Thursday, July 16, 2020


THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953, 85m 21s; Criterion): My apologies to Warner Archive's highly worthy MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, but this 4K restoration of George Pal's classic production - with an optional 5.1 soundtrack remix by sound designer Ben Burtt - is the Blu-ray restoration of the year, thus far. 

Circa 1974-75, I had the privilege of seeing one of Paramount’s surviving Technicolor and Stereophonic prints when it was shown at a local repertory theater, and I have always remembered it as one of the most exciting theatrical experiences of my life. Contrary to common criticism, the wires supporting the Martian war machines could scarcely be seen on the big screen given the specific color timing and light levels of those first-generation prints, so the griping being heard from some quarters ("How dare they go back and erase the wires?") is uneducated, working from a knowledge limited to the brighter prints generated for television and early home video, which brought some of the film's secrets into open view.

As vivid an experience as theater goers got back in the day, this Blu-ray presentation is far sharper and more colorful without any distortion even when incendiary reds prevail. The Technicolor is Bava-level intense, and the 5.1 audio makes the paranoid terror of the proposed invasion all the more palpable and frightening. The original monaural track is also here, restored beyond anything we've heard before, after the immersive, heart-pounding experience of the 5.1 track, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to it. Funnily enough, the textural improvement of all its eye and ear candy also serves to heighten every other department rather than draw inordinate attention to itself - Byron Haskin's beautifully modulated direction, the velvety lighting of George Barnes' cinematography, the tight editing of Everett Douglas, and not least of all the performances; never before, not even in a theatrical setting, have I so appreciated the affecting dramatic detail that Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne,  Russ Conway, Paul Birch and Jack Kruschen bring to this picture. More than half a century further on, this is a movie that's never lost its moxie; it remains the definitive dramatic adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel.

Some extras have been ported over from the previous 2005 Paramount DVD release, the audio commentary (featuring Joe Dante, Bob Burns, and the late film historian Bill Warren) and the making-of documentary short, "The Sky Is Falling." Fascinating new featurettes specific to the restoration are also included, as is the famous 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast and a 1940 radio program interviewing Welles and the author of the original novel, H.G. Wells.

(c) 2020 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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