The War of the Worlds (1953) & War of the Worlds (2005)

A long time ago, in the era known as B.R.D (Before Recording Devices), people would go to the movies, and if they really liked the movie, they would pay to go again (hence the five times I saw Jaws (1975), in the theater). If you missed a movie, you had two choices: wait until it came on TV, or sometimes the movie studios would re-release it.

Sometimes, they would release a double-feature. Yes, two movies for the price of one. Once I remember they released all 5 Planet of the Apes movies (here it goes: Planet of the Apes (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)). This particular set was released at a drive-in. My father, who obviously loves me and my brother very much, took us. Unfortunately, some fog rolled in, and we left sometime during Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Or as it really looked, Escape from the Very Foggy Planet of  the Apes).

Now, with the advent of DVDs (especially the invention of the $5.00 bin at Walmart), Netflix, Redbox, Blockbuster (or as it is more commonly called, “EVERYTHING MUST GO!), a double-feature from any era can be conveniently be created in your own home.

Speaking of the $5.00 bin at Walmart, an astounding sociological experiment can be had by keeping one eye on what people cherish (“Look Buba! It’s Weekend at Bernie’s! That’s Grandma’s FAVORITE! Can you believe that man’s DEAD for the whole movie!”) versus what they toss aside (“The Maltese Falcon? Fergetit, it’s in black & white”).

But I digress.

A wonderful homemade double-feature would be The War of the Worlds (1953) and War of the Worlds (2005).

Both films have great, believable scripts, great acting, and directors who know what they’re doing. The films also follow the basic format, (initial attack, escape to desolate farmhouse, encounter with alien probe, attack by greedy mob, aliens demise at nature’s hand) albeit at different periods of time. Wait a minute, I forgot something: Spoiler alert!

The starkest contrast is in the color: the 1953 version is filmed in Technicolor. A process involving a camera which ran three different rolls of film simultaneously. The three rolls of film are all black and white, but the light passes through three different colored lenses. It is at this point the process gets very complicated, and I lose interest in trying to understand it, but it produces wonderfully rich colors.

The 2005 version, on the other hand, is shot in very muted tones, yet as shot by director Steven Spielberg, is nonetheless gorgeous.

One of the best scenes in the 1953 version occurs when the army has the alien spacecraft surrounded. As the alien crafts appear (remember, this is 1953, so don’t dwell on the wires that are visible holding up the spacecraft), a local pastor approaches them, hoping to keep the situation from escalating into violence. His niece (Ann Robinson) tries to go stop him, but is held back by the soldiers and her soon-to-be boyfriend (Gene Barry). As he walks closer to the alien craft, reciting scripture, we hear the niece’s screams in the background. The aliens fire on the uncle — the niece screams – the army Colonel commands “Let ’em have it!” —– and the dogs of war are unleashed. Pure cinema!

While the 1953 version shows us the scientists, army, and world leaders’ response to the events, the 2005 version stays with the dysfunctional family unit of Tom Cruise. The best part of the film doesn’t even concern the aliens. As the family flees New Jersey in an SUV, as the kids (Dakota Fanning & Justin Chatwin) try to get information from Cruise, and as he tries to explain what he can’t yet believe, the camera turns around the vehicle, goes through it, and turns around again. Unbelievable.

Another harrowing sequence occurs when one of the alien war machines attacks a ferry, capsizing it into the river. As Cruise and his family float in the water, a car from the ferry lands on them, pushing them under the surface as the camera follows. Did I already say unbelievable? Sorry, let me say it again with italics; Unbelievable.

So rent these two movies, get a couple of Little Caesar’s Hot n’ Ready pepperoni pizzas, and see who’s the first to spot Gene Barry and Ann Robinson in the 2005 film.

I’m tellin’ ya Buba, it don’t get bettern’ this!


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