The Criterion Collection New Releases July 2020
This July, Byron Haskin's genre-defining Sci-Fi classic The War of the Worlds, will join the Criterion Collection in a new 4K restoration. It is joined by Noah Baumbach's much acclaimed bittersweet Marriage Story making its home-video debut in an edition featuring behind-the-scenes footage and extensive interviews with the cast and crew. The third choice of the month is Preston Sturges's screwball classic The Lady Eve, starring Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, which is also appearing on Blu-ray for the first time. Also making its Blu-ray debut is Abbas Kiarostami's Palme d'Or-winning masterpiece Taste of Cherry, a gorgeously complex meditation on mortality. Finally, the previously announced Blu-ray box set Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits includes five kung-fu classics with a dizzying array of supplemental features. As ClassicFilmFan has already covered this release in a previous article (https://tinyurl.com/y5k5atgr) I will be focusing my attention on the Oscar-winning adaptation of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds.
Let me be clear, this is not the Tom Cruise vehicle that came out in 2005. Criterion is releasing the superior 1953 version starring Gene Barry (Back from Eternity, Thunder Road). Although he is not a household name, you are likely to recognize his face. Barry was seen frequently throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies, in movies and on TV. His final performance was a bit of casting brilliance when he appeared as "The Grandfather" in the 2005 remake. The reveal was saved until the end of the film, giving fans a moment of giddiness without distracting from the seriousness of the storyline.
This earlier edition involves a mysterious, meteor-like object that lands in a small California town. Immediately following this incident there appears a fleet of glowing green UFOs hovering over the entire globe, signaling the beginning of an alien invasion. And it seems that neither military might nor the scientific know-how of a nuclear physicist (Barry) can stop it. These are the very things of which great Sci-Fi is made.
In the expert hands of genre specialists producer George Pal (When Worlds Collide, The Time Machine) and director Byron Haskin (From the Earth to the Moon, Robinson Crusoe On Wars), the H. G. Wells end-of-civilization classic receives a chilling Cold War-era update, complete with hallucinatory Technicolor and ahead of its time Oscar-winning special effects. The film is filled to the brim with iconic images of 1950s science fiction and stands as a notable moment in cinema history. The War of the Worlds is both an influential triumph of visual imagination and a still-disquieting document of the wonder and terror of the atomic age. In other words, it's Sci-Fi aristocracy.
The special edition bonus features include a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray. There's also a new alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, created by sound designer Ben Burtt and presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray (I confess, I don't know what any of this is, but I'm sure it makes the sound very good). The audio commentary from 2005 features filmmaker Joe Dante, film historian Bob Burns, and author Bill Warren. There's also a documentary, The Sky is Falling, from 2005 about the making of the film, an on the air radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds from 1938 by the Mercury Theatre, directed and narrated by Orson Welles (yes, THAT radio presentation!), accompanied by another 1940 radio program featuring a discussion between Orson Welles and H. G. Wells, author of the 1897 novel The War of the Worlds (wholly cow!).
As far as bonus material, it just doesn't get any better than that, and I challenge anyone to say so. If it were for the extras alone, this is an essential film for any collection. Of course, the film is an exceptional cinematic milestone that represents the then future of Scientific Fiction in all of its media formats.