Battle of the Worlds [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - The Film Detective
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (29th July 2022).
The Film

Earth's international High Command has been monitoring the world's space missions from a Mediterranean island, and the scientists are an eccentric bunch. Astronomers Fred Steele (Emmanuelle 2's Umberto Orsini) and Eve Barnett (Maya Brent) are hoping to transfer to somewhere with a semblance of normality and get married when a strange presence makes itself known on the radar. With no advance warning from the Mars base, Fred is willing to dismiss it as interference from magnetic storms and his colleagues – including the team's dean Professor Cornfield (Wild Beasts' John Stacy) and psychic secretary Mrs. Collins (chanteuse Carol Danell) – are just as bewildered; however, reclusive Professor Benson (The Invisible Man's Claude Rains) – who has no need to set foot in the lab and only needs their reports to extrapolate information mathematically – has already predicted the arrival of "The Outsider" in a foreign body large enough to shift the positions of neighboring planets.

When it becomes more than apparent that the body is an entire planet seemingly adrift in space – after Mars Base commander Bob Cole (Bill Carter) only just manages to manages to wrest an exploratory vessel out of the magnetic field of the planet before fiery destruction – Benson is reprimanded by General Varreck (The Great Silence's Carlo d'Angelo) and the world council for not warning them of an entire planet on a collision course with Earth that has caused worldwide riots and mass suicides. When Bob, his wife Cathy (Jacqueline Derval), first officer Boyd (The Girl Who Knew Too Much's Jim Dolen), and his pilot son Lewis (Blood and Black Lace's Massimo Righi) return to Earth, Varreck appoints him to the command of the mission to destroy The Outsider even though they have officially communicated to the press Benson's assertion that the planet will bypass the Earth entirely by 95,000 miles in order to quell public panic even though they believe the old man to be a charlatan. Benson is initially satisfied when reports verify The Outsider's distance from the Earth until he learns that the planet has now gone into orbit with the Earth and that he has made some sort of mathematical error. While the military sends out vessels to explore the surface of the planet, Benson tries to convince them that the planet's orbit will start to shrink and cause atmospheric changes in the Earth. When the planet sends out saucers that destroy the exploratory vessels, however, Benson realizes that he made no error and that the planet's course is quite deliberate and very destructive.

The second science fiction film helmed by special effects artist – better known as "Anthony M. Dawson" or "Anthony Dawson" but not to be confused with the Scottish actor of the same name from From Russia with Love – following the moderately-successful Assignment: Outer Space, Battle of the Worlds is very much a space opera that anticipates the likes of 2001 but with the pre-Star Trek genre concern with what it means to be human when threatened by an outside force (which remains indistinct unlike the humanoid aliens of later series and films or the possessing entities of Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires); indeed, the film's humans are portrayed as such that it really is a wonder they can come together to fight an alien foe. The seemingly "pure" central romance between Fred and Eve is susceptible to erosion by Eve's devotion to Benson, and Fred does not exactly fight off the advances of psychic busybody Mrs. Collins whether he is actually interested, trying to make Eve jealous, or just looking for a diversion. The marriage between Bob and Cathy, on the other hand, is revealed to have been computer-selected but their affection has grown over time, and the threat to it is not the pettiness of other humans but death itself. The general appears sinister and even ruthless, but what is largely lost in the American version of the film (roughly fifteen minutes shorter than the Italian cut) are scenes between the general and psychologist Barrington (How to Kill a Judge's Renzo Palmer) dealing with a subtheme of manipulating the public that reveals a cynicism underlying the general pumping Bob up to be a hero (whether he succeeds or dies). Eve angrily asks Benson why he insists on pretending to appear cold and unfeeling, but the film subverts expectations by revealing that his grudging humanitarian concerns really are just a bargaining chip in order to negotiate his attempts to learn as much about the planet and its inhabitants as possible, even at the expense of innocent human lives (the final line, "If they opened up his chest, they would find a formula where his heart should have been," sound less cheesy in context).

A direct translation of the film's Italian title "Il pianeta degli uomini spenti" would spoil the ending, but the fate of the planet's inhabitants also calls into question whether are truly evil in spite of being a menace. Margheriti's special effects run the gamut from forced-perspective miniatures and plastic models to crude animation that never truly convince but are as quaint as they are ambitious for the period and budget before Kubrick would refine such techniques and incorporate new ones for his epic space opera. New Zealand-born Italian exploitation regular John Karlsen (Slaughter Hotel) has a small but prominent role while Giuliano Gemma (Tenebrae) has no dialogue but he is instantly recognizable in his brief screen time. Although like Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash), space operas were Margheriti's passion – with his "Gamma One" quartet of The Wild, Wild Planet, The War of the Planets, Planet on the Prowl, and The Snow Devils – he worked prolifically as a journeyman director in all of Italy's trendy genres from the peplum (Hercules, Prisoner of Evil), the western (Vengeance, And God Said to Cain), spy films (Killers are Challenged), and the gothic horrors of the sixties (The Virgin of Nuremberg, Castle of Blood, Long Hair of Death, and The Unnaturals) to gialli (Naked You Die, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye), war films (The Last Hunter, Tiger Joe), post-Alien films (Alien from the Deep), cannibal films (Cannibal Apocalypse), barbarian films (Yor, Hunter from the Future), and retro Indiana Jones-esque adventures (Ark of the Sun God, Hunters of the Golden Cobra) until the mid-nineties. Margheriti also directed the special effects second unit for Paul Morrissey's Andy Warhol-presented Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein.


Not released theatrically stateside until 1963 by short-lived Topaz Film Corporation – whose logo music was also used by more prolific distributor Woolner Brothers – Battle of the Worlds was released on VHS by LP-mode sell-through label Goodtimes Home Video (who had a period of prominence in the nineties when they went from public domain titles to competing with Image Entertainment in licensing studio titles for early DVD releases that lead to a few original productions). Unauthorized DVDs from the usual suspects included that fullscreen transfer while a letterboxed transfer from 35mm turned up on the gray market. Margheriti fans would have to look to Europe for legitimate DVD releases of the film including non-anamorphic, letterboxed Italian DVD from 01 Distribution and an anamorphic widescreen special edition DVD from France's Artus Films, neither of which were English-friendly.

As expected, The Film Detective's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray is the American version; however, it actually runs two minute shorter than the public domain transfer (81:36 versus 83:30, both significantly shorter than the 97 minute Italian version), with a few abrupt edits including forty-odd seconds in the first five minutes. These bits do not appear to be print damage – even the ~83 minute version features a few such cuts suggesting a sloppy attempt to trim the film down without access to separate dialogue, music, and effects tracks or outtake cutaways – and there are a few other short excisions that could be damage since they are so short to be insignificant; as such, it would not be right to conjecture whether the 83 minute version in any way represents the export cut of the film (even though no other English versions have turned up on foreign videotape). For reference, the bulk of the roughly fifteen minutes of trims from the Italian cut include a sιance sequence and some romantic complications and a nine minute space battle preceding Fred joining Bob and Cathy on their next mission (the US version abruptly cuts from Fred telling Eve and Benson that he is joining the mission to the former trio already in space). Colors are slightly more saturated on the HD master than the Italian and French DVD master with skintones veering towards the pink in a few shots, saturated red light inside the ship and in the bowels of the planet occasionally tipping towards distortion in the highlights, and archival 35mm print source a few generations away from the negative or interpositive used for the foreign DVD master.

The use of a source for the American version, and a shorter one at that, makes the release less than definitive for the film itself but it should suit fan nostalgia and be a good placeholder for Margheriti sci-fi fans who have already seen the Gamma One films and Assignment: Outer Space.


The sole audio option is a relatively clean DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track that conveys dialogue, the sound design – which makes use of oscillating sounds to communicate with and combat the planet – and atonal scoring of Mario Migliardi (Matalo!) well enough subject to the abrupt picture edits which effect the optical soundtrack as well. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available but they are a mess. They misidentify Mrs. Collins as Cathy in at least one instance and take reference to "that charlatan Benson" as his given name with parenthetical notations like "Charlatan breathes heavily" (one can only guess how accurately it transcribes some of the more "technical" dialogue).


Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also available for the extras, starting with an audio commentary by author/film historian Justin Humphreys who discusses the pulpy nature of Margheriti's science fiction, points out the director's effects shots and compositions, the low budget film's visual flair, the Italian genre cast regulars, key crew contributors, as well as ruminating on the human element of the story (as well as making a case for Rain's performance which could easily be dismissed as scenery chewing). Humphreys also discusses the differences between the Italian version and the American cut as well as noting faults in the American source including a lack of day-for-night tinting (the Italian master does darken appear to darken some of the shots while some others are still brighter than they should be to keep the image readable).

Also included is the "A Cinematic Outsider: The Fantastical Worlds of Antonio Margheriti" (30:39) narrated by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas whose magazine included an early lengthy study of the director's filmography as well as an interview with him when he was still working in the nineties before his death. Lucas recalls his youthful discovery of the film and how it differed from American science fiction of the time, bearing more of a resemblance to the Russian science fiction films which were making appearances stateside either in dubbed form or in footage recycled into Roger Corman quickies. He places the film's science fiction concepts in the context of the genre's 1950's heyday preceding the landmark films of the seventies and eighties, being more philosophical, the Italian efforts that preceded the Margheriti film like The Day the Sky Exploded that was credited to director Paolo Heusch but actually helmed by cinematographer Mario Bava who also designed the in-camera effects and would finish a handful of other films credited to other directors before making his official directorial debut, as well as Margheriti's interest in effects photography and credits before his own directorial debut with Assignment: Outer Space.


Packaged with the disc is a 10-page booklet featuring "Margheriti's World" an essay by author Don Stradley which discusses the director's affinity for the sci-fi genre but also the feature itself as a "meditation on the aging male."


The use of a source for the American version, and a shorter one at that, makes this release of Battle of the Worlds less than definitive for the film itself but it should suit fan nostalgia and be a good placeholder for Margheriti sci-fi fans who have already seen the Gamma One films and Assignment: Outer Space.


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,,,,, and . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.