There was a curious moment, re-watching this film after several years, when I looked at our animated heroes lined up for an important briefing and was irresistibly reminded of all those Filmation Children’s cartoons (remember He-Man, The Real Ghostbusters and the animated version of Star Trek?). I’m not sure entirely why: I think it was the staging, with all of the characters lined up in the middle distance in their distinctive costumes. And the more or less perfunctory “Hey I’m German” (or Irish, or English, or Malaysian, or whatever) personalities. And, perhaps, the fact that most of the men look like He-Man on steroids.
I find this is one of those films I liked better the first time around, although I’m not entirely surprised by that. A lot of it is more or less what they knew was expected of them, a storyline intended primarily to tie together a series of animated battle sequences.
The basic idea here is that, after the Martians invaded in 1899 and died of the common cold, we back-engineered their war machines and put together an international defense force called “A.R.E.S.” to defend us against any further Martian incursions.
The result is a wild, steampunk vision of 1914, with rocket-boosted triplanes; giant, Zeppelin-style sky dreadnaughts; a radical, World’s Fair-style revision of New York City, complete with giant statues and Art Deco fortresses; and, of course, an army of mechanized walking battle tripods, including the titular “Goliath”.
It seems an odd note that women are part of this new international army, something which would have been beyond shocking at the time. One might expect some explanation for this, but they don’t even decide to go with the obvious, “it’s because so many people were killed by the Martians” answer. This does give them room for yet another modern stereotypical soldier trope: the men and women fighting evenly in the bar brawl. Trust me, it looks even sillier when all the women are Barbie (German Barbie, American Barbie, etc., etc, complete with matching wardrobe and accessories.) and the men could kick sand in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face.
And it is another odd note, in a film so obviously aimed at Saturday morning TV (okay, circa 1970s, when I grew up. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s changed) that the violence is frequent, bloody, and, particularly when the heat rays are involved, very gruesome. Curiously, it has regular black out cuts, something you just don’t see in movies these days, almost as if it were intended to be a TV show.
Oh, well, it’s hard to stay sarcastic about a film like this when it does what it is meant to do so well. We get marvelous battles between the Martians and the armies of walking tanks, we get flights of hot-rodded biplanes battling leaf-shaped alien fighters, and heat rays everywhere. We get explosions, giant alien dreadnaughts, burning cities and more explosions. And we get Teddy Roosevelt (who looks positively svelte next to the other men as his shoulders are only three times wider than in real life) leading a tank army carrying a huge gun, in a finale which levels most of the lovingly re-invented New York.
And of course, there is a cover of a song from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds album. Of course.
Oh, well. It’s fun, it goes well with a big bowl of popcorn. Just don’t expect Ghandi.
Or, for that matter, The Longest Day.
(As I note here, there’s another walking robot movie on my Wish List, although I honestly have no idea whether it is any better!)