War of the Worlds (Blu-ray) (2005)

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Released 5-Aug-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Featurette-Revisiting the Invasion
Featurette-The H.G. Wells Legacy
Featurette-Steven Spielberg and the Original 'War of the Worlds'
Featurette-Characters: The Family Unit
Featurette-Previsualization
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Production Diaries
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens
Featurette-Scoring 'War of the Worlds'
Featurette-We Are Not Alone
Gallery
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 116:33
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Steven Spielberg
Studio
Distributor

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Tom Cruise
Dakota Fanning
Justin Chatwin
Miranda Otto
Tim Robbins
Rick Gonzalez
Yul Vazquez
Lenny Venito
Lisa Ann Walter
Ann Robinson
Gene Barry
David Alan Basche
Roz Abrams
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $14.95 Music Richard M. Sherman
Robert B. Sherman
John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
German
Italian
Spanish
Danish
Dutch
Finnish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Yet another adaptation of H.G. Wells' oft-visited alien invasion novel, Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds is an outstanding summer blockbuster which delivers impressive special effects sequences as well as emotional weight. It may seem like a shameless money-grab to use Wells' revered novel as fodder for a big-budget action-adventure, but with present-day concerns about war and terrorism, it was an ideal time to reinvent the story for modern film-goers. Thankfully, with master filmmaker Steven Spielberg at the helm, this science-fiction blockbuster easily transcends the usual standard for summer action pictures in terms of characterisation, visual craftsmanship and thematic substance. 2005's War of the Worlds is anything but ordinary or forgettable, and it stands the test of time.

    For this version of War of the Worlds, screenwriters David Koepp and Josh Friedman relocate Wells' story to New Jersey in the 21st Century. The protagonist here is divorced, blue-collar working father Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), who receives his kids Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin) for the weekend while his ex-wife (Miranda Otto) heads to Boston for a weekend getaway. Ray's relationship with his children is severely strained, and his inherent parental deficiencies are instantly apparent, but it isn't long before violent lightning storms assault the neighbourhood. The residents are initially intrigued by the oddball weather...until giant alien tripods rise from the ground, and summarily obliterate everything in their path. Faced with a full-scale alien attack, and the possibility of humanity's extermination, Ray and his kids go on the run, journeying around the East Coast looking for shelter and safety in a desperate bid for survival.

    Spielberg used to be optimistic about extraterrestrials, with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial reinforcing harmonious messages about intergalactic travellers. For War of the Worlds, though, the filmmaker gives aliens the same type of menace he applied to Jurassic Park's dinosaurs and the shark in Jaws. These otherworldly beings do not come to Earth to make peaceful contact, but instead to exterminate humankind and colonise the planet. Once the attack begins, War of the Worlds briskly moves from one phenomenal action set-piece to the next, though the in-between material is also effective. Amid the violence, Spielberg and the writers exhibit higher ambitions, finding time for incisive societal commentary. Indeed, the film highlights how grim circumstances can bring out the best and worst of human nature, with nasty instances of mob mentality and selfishness more often than moments of selfless bravery. With Spielberg framing this story from the point-of-view of a small family, War of the Worlds possesses a jarring, horrifying immediacy, making the fight to survive feel profoundly real.

    Plenty of noteworthy action set-pieces take the breath away throughout War of the Worlds. For example, the intersection sequence which spotlights the tripods' first appearance is horrifying and riveting; executed with astute immediacy that places you in the midst of a nightmare coming true. Even better is the perfectly-realised sequence depicting Ray and the kids leaving their house as tripods obliterate the area. The digital effects work bringing the tripods to life is first-rate and often seamless (the film received a Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination), while the cinematography by Spielberg's frequent collaborator Janusz Kaminski vividly captures the invasion. War of the Worlds is full of striking imagery, from long shots studying the destruction, to eye-level shots of the tripods chillingly obscured by smoke. The tripods' distinctive roar is unnerving, too, and John Williams' reliably bravura score generates immense trepidation during the big and small moments. From a technical viewpoint, War of the Worlds is quite simply impossible to fault. Even though filming began a mere seven months before its world premiere, it does not display the earmarks of a slapdash rush-job.

    Even though War of the Worlds is a spectacular blockbuster, it is also traumatic and harrowing, with images of violence and destruction carrying devastating emotional weight. In addition to the striking shots of widespread devastation, the eerily quiet moments hit hard as well, such as a river choked with lifeless bodies. There are visual references to 9/11 as well, which enhances the movie's impact and relevance. However, the film's ending is a letdown, with the alien defeat seeming too quick and easy. Consequently, War of the Worlds feels like two borderline perfect initial acts followed by a truncated, almost non-existent third act. The method of defeat is acceptable (and true to the book), but it feels underdone and out of the blue. Not to mention, the closing scenes are generically Hollywood and feel-good, as if a studio committee decided upon this material to lighten Spielberg's otherwise bleak vision. A few Hollywood stupidities also blemish War of the Worlds - a video camera perfectly operates after an EMP hit, for instance, and Ray's van is completely unaffected after a massive storm in which a commercial airliner crashes right next to them. Rewrites could have easily ironed out these flaws.

    An able cast further elevates War of the Worlds - the actors confidently nail the disaster genre fundamentals, and manage to emote the deeper elements of their roles convincingly. Cruise is excellent, and it's a testament to his professionalism and dedication that he can make you forget about his humiliating personal life. Cruise effortlessly captures the awe of the moment, and he's full of intensity, but his performance is affecting as well - one of the most memorable scenes depicts Ray breaking down and crying in front of his kids. Fanning receives a lot of criticism for her performance as Rachel since it amounts to a lot of screaming and crying, but at least she does this stuff well. As far as child actors go, there is no-one in the business as good as her - she's natural and adorable without needing to mug, and portrays fear with a believability that puts some hardened Hollywood veterans to shame. Meanwhile, Tim Robbins is memorable as Harlan Ogilvy, a borderline madman who encompasses several of the film's underlying themes. In addition, Gene Barry and Ann Robinson - the stars of 1953's The War of the Worlds - briefly appear in cameo roles as grandparents during the final scene. Morgan Freeman is also on hand to deliver the opening and closing narration, which is an agreeable touch.

    By keeping the story first-person, Spielberg's vision of this alien invasion is uniquely personal and immediate. Additionally, a welcome sense of humour alleviates the otherwise pervasive sense of dread and make the characters feel more human. It also helps that Spielberg retains the book's ultimate dénoûment, in turn delivering an effective message about the importance of the Earth's multilayered ecosystem. Plus, through advancements to human evolution and scientific breakthroughs over thousands of years, humankind has earned the right to share this planet with billions of complex organisms. This thoughtfulness adds a bit more weight and meaning to the story beyond pure, hollow pyrotechnics. Spielberg does not skimp on the special effects since they are the film's bread and butter, but it's the underlying sense of gravitas which elevates this above Transformers or Independence Day.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    One of the first Spielberg titles to hit Blu-ray, War of the Worlds is presented in AVC-encoded 1080p courtesy of Paramount Pictures, framed at its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The movie shares a dual-layered BD-50 disc with a considerable selection of special features, but Paramount thankfully doesn't skimp on the video bitrate - the transfer comes in with an average video bitrate of 28 Mbps, which is sufficient to ensure there are no major compression anomalies. When this disc first hit shelves in 2010, consumers were still under the erroneous impression that high definition meant the cleanest image possible, myself included. Thus, I admit that I was initially disappointed that War of the Worlds was coated in film grain, but times have changed, and my home video knowledge has grown. This transfer is not perfect, as the limited colour space of 1080p is apparent, and video encoding practices have only improved since 2010 in terms of grain refinement. However, it does look really good on the whole, with organic film grain, strong fine detail, a robust colour palette, and impressive sharpness. It's a significant improvement over the DVD.

    In the opening moments of the film, with the company credits and montage of life on Earth, the grain looks a bit chunky/blocky, and I noticed a few specks of dirt. Thankfully, when the disc progresses onto the film proper, the grain is usually more tight and refined, though I still detected a few intermittent white and blacks specks that are not frequent or heavy enough to be distracting. Additionally, the limited colour space of 1080p, Standard Dynamic Range Blu-ray is evident throughout War of the Worlds, as Janusz Kaminski's cinematography is deliberately high-contrast - the bright parts of the frame are bright as hell, resulting in faces, windows, lamps, explosions and skies looking hopelessly blown out. Just see the harsh lights on the ferry during the sequence at the 58-minute mark, or even scenes like Ray and Robbie throwing the ball towards the beginning of the film, as the harsh sunlight obliterates faces at times. Dark parts of the image are crushed as well, with oppressive blacks. This is inherent to the original photography and intended high-contrast look, however, and there was only so much that Paramount could do with the source on a standard Blu-ray disc. This film simply wasn't intended for the SDR format. It will be interesting to see how this one scrubs up in 4K Ultra HD with High Dynamic Range to restore specular detail and highlights. On a more positive note, colours are impressive on this Blu-ray, retaining the movie's intended palette, with some scenes looking deliberately washed-out and desaturated. Skin tones are healthy rather than overcooked, as well. I still eagerly anticipate the 4K HDR version, though, as the explosions and fires will look sensational with added luminance.

    For the most part, the grain throughout War of the Worlds looks gorgeous and finely-resolved, ensuring that the transfer does not appear smeary or smooth at any point. Indeed, the textures on display throughout the movie are exceptional, with strong detailing on costumes and faces. Even when heavy smoke clouds the screen, such as during the whole intersection sequence, detailing and clarity remains strong, if slightly imperfect. The transfer is razor-sharp more often than not, too, with superb object delineation revealing intricacies on faces, sets, and ILM's amazing digital effects. There is a slight softness associated with some of the visual effects shots, particularly during the intersection sequence when people are being vaporised, but that appears to be entirely by design. On the other hand, there are some rough-looking shots - see 9:53, which looks more like a DVD - that exhibit chunky or blocky-looking grain. Some of the special effects shots also show blockier grain, such as the extended tracking shot in the car at the 32-minute mark, but at least Paramount didn't try to scrub the image of grain. Again, the transfer never looks smeary, as the film grain ensures the presentation retains a beautiful layer of detail. Aside from the occasional blockiness and the aforementioned crush, I was unable to detect any further encoding anomalies throughout the presentation - no aliasing, banding, or ringing. Paramount has created a robust encode of this spectacular science-fiction blockbuster, and it still looks pretty good even on my 65" 4K television.

    At the time of writing, War of the Worlds has undergone a 4K remaster, with a High Dynamic Range grade to boot. If IMDb is to be believed, the movie was finished photochemically back in 2005, rather than with a digital intermediate. The 4K remaster presumably involved scanning the negative at 4K resolution, including the film-outs of the visual effects shots, though information is currently scarce about this. Whatever the case, War of the Worlds is available to view on the streaming service Stan in 4K (along with Amistad, which was also remastered in 4K), and a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is on the way. It's worth pointing out that Stan's 4K stream does look better than this Blu-ray, with finer grain, and all of the rougher shots on the Blu-ray look infinitely improved in 4K. I can't wait for the 4K disc.

    Subtitles are available in several languages. I had no issues with the English SDH track.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    War of the Worlds was originally mixed in 5.1 for its theatrical exhibition in 2005, and this Blu-ray was released before 7.1 and Atmos remixes became so prevalent. Therefore, this Blu-ray presents Spielberg's sci-fi blockbuster with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, while the disc also contains a number of other lossy Dolby Digital tracks in other languages. To put it lightly, I have nothing negative to say about this impactful, pristine and flawlessly-mixed 5.1 mix, and I can't imagine anybody being disappointed (beyond the fact it's not an Atmos track). The audio is deafening, with wall-shaking low-frequency effects that accentuate the terrifying roar of the tripods, as well as the lightning during the violent storm outside Ray's house. Just see the intersection sequence - the rumbling of the crackling asphalt, the impactful sounds of buildings and glass shattering, and the petrifying weaponised blasts from the tripod that sound like they're in your living room. When the flaming train flies past at the 57-minute mark, there's excellent LFE. When jets fly overhead at the 67-minute mark, the sound effects are so clear and deep that you could swear they're in your living room. There is also fantastic, deep rumbling throughout the sequence in Oglivy's basement, as the battle rages on outside. Again, this rumbling is enough to shake your walls. Everything else throughout War of the Worlds, from the tripod internally blowing up, buildings being destroyed, to the rocket launcher at the end, packs a real wallop - nothing sounds compressed, underwhelming, or lacking in oomph.

    Furthermore, this is a dynamic audio mix, with consistently active surround channels, as well as separation and panning effects. For example, in the opening sequence, on the dock at 3:45, the sound of trucks driving away are isolated to the rear channels. During the ferry sequence, the sound of rainfall is all around, while the sounds of screaming and tripod blasts are also frequent. When the jets fly overhead, panning and separation are evident (I'm sure those with Atmos set-ups can't wait for the proper overhead activity of that effect). During the entire battle sequence at the 67-minute mark, the sounds of gunfire, explosions and tank fire fill the surround channels. You can also hear suitable ambience in Oglivy's basement, like drips of water that are isolated to the rear speakers. John Williams' outstanding original score is also consistently delivered from the surround channels, accentuating the excitement and horror of the various set-pieces.

    So, yeah, War of the Worlds sounds freaking amazing with lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, and it's such a huge improvement over the DVD's lossy track that it's not even a close call. And in addition to all of the qualities outlined above, there are no problems with prioritisation, as dialogue is always understandable amid the frenetic mayhem as well as the music. Additionally, the mix is free of bothersome encoding anomalies, with absolutely no trace of hissing, clicking, popping, sync issues, or drop-outs. Again, I'm sure that audiophiles will bemoan the lack of an Atmos track, but I have absolutely no viable complaints about this 5.1 mix - it is flawless from top to bottom, even by 2020 standards.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Spielberg's blockbusters usually get the royal treatment in terms of special features, and War of the Worlds is no different. Here we have an enormous selection of (standard definition) behind-the-scenes extras (totalling nearly three hours) that was previously included on the two-disc special edition DVD back in 2005. These were all created by veteran documentarian Laurent Bouzereau. An audio commentary would be definitive, but these video extras never leave you wanting more - they're comprehensive and entertaining, leaving barely any stone unturned. I just wish that deleted scenes were included.

    Side note: I was a reader of MichaelDVD back in 2005 when War of the Worlds first came out. This was long before I even thought of becoming a staff reviewer. I kept checking the site to see if anybody had reviewed War of the Worlds on DVD, as I was obsessed with the movie and the DVD, and wanted to read the site's opinion on it. Little did I know that I would be the one to finally cover this title - and on Blu-ray, no less.

Revisiting the Invasion (SD; 7:39)

    In this first featurette, Spielberg talks about the history of science fiction cinema, and the relevancy of War of the Worlds in the 21st Century. Development and pre-production are also covered, with Cruise talking about the initial idea, and Koepp revealing early discussions about what not to include (e.g. destruction of famous landmarks, Manhattan being destroyed, and other hoary clichés). Like all the behind-the-scenes extras on this disc, this was assembled in standard definition for the movie's 2005 DVD release, and it's only in 4:3 (the widescreen film clips are also conformed to 4:3).

The H.G. Wells Legacy (SD; 6:34)

    This piece is all about author H.G. Wells, featuring interviews with some of his surviving family (who visited the set during filming). It also goes over the themes of his stories, and the infamous Orson Welles radio dramatisation of War of the Worlds that caused mass panic.

Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds (SD; 8:00)

    Spielberg personally set about bringing in actors Gene Barry and Ann Robinson - the two stars of 1953's The War of the Worlds - to have cameos in this iteration. This featurette delves into their cameo, including ample behind-the-scenes footage of the shooting day. The participants also discuss the 1953 picture, with Barry and Robinson sharing their memories, while the likes of Spielberg and visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren reveal their reactions to the movie.

Characters: The Family Unit (SD; 13:22)

    Characters, casting and even costume design is covered here, with the primary actors - Cruise, Fanning, Chatwin and Otto - all receiving ample attention.

Previsualization (SD; 7:42)

    Previz (i.e. digital animated storyboards) are a normal, prevalent and essential part of big-budget filmmaking in 2020, but back in 2005, it was an optional innovation. This (somewhat dated) featurette goes over the process and the benefits of previz, in addition to comparing previz clips to the final film. The team who did the previz for War of the Worlds were actually the same guys who worked on the Star Wars prequels.

Production Diaries (SD)

    Here we have an enormous, lengthy four-part production diary documentary, which is impossibly exhaustive and comprehensive, coming in at over 90 minutes in length. Rather than pure fly-on-the-set material, this extra is still driven by interviews which take us through the process of making War of the Worlds, complete with dates to reveal when scenes were shot. This is broken down into the following four sections, which can only be viewed individually since there is no "Play All" function:

Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens (SD; 14:07)

    This next piece focuses solely on the design process for the tripods and the aliens. The artists go over their brief from Spielberg, and reveal concept art and previz material as they set about creating the movie's antagonists. This is a suitably in-depth and substantial featurette, and it even goes over landing on the distinctive tripod walk that Spielberg preferred. Plus, this actually appears to contain some previz material for an infamous unseen deleted scene during which Ray, Rachel and Robbie come across tripods pulling people out of windows.

Scoring War of the Worlds (SD; 11:57)

    Here, the focus turns to John Williams' indispensable score for War of the Worlds, which eschews the gentle sentimentality of most Spielberg films to go for something more menacing and unnerving. Williams goes through the thought process for many of the scenes, pointing out instruments and other touches to enhance the music. There's also performance footage from the scoring sessions, and of candid discussions between Spielberg and Williams - all of which was filmed by Spielberg himself.

We are Not Alone (SD; 3:14)

   This mainly focuses on Spielberg's history with alien invasion movies, through Close Encounters of the Third Kind to E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and War of the Worlds.

Galleries (SD)

    Four galleries are available to view. There is only about a hundred images between the four galleries, but there's still some worthwhile stuff in here.

Theatrical Teaser Trailer (HD; 1:59)

    Here we have the film's first teaser trailer. I remember watching this trailer numerous times online back in 2005 in the lead-up to the movie's release, and this is probably the first time I've ever seen it in 1080p.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Aside from differing language options, there are no differences in terms of the video encode or special features. It's a tie, buy local with confidence.

Summary

    It received a lot of online hate upon its release, mostly stemming from blanket Tom Cruise hatred, but I'll defend Spielberg's War of the Worlds any day of the week. It's a spectacular and terrifying blockbuster, with set-pieces that positively hold up in 2020. It does end a bit too suddenly, and I wish it were longer, but that's not enough to undo the flick's numerous strengths.

    On Blu-ray, War of the Worlds is a stunner. The video presentation is very good, with organic film grain and superb detailing, while the audio mix will shake your walls and give your equipment a great workout. Throw in a substantial collection of behind-the-scenes extras, and this one comes highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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