The War of the Worlds ★★★★½

There is a remarkable streak of bleakness running through Byron Haskin's "The War of the Worlds." Beginning with news reel footage of past wars before showcasing the invasion of Earth by extraterrestrial forces, the film heaps destruction upon humankind with little rest until the film's climax. It is a downcast war film, as serious as any that might portray nonfiction conflicts, that offers a gripping story of a world with little hope for survival.

Based on H.G. Wells' novel, "The War of the Worlds" follows the characters involved with the struggle against the invaders on the ground. There is little character-based drama, the film, instead, focusing almost solely on the effects of the Martian invasion. The story offers destruction, failed attempts to quell the invasion, and a look at human behavior in the face of sure doom. It is compelling and harrowing.

Haskin's film tries to balance end-of-the-world drama, special effects, and a mature and solidly crafted overall production. The balance works, though the film's effects are quaint by today's standards. Still, there is something iconically ominous about a tripod vessel emerging from cloud of destructive residue.

Vividly rendered, the film makes the most of its locations. Popping with smokey grays and greens, the war-torn landscapes are desolate and desperate. Haunting images of abandoned cities and cities under attack give the film the foggy feeling of an apocalyptic nightmare.

A downbeat special effects extravaganza, "The War of the Worlds" is a quick-paced genre outing that combines disaster-movie action with science fiction themes and plot points. While the film may lack the fully-fleshed human story beats that could enrich the affair, its focus on the titular war and its impact leads to a thrilling experience. It is a satisfying and memorable piece of work.

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