The War of the Worlds was a huge movie hit in 1953, based loosely on H.G. Wells 1898 classic novel of an invasion from Mars. We’re at the center of the action during our military’s initial encounter with the Martians’ unstoppable machines (the latter very different from Wells’ tripod conception). Later we’re trapped in a trashed farmhouse and get a frightening glimpse of a live Martian. In a gripping conclusion, the Martians appear on the verge of total victory.
How they’re stopped is totally unexpected, unless of course, you’ve read Wells’ novel or have seen Steven Spielberg’s otherwise very different and technically far more advanced remake (2005). In the ’50s there was no CGI; it was all models, miniatures, matte paintings, and creativity. Nevertheless, the 1953 filmmakers made brilliant use of what they had.
This 4K/HDR Blu-ray release is crisp and detailed, with solid color courtesy of the original film’s 3-strip Technicolor. The Dolby Vision HDR is often subdued but earns its keep in the big action scenes—particularly where the Martian death rays are obliterating both us and our ineffective weapons. The shadow details looked a little crushed in some of the early dark scenes; to correct this, I had to crank up the Dynamic Contrast on my LG OLED. There’s also a color error visible (only) in the film’s opening montage where the images of Mars are blue; they clearly should be red (as they were in earlier video releases).
The basic audio quality is mostly typical of a 70-year-old film. It’s been reprocessed into DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, which can’t perform miracles but does offer a modest sense of immersion. The bass has also been pumped up to flesh out the action scenes. Both of these tweaks are effective, but don’t expect 2022 sound. Some buyers might also be disappointed that an original mono track selection isn’t available.
The extras are extensive but mostly the same as those found on the film’s earlier video releases. These include two commentary tracks, “Making Of ” features, a short documentary on H.G. Wells, and Orson Welles’ radio dramatization of the story that terrified half of New Jersey in 1938. But an added “extra” is another full film on a second Blu-ray: 1951’s When Worlds Collide (DTS Master Audio but not 4K/HDR). This film was also produced by The War of the Worlds’ George Pal. In 1960 Pal would film yet another H.G. Wells sci-fi classic, The Time Machine.
Ultra HD Blu-ray
ASPECT RATIO: 1.33:1
HDR FORMATS: Dolby Vision, HDR10
AUDIO FORMATS: (4K UHD): DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
LENGTH: 85 minutes
DIRECTOR: Byron Haskin
STARRING: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson