Richard Derr, Larry Keating, Barbara Rush, John Hoyt, Peter Hansen,
Alden Chase, Hayden Rorke. Directed by Rudolph Mate. (1951/83 min).
WAR OF THE WORLDS
Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Bob Cornthwiate, Lewis Martin
and the voice of the great Paul Frees. Directed by Byron Haskin.
by D.M. ANDERSON
was once a time when movies had much longer theatrical runs than they
do today. Anyone
wanting to see all three hours of Avengers: Endgame without
testing the limits of their bladder need-only wait a few
Facebook-free months before streaming it right into their living
room. Had the film been released in 1977, Endgame would have
lingered in theaters as long as the original Star Wars (which
was well over a year).
On the plus side, since there was no internet back then, a spoiler-happy troll would have to be physically present to ruin it for you (at which time you could beat his ever-loving
course, those were the days before HBO, home video, Netflix and
internet pirates. If you didn’t catch a movie in theaters, it could
be years before it finally showed up on network television. Even
then, the film would be heavily edited, not just to remove
objectionable content, but so it could be squeezed into a two-hour
time slot with plenty o’ room for Calgon commercials. And unlike
the 55-inch digital flat-screen TV hanging from your wall right now,
that massive Magnavox which sat like a 100-pound brick in Mom &
Dad’s living room never did a movie justice.
|When television could kill a man.|
anyone who first-saw 2001: A Space Odyssey when it premiered
on NBC in 1977 – nine years after its initial theatrical run –
had still never really experienced it. That’s like first-hearing “Tutti
Frutti” as crooned by Pat Boone. On TV, 2001 was no longer a
space odyssey. It was Space: 1999 with homicidal monkeys and
Mr. Whipple squeezing the Charmin.
selling broadcast rights to TV networks, it was also common practice
for studios to re-release movies in theaters, often numerous times
with fresh ad campaigns. Disney did it with damn-near all of
their films, most-notably 1940’s Fantasia, a box office flop
which got a new lease on life from the hippy crowd. On a smaller
scale, Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive did middling business in
1974, but became a kitschy cult classic in 1977 thanks to a brilliant new TV
spot that was more terrifying than the movie itself.
a movie buff growing up in this era – and within biking distance
from Milwaukie, Oregon’s Southgate Quad – I discovered the likes
of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Young Frankenstein, Patton
and The Andromeda Strain. They had since become modern classics,
but since I was too young to experience them the first time around,
they were new to me. And on one occasion, a couple of 'em weren’t new
Star Wars became a cultural phenomenon in 1977,
science-fiction was suddenly cool again. More importantly, it was
profitable again and studios clamored to get a piece of the
action. In an odd move, Paramount Pictures resurrected two relics
from the early 1950s – The War of the Worlds and When
Worlds Collide – marketing them as a double feature with an
all-new ad campaign. As profitable as re-releases could be, it was
rare for a studio to go back two decades and serve-up movies
that had been standard afternoon programming on independent TV
stations for years. But it was a pretty ingenious move when you think
about it. Even if it only played for a week or two, all it cost Paramount was a TV spot and newly-designed one-sheet that
touted, “The science-fiction fantasies that started it all in
the most spectacular double feature of all time!” I’d seen
both movies on TV but never thought about them in those terms, but
as two of the earliest special effects-driven sci-fi films ever made, I suppose they did start it all. It was enough for
me to part with my precious lawn-mowing money.
there I was at the Southgate one summer afternoon, by myself,
watching two movies that were made when my parents were kids.
No friends were interested in coming along, of course, for which I was
ultimately thankful. Even at that age, I was developing an
appreciation for older films not shared by my peers. They’d
have likely ended up giggling at the antiquity of it all. Granted,
the two films looked quaint in the wake of Star Wars, but both
won visual effects Oscars in their day, and decades later, were still more convincing than most of the Star Wars rip-offs
being cranked out at the time, such as Starcrash, Battle Beyond
the Stars, Laserblast or Message from Space. And you know
what? Seeing The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide
on the big screen made them feel a lot more epic than they did on my
tiny bedroom TV. It was almost like watching them for the first time.
|"Bet that phone's a bitch to stick in your pocket."|
based on a 1932 novel, When Worlds Collide (1951) is a
science-fiction disaster film in which a rogue star, Bellus, is
hurling toward Earth. Global annihilation is inevitable, a pretty
heavy concept for a film at the time. After freelance courier pilot
Dave Randall (Richard Derr) delivers the bad news to a group of
scientists led by Dr. Cole Hendron (Larry Keating), they realize the
only way to avoid extinction is constructing a ship capable of
carrying 40 people to Zyra, an Earth-like planet orbiting Bellus. Then it’s a race
against time to build the ship, stock it with essentials, select the
lucky few and get the fuck outta Dodge.
by George Pal, a former animator who’d become the George Lucas of his day, When Worlds Collide is a
tight, economically-made film that looks more epic than it really is,
thanks to a creative combination of miniatures, stock footage and
imaginative matte paintings depicting the aftermath of destruction
(though the final shot Zyra’s sunrise looks like it was lifted from
a cartoon). For the most part, the story stays on-point, save for a
goofy romantic subplot involving Randall, Hendron’s daughter Joyce
(Barbara Rush) and her fiancee, Dr. Tony Drake (Peter Hansen). If you
were Drake, would you lift a single finger to assure the survival
of the douchebag who just stole your woman? But not only is Drake
suddenly a milquetoast match-maker, he’ll get to watch these two
lovebirds snuggle on Zyra every fucking day. With an equal number of
men and women chosen for the journey, it ain’t like he can simply
hook-up with someone else, unless you count the stray dog he
swapped-out two chickens for (but let's not go there).
|Playing Simon is more difficult when the game is attached to your face.|
The War of the Worlds, also produced by Pal, arguably remains
the most iconic and influential alien invasion film of all time.
Featuring a bigger budget and better overall performances than When
Worlds Collide, it also stays conceptually truer to its source
material (H.G. Wells’ classic novel). Its scenes of mass
destruction are infinitely more impressive on the big screen (or
at-least I thought so in 1977). The ominous alien machines are
suitably menacing, and once they arrive to wreak havoc, the story
remains tension-filled throughout, at least until the ending, when
the Martians simply die because they aren’t immune to common
pathogens. But in Pal’s defense, that’s how Wells’ novel ended,
too. Still, as climaxes go, it's a little underwhelming.
especially enjoyed the L.A. attack sequence as a kid, but after recently revisiting
the film, I’d have to say my favorite scene is when Father
Matthew Collins (Lewis Martin) gets blasted. Part of that could be
due to my current overall contempt for organized religion. Much of that contempt is fueled by evangelical morons, so there’s something satisfying about
Collins’ fatally bone-headed decision to reach out to the Martians
with only a Bible in his hand, hilariously stating, “If they’re
more advanced than us, they should be nearer the creator for that
reason,” logic almost as dumb as believing rape babies are God's will. Because of Pal’s penchant for injecting holiness in
his sci-fi films - this one, in particular - Collins is depicted as stoic and selfless (how real evangelicals probably view themselves). In Wells’ original novel, however, the priest was a raving lunatic (how I happen to view most evangelicals). So just because Collins' isn't screaming about the apocalypse doesn't mean he's any brighter than today's crackpot clergymen.
I digress. Watching these two classics on the big screen – without
the cynicism that sucks the fun out of adult life – was a unique
experience at the time. I realized that sometimes you have to go big
to really appreciate a movie, even if you already know it by heart.
Additionally, that summer afternoon at the Southgate forever-changed
how I viewed these particular films. Though they’re completely
unrelated, I almost never revisit When Worlds Collide without
following it up with The War of the Worlds immediately
afterwards. Personal nostalgia aside, their aesthetic similarities
make them two peas in a pod. Even today, they're the perfect double feature.