Why do so many adaptions of H. G. Wells’ THE WAR OF THE WORLDS seem to hollow out all the themes? There’s next to nothing here in keeping with the considerations of imperialism or social Darwinism in the novel, and little else in their place. The Martians using humanoid species as a source to feed on is gone, and the film opens with a tour of matte paintings of the planets of the solar system, where it seems Earth just happened to be suitable because the other planets weren’t so, rather than the Martians have any particular unsustainability that the present societies of Earth provided some sort of salve to.
‘If they are more advanced than us, than they should be nearer the Creator for that reason’ says a priest important to the film. Wells was skeptical of religion, and while his narrator character sometimes mused on divinity’s relation to the events of the story, the religiously obsessed and dogmatic were regarded with disgust in the novel. Here, in the 1953 film, events are constantly framed through religion. The ending’s religious meanings is amped up to a lurid degree. Coupled with the ruminations on World War II (footage is even used there as a stand-in for Martians devastating the Earth), and it all feels a rather conservative affair, more an assurance than the kind of death wish practice the novel (and other adaptations) tend to.
Still, there’s a kind of B movie fun to the film, particularly in the early stages, and the design of the Martian craft is really quite splendid. Two and a half cut pipettes, and a looted package.