When the 1953 version of "The War of the Worlds" was made it was done so on an estimated budget of $2,000,000 which it is reported that $1,400,000 of that was spent on the special effects and it got me thinking, did audiences back in 1953 have the same feeling about this version as many did to Spielberg's more recent version? What I mean by that is that many and myself included felt that Spielberg's version was dominated by the special effects and CGI which distracted from the story and I wonder if 1950's audiences felt the same way about Byron Haskin's version. Whether they did or didn't watching this 1953 version now the special effects still look great and whilst dominating the movie they don't take away from the actual story and atmosphere which this 1953 version has in the bucket load. That isn't to say the 1953 version hasn't dated, there are some seriously cheesy scenes in there but for a movie which will be 60 years old this year it is still exciting.
When what appears to be a giant meteor crashes down near a small town the entire population is excited by this burning hot rock seeing it as a money spinning tourist attraction. But their excitement turns to horror when an alien spacecraft emerges from it destroying all in its wake with its laser. Soon more and more of these alien spacecrafts emerge and other meteor like rocks crash down across the planet leading to worldwide panic as these aliens set about wiping out the human population with the military unable to stop them even when they resort to using an atomic bomb. It seems there only hope is some scientists lead by Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry - Forty Guns) who in the midst of all this destruction finds himself falling for Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson).
The first thing worth mentioning about this version of "The War of the Worlds" is that watching it now you need to remember when it was made and I don't mean so when talking about the special effects. Nope what I mean are some moments of symbolism which show themselves from the locals residents who when they see the meteor opening up thinking it is a bomb to a series of scenes which symbolise Britain's resistance during WWII and lets not forget the invasion comes from the Red Planet. I am not going to go in to depth about any of this but it is something worth noticing when it comes to various attitudes of people in the movie and the way they react to the whole invasion.
But forget all that because what we have in this 1953 version of "The War of the Worlds" is a fantastic sci-fi thriller full of atmosphere. From the initial excitement as the locals in the small town swarm around the meteor to the sense of fear and panic which ensues when the Alien's start blasting everything. A scene of hysteria later on in the movie as cities are evacuated is powerful as people fight each other to get on vehicles leaving and a scene where Clayton and Sylvia find themselves in an abandoned farm building and coming face to face with an Alien is spine tingling exciting. It is why this 1953 version is still so good because for all the special effects the movie thrives on atmosphere rather than just big bangs and action.
Having said that I wish I had been alive and old enough in 1953 to watch "The War of the Worlds" because even now the special effects are good and they must have been amazing back then. So okay they may not look as realistic as modern CGI effects but seeing one of the Alien spacecraft emerge and then start firing its laser is still fantastic. And it only gets better as when the action moves to a city and we see the Alien spacecraft destroying buildings as they hover down the road is still stunning.
In away the only problem I have with this version of "The War of the Worlds" comes from the fact that whilst both Gene Barry and Ann Robinson do a nice job as Clayton and Sylvia their characters now end up being 50s cliches. You can't really criticize for it but when you have scenes with what is now corny dialogue and cliche romantic moments it ends up spoiling what is otherwise still a fantastic sci-fi movie. Although sometimes the now corniness of it all adds something new to the movie because a couple of times I found myself laughing at the cheesiness of a scene and enjoying the fact I could see it coming.
What this all boils down to is that whilst the 1953 version of "The War of the Worlds" is now hitting its 60th year it is still a terrific movie. It is dated and typical 50s in so many ways but it is also still exciting and whilst special effects have moved on those on show are still seriously good.