The War of the Worlds (1953)

I recently watched the Spielberg/Cruise War of the Worlds, which I found surprisingly bleak, so I thought I’d go back to the original 1953 adaptation, The War of the Worlds, to see what that was like. That was also bleak, but softened by the folksy charm of small town 1950s America. It opens with a black and white newsreel montage of both World Wars, then bursts into colour, which I didn’t expect. A meteor comes out of the sky and crashes near the small town of Linda Rosa, where Dr Clayton Forrester is fishing with two scientist friends. The townsfolk are excited, and Forrester gets drawn into investigating the fallen object, while also falling for librarian Sylvia van Buren. More objects arrive, and when alien machines rise out of the burning rock, the army are called in, but they are helpless when the machines attack. Forrester tries to find a weakness in the alien technology, but with the invasion taking place worldwide, a swift, methodical genocide of humankind begins.

It was shocking to see that the more effective scenes in Spielberg’s version were directly lifted from the original, none more obviously than the section where the alien tentacles are investigating the house. This isn’t long after World War 2, but where The Thing From Another World is afraid of communism, this seems to be more about processing the trauma of war. The story lingers in long sections where Forrester moves through a devastated landscape filled with refugees, violent looters and unexpected alien attacks. Every attempt to stop the invasion fails, and humans only survive through perseverance and luck. Ironically in today’s world, it’s the environment that saves them.