DVDs: Worlds Apart

It's amazing how many ways a story can be told. Byron Haskin's 1953 version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (Warner; Movie ••••, Picture/Sound ••••, Extras ••••) has a completely different focus and tone than Steven Spielberg's gloomy take on the H. G. Wells fantasy. Spielberg leaps almost immediately to the special effects of the Martians' arrival and instant conquest of the suburbs, and then he sticks exclusively to his freaked-out everyman's frantic struggle to save his family. Haskin starts by creating characters and a sense of community before showing even minor close encounters. Later, as his heroic scientist searches for a way to save mankind, Haskin gradually develops the scope of the action, building to the complete destruction of Los Angeles and other cities throughout the world. This is a War of global dimensions - one we can truly care about.

Images are clean and free of damage. Contrast is good, with deep blacks and rich Technicolor hues - from the warm, earthy tones of the small-town setting to the DayGlo greens and oranges of the machines and their death rays. The audio also builds: the movement of Army vehicles across the front sound stage is augmented by wonderful alien-attack effects in the surround channels. The DVD includes two informative commentaries (one by stars Gene Barry and Ann Robinson and the other by film historians), a making-of documentary, and a featurette. Then there's the entire infamous Orson Welles radio production of the story. Its brilliantly original and effective format of a music show constantly interrupted by news flashes demonstrates how imagination trumps production values every time.

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