DreamWorks // 2005 // 116 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 2nd, 2010
They're already here.
H.G. Wells' classic novel "War of the Worlds" has been adapted, ripped off, remade and redone so many times that the original source material now seems quaint by comparison. The novel was -- if memory serves, as I read it a decade ago -- the precursor to the chase movie, where monstrous aliens have humans on the run. While filled with iconic sci-fi imagery, today's audiences are apparently in need more spice and F/X and thusly moviegoers were treated to director Steven Spielberg's update War of the Worlds featuring the star power of Tom Cruise and, to a lesser extent, Dakota Fanning. Spielberg's back catalog is finally being slowly (veeeeeeery slowly) rolled out on Blu-ray, continuing with his evil flipside to E.T., War of the Worlds.
Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise, Minority Report, The Last Samurai) is a single dad with an estranged ex-wife and two children, Rachel (Dakota Fanning, The Runaways) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin, The Invisible), who don't necessarily see him as a sterling example of a father figure. During a routine visit with their father the Ferrier family's world is suddenly shattered when an invasion of giant alien tripods arise from the earth and begin a mass invasion upon American soil. On the run with thousands of other East Coasters, the Ferrier family must traverse downed airplanes, hillside invasions, mobs of panicked refugees, a crazy survivalist (Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption) and vicious alien attackers to survive the ultimate War of the Worlds.
War of the Worlds is one of my favorite Steven Spielberg films, hands down. Now, don't misconstrue -- I didn't say it was his best film nor his most accomplished work; those spots are reserved for Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan and even the popcorn pleaser Jaws. Most critics and audiences would consider those movies seminal pieces of filmmaking. With War of the Worlds you get a purely fun popcorn action sci-fi flick, and with someone like Spielberg you get top notch direction combined with much ballyhooed special effects. Though mostly faithful to the book, the film doesn't have anything enormous to say about the nature of man (there's some very subtle subtext for those who want to find it, but it's not overt) or delve into the psyche of Spielberg himself. It exists on a plane of pure pop fun, and in that respect the film comes darn near close to perfection.
As a critic and a film lover I can tell you two things about Tom Cruise: A) he is one of the major superstar actors whose cannon of films don't impress me, and B) he's excellent in War of the Worlds. I recall seeing this movie in the theaters and thinking as the title credits rolled, "Oh great, Tom Cruise. Pfffft." (for those of you not picking up the sarcasm, it dripped off that sentence like hot candle wax on a copy of Body of Evidence). And yet, when the dust settled, cinematically speaking, I was impressed with old couch jumpin', postpartum drug avoiding Cruise -- he's effectively stoic and determined throughout the course of the film. Dakota Fanning does yeoman work as the screaming and sometimes comatose daughter and Justin Chatwin is limited but effective as Ray's rebellious son who wants to run into the bloody carnage and fight the aliens (this is one kid who has sat through too many PS3 video games). The only other major face is Tim Robbins as a survivalist whose characterization seems to have stumbled out from under a vaudeville act; you almost expect to get a side of mustard with his gloriously hammy work.
If War of the Worlds has a major flaw (SPOILER ALERT) it's that at the end of the film Spielberg can't help but let one major character who by all accounts should have been roast human tenderloin live. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise, as one of Spielberg's faultlines as a director is he often feels the need to wrap things up with a tiny bow at the end. In the case of War of the Worlds, this is especially infuriating as that particular character's death would have added a bit more gravitas to the overall story. Then again, considering the whole and how entertaining War of the Worlds is, those are minor gripes.
In a way, War of the Worlds is a bookend to Roland Emmerch's equally fun but lighter Independence Day. One of the things I really like about War of the Worlds is that it doesn't get bogged down in many subplots or melodrama -- the film is a lean chase picture. Sometimes just watching people attempt to stay alive is entertainment enough. Aside of a few moments that set up light tension for father and children, characterization here is rather rote and perfunctory. In some cases this can be a hindrance -- for War of the Worlds, we're given just enough back story to be useful, and the rest of the time is made up of watching our protagonists stay alive.
War of the Worlds followed the light, frothy one-two punch of The Terminal and Catch Me If You Can and arrived just before Spielberg delved into heavy drama b>Munich. What does this tell us about Spielberg? That even the naysayers would have to agree that as a director he's able to take almost any genre and give it his own authentic, populist stamp. War of the Worlds is an exciting sci-fi horror thriller that stays true to its source material even as it makes the necessary modern day changes. This is a highly recommended film, and one of Spielberg's best.
War of the Worlds makes its high definition debut in a nearly stunning looking 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. While the sparkle of this transfer may not be because of pristine clarity -- some of the scenes have a soft look and there is some film grain present -- it has a depth and crispness that far surpasses any previous DVD edition of the film. The color palate skews towards grays, reds and blacks, and each of those colors are vibrantly rendered throughout the film. Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski know how to frame every shot to maximum effect, and this transfer by Dreamworks is truly an eye-popping picture. Fans of the film should have no complaints with how the film looks on their entertainment center.
The soundtrack includes DTS-HD Master 5.1 Audio in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Much like the video transfer, this soundtrack will give your home speakers a heavy workout. Once the aliens arrive on the scene, be prepared to be blown out of your seat. Surround sounds are used effectively and often, creating a very immersive experience (the blow horn-like noises that emanate from the aliens are especially jarring). John Williams score -- though not one of his most memorable -- is up front and powerful. Overall this is a great soundtrack that will leave fans happy and sonically fulfilled.
War of the Worlds is finally on Blu-ray and includes enough bonus materials to satiate fans. Included are various featurettes. First up is "Revisiting the Invasion" (480p) which includes Spielberg talking about his love of alien movies, as well as the cast and crew's thoughts on the new film. "The H.G. Wells Legacy" (480p) is about the iconic writer (which includes an interview with his great-grandson Simon Wells, who also directed the remake of The Time Machine) and his legacy, plus Spielberg's thoughts on the original book and author. "Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds" (480p) takes a look at both the new and old film versions and what they have in common. "Characters: The Family Unit" (480p) is a brief look at the film characters and the actors portraying them. Also included on the disc is a "Previsualization" (480p) featurette about how they special effects masters brought the aliens to life.
One of the meatier extras is a "Production Diary" (480p) that includes four segments ("East Coast: The Beginning," "Easy Coast: Exile," West Coast: Destruction" and "West Coast: War") that feature a lot of info on the making of the film. Interviews, behind-the scenes footage, and lots more are included on in this nearly feature length documentary-like extra. Finally there is a piece on the musical scoring of the film with composer John Willams ("Scoring 'War of the Worlds'"), Spielberg discussing more about his backstory with aliens and filmmaking ("We Are Not Alone"), some still galleries and a theatrical trailer for the film.
War of the Worlds has something for science fiction fans, action fans, Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg fans, summer popcorn movie fans, horror fans, and even that rare subfan base who think Tim Robbins was really funny in Nothing to Lose. Dreamworks has done a wonderful job at making sure the image and audio quality of War of the Worlds is near perfect. War of the Worlds is a highly recommended purchase for fans and an easy rental recommendation for those who haven't checked it out yet.
These aliens are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Production Diary
* Image Galleries
* Theatrical Trailer