George Pal’s groundbreaking, science fiction epic, “War of the Worlds,” has been selected to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. It was one of 25 movies selected by Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington to be preserved as cultural, artistic and historical treasures in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 films to the National Film Registry that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. “These films are selected because of their enduring significance to American culture,” said Billington, in a press release from the Library of Congress. “Our film heritage must be protected because these cinematic treasures document our history and culture and reflect our hopes and dreams.”
“War of the Worlds” joins the National Film Registry today, along with “Forrest Gump,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “The Lost Weekend,” “The Iron Horse” and “El Mariachi.”
“War of the Worlds” was released at the height of cold-war hysteria, with H. G. Wells’ 1898 novel of alien invasion provocatively transplanted from Victorian England to a mid-20th-century Southern California small town in 1953. Capitalizing on the apocalyptic paranoia of the atomic age, Barré Lyndon’s screenplay wryly replaces Wells’ original commentary on the British class system with religious metaphor. Directed by Byron Haskin, formerly a special effects cameraman, the critically and commercially successful film chronicles an apparent meteor crash discovered by a vacationing scientist (Gene Barry) that turns out to be the first of many invading Martian spacecraft.
Gordon Jennings, who died shortly before the film’s release, avoided stereotypical flying saucer-style creations in his Academy Award-winning special effects described by reviewers as soul-chilling, hackle-raising and not for the faint of heart. Many of the special effects hold up well today, and the briskly paced, taut story is difficult to improve upon. Steven Spielberg’s 2005 was frankly able to add little to the original.
“Forrest Gump” quickly became an iconic film, and Tom Hanks’ line “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,’” is one of the most-remembered movie lines of all time.
“Silence of the Lambs,” based on Thomas Harris’ bestselling novel, won Oscars for director Jonathan Demme, writer Ted Tally, and stars Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. The film is clearly one of the best movie thrillers directed by someone other than Alfred Hitchcock, and had its own share of iconic lines of dialogue, including Hopkins’ well-known line “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”
Robert Rodriguez shot “El Mariachi” for $7,000 in two weeks while a film student at the University of Texas. After Columbia Pictures picked it up for distribution, the film helped usher in the independent movie boom of the early 1990s. “El Mariachi” is an energetic and highly entertaining story of an itinerant musician, portrayed by co-producer and Rodriguez crony Carlos Gallardo, who arrives at a Mexican border town during a drug war and is mistaken for a hit man who recently escaped from prison.
“The Lost Weekend,” directed by the legendary Billy Wilder in 1945, provided audiences with a groundbreaking and uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism. The film combined expressionism with documentary realism to immerse viewers in the harrowing experiences of an aspiring New York writer (Ray Milland) willing to do almost anything for a drink.
“The Iron Horse” (1924) established John Ford’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors. Ford’s film employed more than 5,000 extras, advertised authenticity in its attention to realistic detail, and provided him with the opportunity to create iconic visual images of the Old West, inspired by such master painters as Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. A tale of national unity achieved after the Civil War through the construction of the transcontinental railroad, “The Iron Horse” celebrated the contributions of Irish, Italian and Chinese immigrants although the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country legally was severely restricted at the time of its production.
The full list of this year’s films selected to the National Film Registry is: Allures (1961); Bambi (1942); The Big Heat (1953); A Computer Animated Hand (1972); Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963); The Cry of the Children (1912); A Cure for Pokeritis (1912); El Mariachi (1992); Faces (1968); Fake Fruit Factory (1986); Forrest Gump (1994); Growing Up Female (1971); Hester Street (1975); I, an Actress (1977); The Iron Horse (1924); The Kid (1921); The Lost Weekend (1945); The Negro Soldier (1944); Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s); Norma Rae (1979); Porgy and Bess (1959); The Silence of the Lambs (1991); Stand and Deliver (1988); Twentieth Century (1934); War of the Worlds (1953).