YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

FILM : Nostalgia Fuels 'War of the Worlds'

August 13, 1992|MARK CHALON SMITH | Mark Chalon Smith is a free-lance writer who regularly writes about film for The Times Orange County Edition.

"The War of the Worlds," Paramount's adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel about global apocalypse at the hands of mean-spirited Martians, won the Academy Award in 1953 for special effects. The movie, produced by sci-fi veteran George Pal, was then considered state-of-the-art.

Audiences were impressed by the huge metallic spaceships, goose-necked and deadly with a zapping Cyclops of an eye, and the nasty sounds they made.

Give the credit to special-effects whiz Gordon Jennings. The flying saucers were made out of three-foot-wide copper dishes dressed up in fancy lights, and the death rays' eerie noise came from three guitar chords played backward.

Those effects may have come more from wit and utility than anything else, but the art budget eventually peaked at $1.6 million--not so much in the age of "Terminator 2," but a lot back then.

Pal, Jennings and director Byron Haskin used the money to turn the picture (screening outdoors Friday night as part of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center's "Monsters by Moonlight" series) into one of the first large-scale destruction movies. The '70s, with all that earthquake and towering inferno business, owe something to the escalating helplessness and visual upheaval of "The War of the Worlds."

Barre Lyndon's screenplay stays with Wells' 1898 novel, at least on the basics. The Martians appear suddenly and soon get down to worldwide destruction, and their defeat is not so much good old Earthling ingenuity as dumb luck.

Lyndon moved the main locale from Wells' Victorian London to Southern California and brought in a handsome scientist (Gene Barry) and his fawning girlfriend (Ann Robinson) to give the story some Hollywood push.

He also tossed in a current of religion, which Wells, a loudly proclaimed atheist, wouldn't have liked one bit.

This theme first shows up when a clergyman (Lewis Martin) approaches the aliens during the initial contact. While he crosses himself and pleads for understanding, they zap him to dust, setting the tone that not even God can save the globe. But later on, in some heavy and contradictory symbolism, the Church seems to be the last haven for mankind.

Anyway, "The War of the Worlds" is one of those movies that many who grew up in the '50s remember fondly as a mix of science-fiction melodrama and crashingly good mayhem. Nostalgia goes a long way toward appreciating it today.

What: Byron Haskin's "The War of the Worlds."

When: Friday, Aug. 14, at 8:30 p.m.

Where: The Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton.

Whereabouts: Take the Riverside (91) Freeway to Euclid Street and head north to Malvern.

Wherewithal: $2 to $4.

Where to Call: (714) 738-6595.

Los Angeles Times Articles