H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds had been sitting around optioned by Paramount stretching back to the silent era. Originally intended to be handled by Cecil B. DeMille, the film was finally directed by Byron Haskin with much help by special effects guru George Pal.
Just as the now-infamous Orson Welles Mercury Theatre radio production of 1938 had done, this production moves the story out of Victorian England and to America. This time it is in Southern California, where are strange bright object assumed to be a meteorite falls from the sky landing near the small town of Linda Rosa. Pacific Tech scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) is one of the onlookers when the meteorite crashes along with Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson), the niece of local minister Pastor Dr. Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin). The two strike up a friendship and find themselves investigating what exactly the object is. It isn’t long before they both – and the rest of the townsfolk – realize it’s no meteorite. It’s a Martian invasion!! The clocks have stopped, strange alien creatures are on the attack around the world, and the world’s militaries seem defenseless against the alien weapons and “electronic umbrellas” of alien defenses. Dr. Forrester may be one of the only people who can help defeat the alien menace — assuming he and his new companion can survive.
Shot in stunning three-strip Technicolor, The War of the Worlds was like the Star Wars of its time – George Pal pushed the boundaries of what was possible with visual effects, the colors were dazzling, and the filmmakers were thinking of ways from the beginning of how they could push the techniques forward. There was talk of making the final two reels of the film 3D; there was even research into having the film released in stereo. There were a few limited runs with a “stereo” mix in 1953, but it was really just a setup where the same signal from the monaural mix was sent to speakers throughout the theater and played more loudly to give a more engulfing sound experience.
Combine these stunning technical feats and the subversive sub context running through the film, as with many other 1950s films from the Cold War era, of the Red Scare, made for good box office results and a slew of imitations to follow. Even many decades removed, however, this film holds its own, mores of the times notwithstanding, and the new restoration reviewed here brings the film back to its former, full Technicolor glory the likes of which have not been seen for this film in decades.
When Worlds Collide is also included in this collection. This 1951 sci-fi thriller is from the 1932 Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer novel which was snatched up by Paramount immediately initially as an option for Cecil B. DeMille, but like the companion piece in this release, it sat around at Paramount for nearly twenty-years before finally being put into production. This one concerns itself not with invading aliens but an encroaching extraterrestrial planet about to collide with Earth. Dr. Cole Henderson (Larry Keating) makes the announcement no one but disabled millionaire Stanton (John Hoyt) believes him. The plan to build a massive, Noah’s Ark like spaceship to transport a select set of survivors based on a lottery to a nearby Earth-like planet in set into motion when it becomes increasingly clear that Cole’s predictions were correct.
With its heavy doses special effects, stock footage, and solid performances from a cast, we get in When Worlds Collide a heady sci-fi disaster thriller that still holds up.
Despite initially botching the color correction on Mars in the opening color sequences in The War of the Worlds (it is blue when it should be an orange-reddish hue. The Criterion release corrects this issue inherent to the Paramount 4K master), this Paramount 4K Ultra HD release steps things up nicely over the already available digital 4K release by providing a cleaner, noise-free image, more ‘pop’ in the Dolby Vision, and finer detail. It comes in a 1.37:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) Dolby Vision encodement that has a fine and filmic grain structure that varies a bit throughout, at times looking tidied up a hint too much but never at the sacrifice of details. The Technicolor format really shines in this release, offering an array of eye-catching colors from the greens of the alien spaceships to the orange and red flashes of the “heat rays” and various sparks from fires and explosions. This really dazzles. This may not be a necessary upgrade for anyone who owns the Criterion release, which more than holds its own against this 4K disc and does not have the color correction issue unless you want or need the Blu-ray release of When Worlds Collide. This second feature, making its Blu-ray debut in this double feature release, also looks quite nice and to my eyes has more grain density than the 4K disc of The War of the Worlds, but also looks a little softer and is not quite as colorful, although its Technicolor source still has strong vibrancy. It arrives in a 1.37:1 AVC 1080p encodement.
Paramount Presents provides The War of the Worlds with the 2018 5.1 mix which was remastered from preservation magnetic tracks, several sing-strip monaural music cues, and archival sound effects by Ben Burtt at Skywalker Sound in Lucas Valley, California. This is the same excellent mix which was included on the 2020 Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc and it still holds up well in this DTS-HD Master Audio encodement from Paramount. There is no original English monaural mix included, but the 5.1 is big and atmospheric, but keeps authenticity by using the original library of sound effects. When Worlds Collide comes with the original monaural audio mix in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and it provides clean, intelligible sound with no audible anomalies.
The archival special features and audio commentaries, mostly for The War of the Worlds, add a lot of value to this release. The featurette on H.G. Wells is particularly interesting and kudos to Paramount for including the infamous Orson Welles Mercury Theatre radio broadcast as well.
- Digital Copy code
- Slip case with foldout artwork featuring original poster art
- Sleeve insert with key moments from the film
The War of the Worlds
- Commentary by actors Ann Robinson and Gene Barry
- Commentary by film director Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and Bill Warren, author of Keep Watching the Skies!
- The Sky is Falling: Making The War of the Worlds (4K; 00:29:59)
- G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction (4K; 00:10:29)
- The Mercury Theatre on the Air Presents: The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (4K; 00:59:30) – The notorious October 30, 1938, broadcast with Orson Welles that caused mass hysteria and nationwide panic.
- Original Theatrical Trailer (4K)
When Worlds Collide
- Theatrical Trailer (SD)
The Final Assessment
Two sci-fi classics arrive in brilliant restorations of their Technicolor masters on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray respectively. Despite a minor flaw, The War of the Worlds has never looked better and When Worlds Collide is ripe for rediscovery as well. Highly recommended.
- Rating Certificate: G (The War of the Worlds) | Approved (When Worlds Collide)
- Studios & Distributors: Paramount Pictures | Paramount Home Entertainment
- Director: Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds) | Rudolph Maté (When Worlds Collide)
- Writers: H.G. Wells (novel), Barré Lyndon (screenplay) (The War of the Worlds) | Sydney Boehm Edwin Balmer Philip Wylie
- Run Time: 85 Mins. (The War of the Worlds) | 82 Mins. (When Worlds Collide)
- Street Date: 27 September 2022
- Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
- Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4KUHD) (The War of the Worlds) | AVC 1080p (When Worlds Collide)
- Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1 (The War of the Worlds) | English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono (When Worlds Collide)
- Secondary Audio: German DD Mono | French DD Mono | Spanish (Latino) DD Mono (When Worlds Collide)
- Subtitles: English | English SDH | German | Spanish (Castilian) | Spanish (Latino) | French | Italian | Japanese | Dutch