Enjoy two of the most iconic science fiction epics in one limited-edition package: THE WAR OF THE WORLDS makes its 4K Ultra HD debut and is accompanied by WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE for the first time on Blu-ray™. (from Paramount Pictures)
Following the footsteps of the higher end at-home movie releases like the Criterion Collection, Paramount Pictures has been releasing their own collector's series, called "Paramount Presents." In May, the studio released their first-ever 4K title in this series with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Now, Paramount delivers a double-feature of The War of the Worlds / When Worlds Collide, with the former releasing in 4K and the latter making its HD debut on Blu-Ray for the very first time.
Revisiting the iconic The War of the Worlds, it's interesting to observe just how different storytelling was back in the 50's. Granted, I'm an earnest fan of old movies, with many classics being among my favorites of all time. But anyone who watches 1953's The War of the Worlds in 2022 with a critical eye may have a hard time appreciating just what this film means to cinematic history. For 1953, this was an absolute special effects spectacle, and it inspired a surge in popularity for the science fiction genre. There's a good chance we wouldn't have Star Trek or Star Wars today without The War of the Worlds. However, this knowledge isn't quite enough to force viewers to watch the classic with sheer awe of its influence. 2005's Tom Cruise-led Steven Spielberg interpretation of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds was a special effects extravaganza, but it was equally cynical and joyless. The first thing you may notice about the 1953 film is just how much lighter the tone is for the movie -- at least in the first act. While Gene Barry is a bit wooden as Dr. Clayton Forrester, he's infinitely more likeable than Tom Cruise's character in the 2005 film (and I like Tom, but his character was horribly written). There's an innocence to the 1953 movie that the remake greatly lacked, but that doesn't stop the original from getting serious as it goes on.
Another thing you'll notice right from the start is a far more spiritual take on the story in the 1953 film. Not only are there frequent references to God and prayer, but one of the characters is a priest who tries to make peace with the attacking aliens (even though it is not effective). The film's climax takes place in a church, alluding to the idea that faith and prayer played a part in the fall of the Martians. It brings heart and a sweetness to a story about an alien invasion that nearly every film today is missing. And if modern films do try to have a spiritual angle, it's usually cynical or negative.
The 4K transfer of the film is crisp and colorful, which is actually a double-edged sword. The vibrance of the visuals makes the movie more lively than ever, but it also causes the special effects to separate from their surroundings. That's the one plus in having a muddy or low resolution presentation of an older film like this -- the effects sort of blend into the background more. Here, the lasers from the alien ships often look like just bright splatters across the screen. It still works, and it's the best the filmmakers had at the time, but I think it does a little disservice to the movie. I can't imagine what would have been a better way to get a crisper picture, though. So I think one would have to decide for themselves what they might prefer in this kind of viewing situation.
The movie as a whole is still good, but I feel like the film's narrative doesn't flow all that well. The beginning with the invasion is a slow burn as they set up the story and the humans are trying to figure out what the aliens are and then what their intentions might be. There's then a montage of attacks around the world, and then the last act jumps ahead and is basically Dr. Forrester running through decimated city streets trying to find the woman he's fallen in love with, Sylvia Van Buren (played by Ann Robinson). I haven't read the book (although now I kind of want to), so I can't compare the film to the source material, but I couldn't help feel like the narrative wasn't very smooth.
The other film included in this two-pack set is When Worlds Collide on Blu-Ray disc. The movie released two years before The War of the Worlds and has a smoother narrative about a planet and star hurtling toward Earth and mankind needing to figure out what to do to survive. It reminded me a lot of the movie 2012, which was largely about the planet coming to an end and humanity needing to develop an "ark" so they can survive the impending doom. But because this movie was made in 1951, it's a lot smaller in scale and cast than anything we'd see today. In fact, because of how sensitive everyone is about it today, I found it kind of awkward to realize nearly person in the movie was completely of white nationality, and only white people survive at the end. It's not a very realistic view of an apocalyptic event like this, but I suppose it was kind of commonplace in the early 50's. The odd thing is they also only rescue one child and maybe 40 people in total? I mean, really?! No other children?? The movie definitely pales in comparison to the impact The War of the Worlds made on cinema, but they definitely feel kind of cut from the same cloth, in a way. The cast is pretty good, led by Danny-Kaye-doppelganger Richard Derr, playing pilot David Randall who aids a team of scientists in the creation of a spaceship to help a small group of survivors escape their doomed world. Barbara Rush plays Joyce Hendron, who ends up being part of a love triangle between Randall and Dr. Tony Drake (Peter Hansen). Overall, When Worlds Collide is a slower story, more character-driven, and definitely the lesser of the two movies here; I can see why it's not one that's frequently talked about in the same breath as The War of the Worlds. Still, it's a decent sci-fi movie, especially from the time period in which it was made.
Content-wise, The War of the Worlds is an intense story that shows many humans getting vaporized into dust by the aliens. In one shot, we see the outline of a man's skeleton briefly as he's getting vaporized. But there's also lots and lots of destruction in that film. There's no language (in either film), and there's just a little blood here and there from scrapes and bruises people sustain. In When Worlds Collide, we see a little blood when a crane falls on and kills a man, another character is shot three times and killed, and there's some violent rioting at the end when people getting left behind decide they're not going to settle for that.
The War of the Worlds / When Worlds Collide is a nice 50's sci-fi double feature. Neither have really aged that well, but if you have an appreciation for classic movies of the 1950's, this is a set you may want to pick up. The 4K transfer of The War of the Worlds is really nice, but I did see some very disgruntled comments from fans online who were upset over some of the color grading (like how Mars looks more blue than red in the opening). Meanwhile, When Worlds Collide also looks really good, and is just a little grainier on Blu-Ray than the 4K War of the Worlds. Either way, this is a decent sci-fi set to check out for fans of the films or the genre in general.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 9/25/22)
The 1953 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ acclaimed novel, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was nominated for three Academy Awards® and won for Best Special Effects. Experience the genre-defining Technicolor classic fully remastered in eye-popping 4K Ultra HD for the first time. The disc also includes access to a digital copy of the film, the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds narrated by Orson Welles, and more. Bonus content is detailed below:
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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