaporizes them.

War of the Worlds - Heat Ray

I’m going to need to find a word other than “iconic” to describe these things, but the cobra-head is just so damn… Iconic. It looks a bit like a gooseneck lamp. In fact, swimming around in my childhood memories is a very young version of myself poking at a small gooseneck table lamp and pretending it’s a Martian war machine. It’s got a scalloped lens on the front that pulses red and orange, and it makes this great THRUM-THRUM-THRUM sound that quickens right before it fires. The firing sound itself is on the one hand a typical sort of shrill CH-CH-CHOO, but in context almost sounds like it’s spitting.

The firing of the heat ray causes a power outage at the square dance and also knocks out the phones, hearing aids, and stops everyone’s watches. Forrester realizes that a powerful magnetic field is to blame, and a borrowed pocket compass shows the source of the disturbance to be the meteor. Forrester and the town sheriff narrowly avoid joining the three ash-piles they find at the scene, and the army is called in. An unnamed reporter interviews a scientist who’s less cool than Forrester, who spends several minutes making wild guesses about the physical nature of the aliens (who no one’s actually seen) and how their spacecraft work as we see a montage of people listening intently to radios, presumably an homage to the 1938 version.

A plane flies over the pit to drop a flare, prompting the cobra-head to emerge once again and spray first the air then the army with sparks. The reporter is cut off when his microphone’s cable is cut. At Forrester’s advice, the surviving soldiers call in some stock footage of troop movements and set up camp. Sylvia, wearing a red cross armband, has been conscripted to bring coffee and donuts while Clayton introduces General Mann (Les Tremayne) to the locals. The general brings news that cylinders have been falling all over the world: Santiago, Long Island, London, Naples, Fresno. General Mann explains that the landings are following a pattern, but no one has worked out what the pattern is. I am not sure how you can assert the existence of a pattern without identifying it, but there you are. This cylinder is the first one they’ve been able to surround before the Martians emerged, despite the fact that this is also the first cylinder to land.

One of the particular elements that this version adds is the significance of the number three to the aliens: the cylinders land in groups of three, and each contains three machines. We’ll later see that the aliens have three-fingered hands and their single eye has three segments. Some people interpret the aliens as having three hands and three legs as well, but we don’t get to see them closely enough to be sure.

The Martians finally emerge from the impact crater after a bit more military stock footage, giving us our first look at the entirety of the war machine. It is, of course, a thing of beauty, and it’s a real shame that the original props were all melted down for recycling (There’s a very good reproduction often mistaken for the original which once belonged to Forrest Ackerman, but that was a new model made a decade later from the original blueprints for the movie Robinson Crusoe on Mars). War of the Worlds - War MachineGeorge Pal had seen Warwick Goble illustrations (Which, as I’ve mentioned, Wells himself loathed) which depicted the fighting machines as essentially flying saucers on stilts. Taking inspiration from that, the body resembles a manta ray, the cobra-head extending up from the back. There’s a large green lens on the front, similar to the orange lens of the cobra-head. The wingtips are also green. In this first scene, little columns of sparks can be seen extending downward from three points on the underside. Though often thought of as a flying craft, Forrester explains that they don’t technically fly, but are, as in the novel, tripods, albeit ones which use force-fields as invisible legs. The sparking effect to indicate the legs was difficult to film and a fire hazard in the studio, so it’s not visible in later scenes. The other thing that’s really impressive is how smooth their motion is. I don’t even know War of the Worlds - Ann Robinson as Sylvia Van Burenhow you go about building something like this in 1953: the neck articulation is electromechanical puppetry, not stop-motion. Of course, the gooseneck-design makes it look more articulated than it actually is, but we see the cobra heads turn smoothly left and right, and bend upward and down.

As the army prepares to attack, Sylvia’s uncle, Pastor Collins decides that someone ought to try, um, preaching at the Martians, since, “If they’re more advanced than us, they should be nearer the Creator.” He more or less tells Sylvia she should go out with Clayton, then wanders out into No Man’s Land reciting the 23rd psalm. Ann Robinson has these great big expressive eyes, and whenever she’s terrified by something she goes silent, stares at it wide-eyed, and sort of shivers, which is exactly the same thing my niece does when she gets really excited. The army opens fire as soon as the lead Martian ship’s heat ray dispatches him.

Unfortunately for the army, the war machines are encased in an “electromagnetic covering”, a bell-jar shaped force field that flashes briefly visible under fire.War of the Worlds - War Machine It’s a simple optical effect; they filmed a couple of those glass domes you put over mantle clocks and superimposed it over the ships, but it looks cool today to see these transparent, solid objects sort of flash in and out of existence in time with the flashes of munitions. The army is quickly routed. The black smoke of the original novel is replaced by a “skeleton beam”, green blobs that issue from the manta-wingtips along with a sound that Star Trek would later use for photon torpedoes. Forrester describes it as cutting across magnetic lines of force — any object it strikes flashes red, then green (human targets’ skeletons flash visible X-ray style), then simply ceases to exist.War of the Worlds

Sylvia and Clayton attempt to escape the carnage in a light aircraft, but while trying to steer clear of both the war machines and the stock footage of air force jets, Forrester crashes and they’re forced to spend the night cowering in a ditch as the Martians pass. The next morning, they flirt a bit while finding an abandoned farmhouse and making breakfast, between bouts of Sylvia remembering to freak out about her uncle’s death. Obviously, it’s a bit of a cliché to have a woman reduced to hysterics in the face of horrific events, but I do like the way she keeps alternating between getting herself composed and losing it whenever something reminds her of Uncle Matthew. It gives a real sense of her fits of hysteria being less “women, amirite?” and more a matter of her actually trying as hard as she can to keep cool, and little things pushing her over the edge. It’s probably just coincidental, but it comes off as a surprisingly true-to-life (at least, by fifties standards) portrait of PTSD.

The awkwardness of Clayton and Sylvia flirting with each other between crying fits is broken up when a Martian cylinder ship crashes into the farmhouse. Tellingly, Sylvia manages to keep herself together when Clayton is knocked unconscious. This scene is clearly inspired by a similar scene with the narrator and a curate in the novel, and accordingly, there’s a close encounter with a Martian. They first decide to investigate the house by sending in this cute little guy. War of the Worlds - Camera EyeDon’t you just want to hug him? Kind of reminds me of Twiki from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It’s got this sort of iris-like semicircular metal shutters that close over the optics when it withdraws, and as it closes, it kind of looks like it’s frowning and going to sleepWar of the Worlds - Camera Eye. It’s almost shockingly twee. They hide. It leaves. Then it comes back and spooks Sylvia by sneaking up behind her and tapping her on the shoulder, so Clayton murders it with an axe.

Inexplicably, instead of just skeleton-beaming the house out of existence, one of the Martians decides to get out and reconnoiter in person. It sneaks up behind Sylvia and spooks her by tapping her on the shoulderWar of the Worlds - Ann Robinson, so Clayton throws an axe at it. I mean, okay, I’ll give them that these are clearly meant to be visual money-shots, the one time we get a good look at an alien. But really, in all important major respects, they just did the exact same scene twice.

War of the Worlds (1953) Martian

Now, the alien. I just don’t know. The actual design of the Martian overall isn’t as iconic as the war machine, but it’s still a pretty famous look. Later, the scientists will declare the aliens to be anemic, and that actually comes across in the way that, even given how different they look from humans, they still manage to look recognizably sickly. It’s a particularly nice touch that the alien’s three-segmented eye is so similar to the camera lens. And the hand is fantastic, with its three long fingers ending in suction cups. Unfortunately, they decided to have the thing move, and boy howdy does this muppet move like it’s a muppet (I tried to get an animated GIF of this, but it’s only on-screen for twenty frames and doesn’t loop well). It’s awkward and doesn’t look real at all, and you almost expect it to let out a Curly Howard-style “voop voop voop voop voop” as it runs. Clayton retrieves the camera head as a trophy and Sylvia has one last freak-out when she finds that the alien somehow managed to get blood on her scarf before they leg it.

The work of setting up the romance between Clayton and Sylvia taken care of, the narrator takes over for a while to assure us that the World War II stock footage they’ve cut together with some close-ups of the war machines really is the rout of mankind in the face of an indestructable unearthly foe, paying special attention to the war in India, China, Finland, Turkey and Bolivia. I have no idea how they chose which countries would get named specifically, I assume it involved darts and a mercator projection. Washington is singled out as the only strategically important world capital to have escaped destruction.

In Washington, General Mann gives a briefing on alien battle tactics as they make the decision to break out the nukes on the alien nest near Los Angeles. On the other side of the country, Clayton and Sylvia finish walking back to Pacific Tech from the middle of nowhere, leading to a short Science!TM montage as Clayton’s colleagues, a group of old white men and one old white woman, study the alien blood and camera eye. War of the Worlds - Martian CameraThey pronounce the aliens physically “quite primitive”, reflect on how “everything about them comes in threes”, and plug the camera into an opaque projector so they can see the world how the aliens do. Which turns out to be a bit fisheyed and slightly green-tinged. They wave it in Sylvia’s face for no clear reason other than to freak her out. Everyone packs off to watch the atomic bomb fall on the Martians.

It’ll be delivered — they make a special point of telling us — by the Northrop YB-49 “Flying Wing”, courtesy of more stock footage. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a War of the Worlds adaptation make a special point of giving us overly detailed information about military minutia, and I guess they come by it honestly given Wells’s style. The inclusion of the Flying Wing here is presumably an homage to Thunderchild in the novel, a steamship that manages to take down a tripod and buy time for a shipload of evacuees to escape before its destruction. It’s probably unintentional that they share a bit of the same irony: torpedo rams, like flying wings, were far more important in public consciousness than they ever were as practical military craft.

Northrup Flying Wing YB-49

The Flying Wing doesn’t fare as well as its inspiration, however; a few seconds after the bomb goes off, the war machines emerge from the smoke utterly unscathed. “Guns, tanks, bombs! They’re like toys against them!” General Mann laments. He orders Clayton and company back to the lab, convinced that their only hope now is for Science!TM to find a solution. They pack up the lab and leave in a convoy, but rioting mobs desperate to flee the city pull Clayton from the truck and cold-cock him.

The Giant Claw - War of the Worlds comparisonWe’re treated to a montage of Martians destroying nothing I recognize (other than that building that also gets destroyed in The Giant Claw. (It turns out that it’s Los Angeles City Hall. The footage is also recycled for the 1984 V miniseries)), and as night falls, Clayton gets so desperate that he starts thinking about the safety of his colleagues and Sylvia rather than just complaining about the destruction of his scientific instruments. Recalling an anecdote she’d told him back at the farmhouse, Clayton does a quick tour of every church in the city, hoping to find where Sylvia’d holed up. He finds her just as a war machine approaches for a final onslaught.

Then, just as we ultimately knew it must, the war machine drops out of the sky and crashes slowly to the ground. A door opens and an alien arm reaches out, then falls limp. War of the Worlds 1953Clayton pronounces the alien dead, then observes, “We were all praying for a miracle.” Church bells ring out as Clayton, Sylvia, and the assembled masses look heavenward and we cut to a montage of fallen war machines near damaged monuments — a bent and twisted Eiffel Tower, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and a shattered Taj Mahal as the narrator does the usual bit about the littlest thing God in his wisdom put upon the Earth, which gives way to a chorus of voices singing a few bars of “Now thank we all our God”.

One can not understate the impact that George Pal’s War of the Worlds had on the public consciousness. From 1953 to 2005, if you mentioned War of the Worlds, it would be assumed you were talking about this movie. After 2005, it would be assumed you were talking about this movie if you had any taste. The war machines are absolute icons — they’re utterly beautiful. They even make a really great sound. The visual effects are amazing — the effects themselves age really well, even if the cinematography and set design don’t: you see those war machines hovering through a field, and the only thing that looks fake is the field.

Aside from the visuals, the characters are where this version really shines. There isn’t much to Richard Pierson or Tiffany Heinsbocker or, at least as a fictional character, Jeff Kaye. But Clayton Forrester and Sylvia Van Buren? I think Gene Barry may possibly have invented the trope of taking his nerd glasses off dramatically. And, fast though it may be, their relationship has a very natural feel to it. There’s an obvious immediate attraction, amplified by the situation, and building into genuine affection. Even the lesser characters are memorable. General Mann repeatedly breaks from the shouty-shooty-military cliche by making it clear that he not only values Clayton’s scientific advice, but believes that science is their only hope against the Martians.

No, the weakness of this movie comes down to the plot. The extent to which they beefed up the character elements says to me that they understood that the novel’s plot wasn’t really good enough as a narrative, but they didn’t find something to replace it properly. Not unlike Goliath, we’ve got a movie whose concept is tied up primarily in its visuals and visual motifs: it is a better idea than it is a story.

In place of story, they inject something else, something a bit more thematic. This adaptation is far and away the most religiously charged. The death of the Martians at the end of War of the Worlds has always been a bit of a deus ex machina, but here it’s elevated to almost literal divine intervention. We end on a prayer, giving thanks to God for bailing our sorry butts out. And when you look at the story as a whole, with the relative importance given to Sylvia’s Uncle Matthew, one could almost argue that the Martians’ defeat is divine retribution for striking down one of His personal representatives.

I doubt very much whether Wells would have approved of such an explicitly religious message. Not that he’d be utterly opposed, I think, but he’d surely have his objections. Wells didn’t subscribe to any organized religion, and while he considered his religious beliefs compatible with modern liberal Christianity, he rejected the label “Christian” as a misrepresentation of his beliefs (Foremost because he rejects the Nicean creed). But, of course, the religion of War of the Worlds is “Christian” only because it was a product of a culture that privileges the Christian viewpoint, where Protestant Christianity is sort of the cultural default. The actual religious claims it makes aren’t very specific. We know that when Clayton says, “We were all praying for a miracle,” it’s the Christian God they were praying to, but we only know it because we know a priori which God a person in a 1953 American film is praying to. It’s religious, but in a very vague sort of way: a religion that’s had all its challenging bits stripped off and amounts to little more than “There is a vaguely defined higher power who may at times bail your sorry ass out if you ask nicely,” that speaks to the core tenants of most of the popular western religions, but is vague enough to avoid offending ¾ of people (At the cost that the remaining quarter of people for whom orthodoxy is SRS BSNS will be offended that they’re either (a) watering down their religion or (b) presenting someone else‘s religion as universal truth). Ironically, I think that it’s in its vague “Hollywood”-ness, the religious elements of George Pal’s War of the Worlds align most closely with those of Wells. His own beliefs, as professed in God, The Invisible King, seem to come down to a sort of nonspecific, anti-dogmatic, almost-but-not-quite universalist, vaguely gnostic theism: short on rules and regulations and long on faith, courage, and love. And that’s what we have here, really, albeit dressed up in Christian trappings.

So we’re left with a movie that, in its way, is very much like Goliath: visually breathtaking, but it still, like, to be honest, most of the adaptations, can’t manage to quite wring a satisfyingly complete plot out of a good concept. For me, it has a lot more lasting appeal than Goliath, largely due to the strength of its characters, even if I will grudgingly concede that Goliath manages to pack its clever ideas in more densely. Of course, unlike Goliath, this doesn’t feel like an abridgment of a TV series. It doesn’t even have any sort of sequel hook — even the original novel has a bit of one, ending on the reflection, “It may be, on the other hand, that the destruction of the Martians is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, perhaps, is the future ordained.” But there’s no indication of such a possibility in George Pal’s version.

And that’s very odd, when you think about it, because of what happened next….

To Be Continued…

6 thoughts on “Deep Ice: A Million to One, But Still, They Come (George Pal’s War of the Worlds)

  1. Lenny McDuff

    Oh, *please* say you’ll cover the TV series! It’s late-’80’s “Nexus of All Realities”, right? 😀

  2. Ross Post author

    Yeah, thanks for the heads-up. All these years, I assumed it was a fictional building because none of the things I saw it mentioned in named it. I only just found out what building it was because it was mentioned in reference to the 1983 miniseries ‘V’, which also recycles the VFX shot.

  3. Pingback: Antithesis: Doomsday (War of the Worlds 2×03) | A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

  4. Seed of Bismuth

    so few things:
    Pluto’s a planet, Fight me if you dare

    out in the woods to do some fishing… And also some amateur prospecting. Is that really a thing? I have no idea.

    living in nowhere MI yes this is a thing I did

    this movie’s imagery and iconography became the unquestioned, unchallenged dominant version of the story in the public consciousness.


    One can not understate the impact that George Pal’s War of the Worlds had on the public consciousness. From 1953 to 2005, if you mentioned War of the Worlds, it would be assumed you were talking about this movie.

    honestly I thought as a kid this version was a flop because to me my contemporary nerds of 1990s (i.e. I was 6 when I first seen Independence Day) never heard of this film nor my parent when ask them. It is also not iconic in my mind when I later seen it (unlike say Indiana Jones and the arc of the covenant felt like deja vu even though I know I never watched it before 18yrs old). also you say you have nothing to say about Independence Day , but I say this 1953 film is it’s direct ancestor like Croenberg’s The Fly to The Fly (1958)

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