DVD Review of The War Of The Worlds (CD)
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 6/5/12
While perusing through the DVD racks at a local Half Price Books I came across a package with two DVDs and a bonus CD, called An Adaptation Of H.G. Wells’ Classic The War Of The Worlds. Thinking it was a version of the classic sci fi film from the 1950s, I bought it at its cheap price. But it was not the old film. Rather it was from a company called Madacy Home Video, and consisted of some faux newscasts, some documentaries, and a CD of the original 1938 broadcasts of the Mercury Theatre’s radio broadcast of The War Of The Worlds. This was the infamous broadcasts that made a national name of Orson Welles. It’s actually a high quality rendition, and easily the best part of this package. It is unedited, and although it begins with a clear presentation of the program as an adaptation of Wells’ classic, one can easily see why many thought this was a real ‘event.’ One merely needs to recall the famed radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster and the narration of Herbert Morrison, in Lakehurst, New Jersey, not that far from the town of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, where this broadcast was set. Having only heard bits of it from before, I was amazed at just how dramatically and technically proficient the show was, especially since the whole truly is greater than the sum of its clips. Welles, especially, is very good, taking on several roles.
Unfortunately, the video supplements to the package are not nearly of as high a quality. The first DVD has a 49 minute (not 35 minute, as on the DVD cover) faux newscast of a supposed modern invasion (set in 2005, with George W. Bush as President). It is poorly acted, filled with terrible special effects, and generally a disaster. There is nothing to recommend it. Even worse, on the first disk, there is a pointless, and atrociously produced, video called Miss Intergalactic 8056. about a supposed beauty contest. It’s truly horrifically bad, intercutting bad computer effects with old sci fi monster films. The only thing to argue over is whether the effects are worse than the attempts at humor. The final feature on Disk One is called The Pop Culture Of Sci Fi, in which conventioneers at a sci fi convention are asked about the genre, as they are decked out in assorted costumes. It ends, anomically, by following a musician talking of music in sci fi. Again, utterly pointless. Disk Two is a little bit better, as it includes vintage NASA filmlets from the 1960s and 1970s, as well as more recent video footage of NASA press conferences, all concerning missions to explore Mars via satellites and rovers. The disk also includes facts and photos about the earth and Mars, as well as biographical information on Wells. But, aside from its kitsch value, there really is no reason anyone would be interested in this material, save for its tangential relation to the Welles’ broadcast.
That is because, again, the only real draw of this package is the Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater broadcast, which holds up much better than its video counterparts; a testament to the power of both men with the similar sounding names, and proof of the power of real artistry over schlockery. My advice is to take a pass on this package, and go get the DVD of the 1950s classic film. If not, your punishment will have to be sitting, and being forced to endure all of the features on this disk. You have been warned!
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Salon website.]
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