The War of the Worlds (1953) / When Worlds Collide (1951)

The War of the Worlds, 1953.

Directed by Byron Haskin.
Starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson.


The Paramount Presents line continues with a double-feature: The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide, two 1950s era science-fiction classics produced by George Pal. The studio ported over past extras for the former while the latter just has a theatrical trailer; both include codes for digital copies. Read on to learn about a couple (what I see as) minor issues with both discs.

1950s and 60s era science-fiction films, including the output of producer George Pal, were one of the staples of my childhood viewing, so I was looking forward to revisiting The War of the Worlds in 4K as well as experience When Worlds Collide for the first time. The latter has seen its first release on Blu-ray in North America.

Before I dive into both films, I should note something you may have read about online: The War of the Worlds displays a bluish version of Mars during its opening scene, rather than a red/orange hue, as it should be, while When Worlds Collide features image quality that you may not prefer if you’re a fan of the film. 

Personally, I can live with both issues: The The War of the Worlds problem is minor, although it is annoying that Paramount has said they don’t see a need to fix it, and When Worlds Collide looked fine to me. Both films in this Paramount Presents set include codes for digital copies, so maybe the studio will at least address the versions of the films that reside in the cloud.

Moving on, The War of the Worlds is, of course, based on H.G. Wells’ classic 1898 novel, which was the subject of a 1938 radio adaptation narrated by Orson Welles that supposedly created mass panic at the time (such reports are now considered to have been greatly exaggerated).

The film is a taut 85-minute story that takes place in southern California and features Gene Barry as Dr. Clayton Forrester (yes, the MST3K character was named after him), an astro and nuclear physicist who’s on a fishing vacation when a mysterious object from space crashes into a field. It reveals itself to contain invaders from Mars, and soon similar objects land around the world, unleashing even more attacks.

The Martians prove themselves to be impervious to all kinds of attacks, and soon humans are on the run. Forrester and Sylvia Van Buren, a USC library science instructor, fall for each other as they look for a place to hide, but it seems futile. Yes, you can argue that the ending is a deus ex machina, but Pal uses the moment to drive home a religious theme, something that is very prominent in When Worlds Collide too. (Personally, I don’t mind religious elements in a movie, but it’s nice when they’re not so overt.)

Paramount ported over the prior DVD extras for this new 4K disc. While I haven’t owned The War of the Worlds on home video before, my understanding is that Criterion’s edition has some bonus features that aren’t found here, so you might want to hold onto that disc if you have it. Here’s what you’ll find:

• Audio commentary with actors Ann Robinson and Gene Barry: The co-stars discuss what they remember about the making of the movie. While you may not learn anything earth-shattering here, this track is a nice historical record of a classic movie, especially since Robinson and Barry are no longer around to discuss it.

• Audio commentary with film director Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and author Bill Warren: Dante provides the “fan with actual big-time filmmaking experience” perspective while Burns and Warren bring their voluminous knowledge of cinema history to the chat. It’s one of those “film class on a disc” discussions that’s worth a listen if you enjoy that kind of thing (I do).

The Sky Is Falling: Making The War of the Worlds (30 minutes): Archival interviews with various cast and crew members give us a look back on the making of the film. Like the Robinson/Barry commentary, it’s the kind of historical record that should be preserved because it can’t be replicated.

H.G Wells: The Father of Science Fiction (10.5 minutes): Director Nicholas Meyer, author John Partington, and renowned magazine editor Forest Ackerman look back on the life of a writer who introduced many of science-fictions tropes in the short stories and novels he published around the turn of the last century.

  • The Mercury Theatre on the Air Presents The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (60 minutes): This is the full version of that aforementioned Welles-narrated radio adaptation that was said to cause panic in 1938. Like many such stories, it was exaggerated by the media at the time. (Yes, non-digital clickbait existed way back when.)

The theatrical trailer rounds out the disc.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★

When Worlds Collide
Directed by Rudolph Mate.
Starring Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hansen, and John Hoyt.

When Worlds Collide, based on Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie’s 1933 novel of the same name, was producer George Pal’s second science-fiction epic of the 1950s, priming the pump for The War of the Worlds two years later. 

This one is about the discovery of a rogue star that’s expected to impact the Earth in eight months’ time, leading to the creation of spaceships around the world that will take a small group of humans to the planet orbiting said star. The focus is on the building of one such ship in the United States.

One thing that struck me while watching the film was the fact that, in some ways, it was a spiritual predecessor to 2021’s Don’t Look Up. Both films feature skepticism of what experts have to say about the Earth’s impending doom, although in When Worlds Collide, that controversy eventually gives way to acceptance and the story shifts to the kind of volatile dynamics that you can imagine would swirl around the construction of a spaceship that only has room for a small number of people.

The only extra on the disc is the theatrical trailer.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★

Brad Cook


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