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4K Ultra HD Review: The War of the Worlds (1953) and When Worlds Collide (1951)

September 28, 2022

By John Corrado

Paramount is releasing the 1953 adaptation of The War of the Worlds for the first time on 4K Ultra HD this week, in a set that also includes the 1951 film When Worlds Collide on Blu-ray. The two sci-fi films were both produced by George Pal, and present a compelling double feature.

The main attraction here is the 4K restoration of director Byron Haskin’s classic take on the H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds, starring Gene Barry as a scientist who is brought in to help study a pod that crash lands in the desert and signals the arrival of martian invaders, as entire cities start falling to the aliens with deadly lasers and tricolour eyes.

It had been a little while since I watched this film, and I’d forgotten how almost impressively bleak it becomes as a portrait of first contact and society devolving into chaos as the world ends, building to its spiritual, quietly hopeful finale. The 4K offers a truly impressive upgrade for the Technicolor film (which had previously been released on Blu-ray through Criterion), with a rich and vibrant image that offers incredible clarity, resulting in the best possible presentation of this landmark picture.

While bundled as the “B-movie” of this science fiction double feature, When Worlds Collide is much better than this designation might suggest. Richard Derr stars as a hot shot pilot who gets caught in the middle when astronomers discover an unknown star (Bellus) hurtling towards Earth at alarming speed, with a new planet (Zyra) that is orbiting it, spelling the end of civilization. A plan is hatched to escape to Zyra when the planet passes close enough to Earth, raising ethical questions about who will be selected for a spot on the rocket ship, with weight and fuel limitations needing to be taken into account.

Adapted from a serialized story co-written by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie, and directed by Polish cinematographer Rudolph Maté (who worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Foreign Correspondent), When Worlds Collide often feels quasi-Biblical with its allusions to the story of Noah’s Ark. While maybe a bit stagey at times in terms of its execution, there is a sense of dread running through the film as scientists struggle to convince the public that the star and planet pose a real risk, and chaos erupts as people fight for one of the limited seats on the escape pod to repopulate the new planet. The Blu-ray presentation is sold, and it’s a hugely influential work that deserves to be rediscovered.

Aside from both being sci-fi films from the 1950s that share a producer and deal with different “end of days” scenarios, The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide also both won Oscars for best special effects in their respective years. Paramount has done a good job of presenting them together, with the stature of the former film helping to shine a much deserved spotlight on the latter.

Bonus Features:

The set includes bonus features on both discs, with the majority of them accompanying The War of the Worlds on the 4K disc. Digital copy codes for both films are also included in the package, which ships with a slipcover.

The War of the Worlds (4K Ultra HD):

The Sky is Falling: Making The War of the Worlds (29 minutes, 59 seconds)

H.G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction (10 minutes, 29 seconds)

The Mercury Theatre On the Air Presents The War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (59 minutes, 30 seconds): The infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast from October 30th, 1938, which reportedly caused people to think a real martian invasion was taking place.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 20 seconds)

When Worlds Collide (Blu-ray):

Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes)

The War of the Worlds (1953) and When Worlds Collide (1951) is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. The War of the Worlds is 85 minutes and When Worlds Collide is 82 minutes, both are rated PG.

Street Date: September 27th, 2022

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