I have been discussing horror films primarily in my blog, but I want to extend my examination to science fiction movies also. Certainly the two genres have much in common, especially in their examination of very real social issues through the motif of the creation of fantasy worlds. They also differ in their focus on monsters or unseen fears in horror and on the dangerous use of technology in science-fiction.
The 1950s was a decade that saw the emergence of science-fiction films into the public consciousness, especially reflecting the twin fears of the Cold War: of communists and of nuclear annihilation. These were the kind of enormous social anxieties that played well in the genre of science-fiction.
In 1953, H. G. Wells’ classic novel The War Of The Worlds was adapted into a contemporary American setting in their feature film. A previous incarnation had been the 1938 Radio production for the Mercury Theater on the Air by Orson Welles. This was the famous production that had sent much of the United States into a panic, thinking that the country was being invaded.
In post World War Two America, after having experienced an attack on native land by a foreign country and being one of the major forces in a global war of unprecedented scale, the time was correct for a newer adaptation of the novel. The world had suffered devastating losses with a conservative estimate of the dead at 56 million. Immediately upon the ending of that war, NATO and the Soviet Union faced each other in an often silent but still hugely dangerous new kind of conflict. Fears of a new invasion and of complete destruction permeated the country. This 1953 movie, made by Paramount Pictures, produced by George Pal, and starring Gene Barry, addressed those concerns directly.
Shot in Technicolor and set in California, the film employs sleek new special effects, although dated by today’s standards, and shows powerful alien spaceships from Mars attacking Earth. The planet’s powerful military defenses are useless against the superior technology of the invaders. (This point, which was a crucial theme against England’s colonizing of countries with lesser technological abilities, was dropped from this film.) Neither God nor the figure of the young scientist, who would save the world in other movies, had any impact on the invaders. Even the atomic bomb, which had been used to force the surrender of Japan in World War Two, had no ability to break the Martians’ defense. The world is saved only by germs in the environment to which the Martians have no immunity.
It is a powerful film, and a reflection of the fears of that time. If you enjoy science-fiction cinema, take a look at this movie.