The War of the Worlds Imprint Films 4K & Blu-ray Limited Edition Release Review

I can’t recall how old I was the first time I watched Byron Haskin’s genre-defining 1953 classic The War of the Worlds, but what I do recall is the impact of seeing the chrome ships of Martians emerging from the crater in California caused by their ship crashing into Earth. These mammoth machines elevated with ease out of the rubble in the night before turning and obliterating a trio of men watching the site. The sound pierced into my mind, causing a mark that I can’t rub off, no matter how hard I try. There’s a menacing quality to these aliens who clearly don’t have peace on their agenda; this is long before we even get to see their prune-like, gangly existence.

Adapted from the work of H.G. Wells by Barré Lyndon, Haskin’s version of The War of the Worlds helped establish the tone of 1950s sci-fi films, with films like Them! and Forbidden Planet furthering the possibilities of the visual spectacle of destruction on cinemas screens, while also playing around in the world of ‘science’ within these fictional tales. It’s impressive then that seventy years later, The War of the Worlds continues to stun and astound with its practical effects and narrative brilliance.

In celebration of their two-year anniversary, Imprint headed back to their first Blu-Ray release and re-released The War of the Worlds on their very first 4K disc release. Presented in a radical and eerie 3D lenticular hardcase that shows the Martian ships wreaking destruction against the backdrop of a haunting red planet, Imprint have made an impressive statement with this release, suggesting an exciting future for the format under this continually impressive physical media label.

Packed in a beautiful steel book case are a 4K UHD disc, a Blu-ray disc, and a booklet with an essay by David J. Schow and featuring posters from around the world to promote the films release. All of the special features have carried across from the previous Blu-ray release:

  • Three commentary tracks:
    • Actors Ann Robinson and Gene Barry (4K and Blu-ray discs)
    • Director Joe Dante, Historian Bob Burns, Author Bill Warren (4K and Blu-ray discs)
    • Critics Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman (Blu-ray only)
  • The Sky is Falling: Making The War of the Worlds (4K and Blu-ray discs)
  • H.G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction (4K and Blu-ray discs)
  • The Mercury Theatre On the Air Presents The War of the Worlds Broadcast with Orson Welles (4K and Blu-ray discs)
  • Original Theatrical trailer (4K and Blu-ray discs)
  • 4K restoration from the original camera negative

The Sky is Falling is an interesting making of film that details how many of the practical effects were created. Hearing about the time crunch to get the Martian ready for shooting is impressive, as is the tangible excitement for being able to make its veins pulse. This video hasn’t been given an upgrade, but it also doesn’t desperately need it.

Each of the commentaries are interesting, informative, and entertaining to listen to. If you have earlier releases of The War of the Worlds on DVD or Blu-Ray, then you may have already listened to the Joe Dante and co. commentary, which is extremely animated and history focused, providing context of the careers of many different actors on screen, while also giving you enough visual references to warrant repeat viewings (the 4K release makes it easier to keep an eye out for Woody Woodpecker, for example). If you’ve already engaged in that audio delight, then you’ll be well rewarded by the track with Forshaw and Newman, who both critically engage with the film in a splendid manner. The commentary with Robinson and Barry is amiable, although contains far more Robinson than Barry, and is less engaging than the other two commentaries. If there’s a minor critique, it’s that I wish that the Forshaw and Newman commentary was on the 4K disc instead of the Robinson and Barry track, just so I could listen to it with the 4K visuals.

This is not to say that the Blu-ray isn’t great, far from it, it’s still a stellar visual presentation, it’s just nice to experience the 4K disc over and over. Prior to this release, my experience with The War of the Worlds has exclusively been with TV and VHS presentations, a stylistic format that helped amplify the older tone of the film. If I’m being honest, I was a little concerned about engaging with this 4K release, mostly because I didn’t want my viewing experience to be impacted by a transfer that might expose the edges of the practical effects. I know that this is part of the charm of watching films like this on modern releases, to get a glimpse into how the practical effects were presented on screen, but there has been an almost delight from some modern viewers in picking apart how shonky some practical effects look. As Joe Dante mentions in his commentary, he’s glad that a film like The War of the Worlds hadn’t received a Mystery Science Theatre episode picking apart its faults and foibles.

Honestly, I have no idea what I was worried about. This release took me straight back to being a kid, hiding behind the couch after that first blast erupted out of the tellies speakers. It made me fear these Martians all over again, terrified of how their path of destruction was unceasing and unstoppable in the face of all of humanities weaponry. Sure, the film does lean a little heavily into the religious territory in its final act, but it still carries an impact.

Imprint’s first 4K release is a loving and tender presentation of a genuine Hollywood classic that stands the test of time. If this is the first of many 4K releases for the label, then I can only imagine and hope what possible titles await a similar kind of release.

Disc provided by Imprint Films for an honest review.

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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