The War of the Worlds: Review: The War of the Worlds (BFI Film Classics)

War of the worldsBy Barry Forshaw

Palgrave Macmillan, out now

A look at George Pal and Byron Haskin’s reworking of H.G. Wells’s classic.

Barry Forshaw dedicates this discussion of the different versions of Wells’s science fiction tale to four colleagues with whom he’s had “many a fruitful and argumentative” discussion about films – and in some ways, that’s what this feels like: a knowledgeable chat with someone about the many interpretations of The War of the Worlds over the years.

Although the book is ostensibly about the 1953 movie, it’s actually far more of an overview of The War of the Worlds in other media, with a larger focus on the Pal film than any other – although the Steven Spielberg film gets considerable coverage (and Forshaw is considerably kinder to it than many would be). Wells’s original novel is examined and placed in context both within his own work and generally in the history of literature, and Orson Welles’s infamous radio broadcast gets some good coverage – including some evidence that may come as a surprise to those who constantly maintain that the 1938 play did not have the effect on the population that is claimed.

Earlier film versions are examined before we get to the 1953 iteration, and that is given a fair reassessment, explaining how Pal and Haskin changed Wells’s story for their own purposes. This is where the Spielberg 2005 film starts to get quite a bit of mention, with superlatives flying about many of its attributes – to the extent I did wonder if we’d seen the same film!

The TV “sequel” to the 1953 film is discussed briefly (some more on this would have been welcomed, given the links that the producers tried to claim to the Pal movie), and Jeff Wayne’s rock album makes a fleeting appearance but more time is given to Independence Day and Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble, both of which are seen as reworkings. There’s also a solid round-up of other “Martian invasion” films – from Invaders from Mars to Mars Attacks!

Verdict: A highly readable overview of The War of the Worlds from 1897 to the present day. 8/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to order The War of the Worlds (BFI Film Classics) from


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