After six films between 2000 and 2005, many expected Spielberg to keep cranking out the various productions. While many of those films varied in subject matter (Munich was a far cry from Catch Me If You Can), a few of them saw Spielberg’s return to the sci-fi/fantasy genre that fans of his work loved so dearly. One of the films, War of the Worlds, was surrounded in secrecy during its production (a bit odd for a film that was essentially a remake), which only further built up hype for the film. It definitely worked in its favor; the $132 million budget for the film brought back a fantastic return on investment for Paramount as the film went on to gross nearly $600 million worldwide.
An ordinary man has to protect his children against alien invaders in this science fiction thriller, freely adapted from the classic story by H.G. Wells. Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a dockworker living in New Jersey, divorced from his first wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) and estranged from his two children Rachel and Robbie (Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin), of whom he has custody on weekends. On one such visitation, looking after the kids becomes a little more difficult when, after a series of strange lighting storms hit his neighborhood, Ray discovers that a fleet of death-ray robotic spaceships have emerged nearby, part of the first wave of an all-out alien invasion of the Earth. Transporting his children from New York to Boston in an attempt to find safety at Mary Ann’s parents’ house, Ray must learn to become the protector and provider he never was in marriage. Also starring Tim Robbins, War of the Worlds was directed by Steven Spielberg, who had been planning the project for years, but set it aside until a wave of “alien invasion” films (led by Independence Day) had run its course.
I’m not entirely sure why but until now I’d only seen this film once before…and that was during its original theatrical run. As far as alien invasion movies go I guess I just found it a bit ho-hum, as the eventual “defeat” of the aliens wasn’t something that mankind was able to take part in. Rather it was our planet that wiped them out, which maybe wasn’t what I was looking for at the time; I mean you see “Spielberg” on a movie and when that movie contains aliens, you expect some serious destruction (though that came with his last film of the previous decade, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull…much to [mostly] everyone’s dismay). There was definitely destruction, but it was a slightly more sobering and depressing tale about an alien invasion considering how hopeless we were in defending against it.
So with that big plot point downer in mind, I jumped into the film for a second time after five years and greatly enjoyed it a lot more than I had before. The film is still far from perfect as the angst-ridden teenage son still annoys the hell out of me, but there’s also a lot about the film to enjoy. There are small moments where good triumphs over evil (even if the whole grenade scene is a bit contrived, it’s still a spectacular visual nonetheless) and in-between these snippets we get a larger story that focuses on human nature as a whole. It’s a kind of tacked on element that feels slightly out of place at times, but when you keep in mind that War of the Worlds is a much more apocalyptic style story where there’s not much hope at all in defeating the enemy, human vulnerabilities are bound to be snuck in.
As far as the actors go you get stunning performances from Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning—both of which just continue to prove why they are continually cast in films. While Fanning may currently be engrossed in a series that is more about feeding ravenous fans and generating box office sales rather than acting talent, she is nonetheless someone that will undoubtedly be a presence in movies for many years to come. There are really no bad performances here at all and as much as I hate the aforementioned angsty teenage son, the fact he made me hate him just goes to show he was a solid actor as well (though he hasn’t been in much unless you count the role of Goku in the Dragonball Evolution movie…which I want to desperately forget about).
Overall War of the Worlds is five years old now, but if you haven’t seen it for some reason then it is really Recommended that you do so.
Paramount releases War of the Worlds on Blu-ray in a loaded release that brings all of the extras from the previous DVD release to the format…albeit all in standard definition. The disc itself arrives in a single Elite Blu-ray case with plain grey wash disc art and an easily navigable menu system. There’s really nothing new here to talk about, as the extras aren’t new…although the A/V transfer is pretty spectacular.
As with the recently released Saving Private Ryan Blu-ray, Paramount brings us another absolutely flawless and stunning transfer. The films washed/blown out visuals makes for a truly remarkable transfer, as the AVC encoded video is just jaw-dropping. There’s a fine haze of grain over the whole film but that only adds to the overall enjoyment of it; plus there’s the added bonus of the 1.85:1 transfer. I say “added bonus” because as much as I enjoy 2.35:1 aspect ratios, when they’re truly at or near 16×9 I can actually utilize the full size of my TV…and I gotta say this movie looks really freaking awesome when it uses nearly every pixel of your set.
The audio, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, is equally as impressive. The opening of the film and the basement sequences are really the only quiet ones in the entire film, as there’s a rousing piece of John Williams score playing at almost every moment that there isn’t a torrential downpour or aliens wreaking havoc and destruction. The mix simply bathes the surrounds in audio and the subwoofer is constantly and consistently tossing out some kind of bass to shake and rattle the room. This is definitely demo disc material from start to finish.
• Revisiting the Invasion (7:39)
• The H.G. Wells Legacy (6:34)
• Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds (8:00)
• Characters: The Family Unit (13:22)
• Previsualization (7:42)
• Production Diaries (Four Parts, 1:32:08)
• Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens (14:07)
• Scoring War of the Worlds (11:57)
• We are Not Alone (3:14)
• Theatrical Teaser Trailer (1:59, 1080p)
As previously mentioned this is all material ported over from the original DVD release and there’s absolutely nothing new here. Everything, sans the trailer, is presented in standard definition as well.
Overall a Recommended set just for the A/V presentation—if you enjoyed this movie on DVD then you’re going to absolutely love it on Blu-ray.
War of the Worlds arrives on Blu-ray on June 1st.