War of the Worlds (1953)

Aliens, who may or may not be from Mars, but certainly haven’t accepted Jesus as their personal savior, invade Earth.  Dr. Clayton Forrester, a scientist, and therefore of no real use, escapes death by heat beam along with Sylvia Van Buren, a women—ergo her only ability is screaming.  With the destruction of the Earth at hand, our heroes join the righteous in church, and God saves the day.

Thank God for…well, God.  Only God can save us from things that he created and allowed to…  Wait.  Forget that last part.  After seeing War of the Worlds, I really don’t want to piss him off.

So where was I?  Oh yes, praising God.  And the best way to do that is to leave everything to him.  In times of greatest peril, don’t do anything.  Don’t take action and certainly don’t think.  Just go to church.  God will save you.  OK, so he doesn’t save most people, lets the world get overrun, civilization torn down, and people killed by the millions.  But eventually, after his coffee break, God saves the day.  I’m sure he had his reasons for waiting.

George Pal, the Michael Bay of his day, put the “pretty” in science fiction.  If he could blow something up, it was blown.  And in his film, based on the title of H.G. Wells’s classic novel, Pal made a bright, shiny, sci-fi spectacular long before George Lucas.  That man could make a cool alien ship.  With their graceful swan necks—complete with sputtering heat ray—and gently curved wings, no film vehicle has ever looked as good.  And the sound effects for the weapons are pure genius (and have been “borrowed” recently for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow).  For a Saturday afternoon popcorn movie, it doesn’t get much better than this.  Plus, watching it should count as your weekly trip to church.

As for the story and theme, I’d say Pal ripped the heart out of Wells’s book, but that implies he had ever come near it.  The film’s plot has little connection to the one found in the book, and all of the social criticism is missing.  Did he even read War of the Worlds?  It’s more like someone gave him a three minute synopsis on a plane between mouthfuls of peanuts.  Unfortunately, in that synopsis was the quote:

And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians—dead!—slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

Pal, a literal-minded kind of guy, apparently missed that Wells, an avowed atheist, was not praising the Lord for saving the day, but was making an ironic statement about the toppling of the mighty by the weak.  But hey, watch Pal’s films and it is clear that irony is above him.  I wonder if he had instead heard the line “But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power” what kind of movie he might have made.

Now I’ve always wondered why, if God was so wise, he didn’t come up with a way to beat the Martians that didn’t allow a good portion of the world to be destroyed.  Planting something nasty on our planet that has caused so much pain, just so that it could stop an invasion many millions of years later (oops, sorry, make that four thousand years) is both unnecessarily cruel and complex.

But it sure does look cool.