Now this is some cool stuff. As you know, H. G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS is not just one of the first big science-fiction stories, it’s also been made into no less than half a dozen movies, the most notable versions being Byron Haskin’s classic version from 1953, and a more modern version whipped up by Steven Spielberg back in 2005. But there are almost as many failed versions of the film as there are actual ones: Cecil B. Demille was going to make it in the 1920s, Alfred Hitchcock was attached to an attempt that went nowhere in the 1930s, and Orson Welles always had a filmed version of his famous radio play on the back burner, where it ended up cooling. Another version that could have been incredible if it had ever come to be would have featured animation and visual effects by the one and only Ray Harryhausen.
Seems that about a decade before George Pal produced Haskin’s version of the film, he commissioned Harryhausen to come up with some animation and stop-motion test footage for the film. While Pal ended up going another direction – using life-size models instead of miniatures, which produced more life-like movement and is considered by many to be a major key to the film’s success – the footage and concept art still survives online and has now been delivered right to your eyes’ doorstep.
It is distinctly Harryhausen, but I have to admit I like where Pal ended up more than where this might have taken it. The aliens in WOTW need to be looming, towering threats, bigger than buildings and instilling a sense of dread the same size. Stop-motion is awesome, especially in the hands of Harryhausen, but the intricacies of movement reveal its artificiality – or did in that era – making even the giant stuff feel small. No, Pal made the right decision, but that doesn’t make Harryhausen’s ideas for the film any less fascinating.
The footage is set to audio from Welles’ radio play, which only heightens the drama of Harryhausen’s impeccable work. Take a long, good look at what might have been.