I have this one on DVD. I consider this among the top 3 of the Science Fiction films of the fifties, topped only by Forbidden Planet and perhaps equal to The Day the Earth Stood Still. I prefer it to the latter for the sheer spectacle, the color, the action, the death ray weapons (more extravagant than those in The Day the Earth Stood Still) and the fast pace. I'm particularly fond of its ambition; the other two sf films had loads of ambition, as well, but not geared around destruction.
In the case of this War of the Worlds, I really admired how the storyline didn't stray away from the scope. The scope is big - worldwide. The plot stays with the big decision-makers, the top military brass & others who have to come up with ways to combat the invaders. And the story continues to stay with these as they try the A-Bomb; it's all in your face, full bore, full throttle destruction - it doesn't shy away from such or rely merely on suggestion. I still got a chill when I saw this about a year ago, probably for the 10th time, and again watched the invaders ignore the bible-toting character, disintegrate that hapless colonel and shrug off our most potent weapon. Also, the reference by Gene Barry's character to a protective 'blister' the aliens use, not the usual force fields, force shields, etc. terminology, was an interesting alternative. As far as the scope, this is where the remake in 2005, starring Tom Cruise, differs; in that film, we see it all from the perspective of Cruise & his family. We are left guessing as to what everyone else, such as the nation's leaders, are doing. I consider this as sort of the easy way out. It's easy to write and depict; Cruise is the stand-in for all of us average guys. One just places himself into the story and writes around that. I always feel a bit cheated when I see movies choosing this approach. Yeah, it can be compelling and even more watchable since you relate to the main character, but I'm always thinking, "well, yeah, but what are our leaders doing? I wanna know!"
Independence Day (1996) actually copied the original War of the Worlds template and was hugely successful. You feel like you're part of a huge human collective in its ultimate struggle, privy to the inner workings of the top people. The only weak part, for me in this earlier version of War of the Worlds, was that the scientists working on some alternative method to defeat the aliens were left unprotected and subject to the whims of a mob. I'm going by year-old memory, but it seems the government should have provided some type of military back-up/protection, not leave the fate of the world to disarray on some chaotic city street. Someone really dropped the ball on this. Or lacked a certain wisdom, eh? They already knew conventional weaponry was no good; seems to me all resources should have been directed at making sure the scientists came up with another avenue.
To me, this one is a simple 'what if' proposition. What if there really is other life out there, out in the cosmos somewhere (mathemetically probable, it seems) - alien life, really alien life. Now, what if they're not benevolent, as assumed by a higher technology? (Again, spelled out more blatantly in Independence Day). See, they're not interested in dialog, diplomacy, compromise or even slavery of our species. In this War of the Worlds version, they're not even interested in eating/using us; their aim is simple eradication. Complete eradication, just wiping the slate, Earth, clean of us. Delete us and that's it. It's so straightforward, so focused - I think that's what makes this so effective a sf thriller, not just of the fifties, but among all sf films. BoG's Score: 9 out of 10