Updated: Jan 9
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / NEW HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) Tom Cruise stars as divorced father Ray Ferrier and his 10-year-old daughter Rachel played by Dakota Fanning, hide from the silent, alien lightning bolts. (2) A Tripod machine begins to eliminate humans with its Heat-Rays.
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“WAR OF THE WORLDS”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2005; PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images; Streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple TV (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: A four-part video diary highlighting the 72-day production.
STEVEN SPIELBERG must be a huge 4K fan since he leads the pack for the most movies released on the Ultra HD format.
This intense sci-fi/horror remake of the H.G. Wells’ classic is the 9th Spielberg feature film out of 32 to jump to 4K. His first summer blockbuster “Jaws” arrived in June 2020 for its 45th Anniversary. In 2022, Spielberg has 16 of his films on 4K Ultra HD.
In the shadow of 9/11, Spielberg felt the timing was right for his adaptation. “‘War of the Worlds’ touches a nerve,” he says in one of the nine standard-def featurettes on the enclosed Blu-ray. “It’s really more than science fiction. It reflects our fears as we come together against a common enemy.”
Spielberg says the sci-fi movies of his youth, “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” “It Came from Outer Space,” “Invaders from Mars,” “This Island Earth,” and the original George Pal version of “War of the Worlds,” was a response to our “fears about the Soviet Union and a possible nuclear war.”
(1) Ray rushes home in his 1960s Ford Mustang. (2-4) Ray’s ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), drops their two kids for the weekend. She's shocked that Ray still has them sleeping in the same bedroom - especially since Robbie is now a grown teenager. (5) Ray and Robbie pass the ball in the small backyard under the shadow of the Bayonne Bridge connecting New Jersey to Staten Island. (6) The alien clouds roll in like a violent storm without the thunder.
Cruise had always wanted to work with Spielberg and got his first opportunity with “Minority Report” (2002). “I grew up watching his movies and studying his movies,” he says. Cruise often teased the director saying, “I know your movies better than you do.” After finishing “Report,” they started planning their next project. Spielberg mentioned three possible films, including “War of the Worlds.” They both looked at each other, and Cruise said, “That’s it.” They began to put it together that day. They recruited screenwriter David Koepp (“Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible”), who sat with them to talk out the story. Cruise wanted to play a blue-collar father from New Jersey, where he lived growing up.
Koepp read Wells’ novel and made a list of the elements to avoid. First, no destruction of famous landmarks, no shots of Manhattan getting walloped, no generals standing around a large map, and no TV news cameras filming the damage. They all felt if they stayed away from clichés, it would be a big step toward making the movie “in a fresh way.”
The script was built around the POV of Cruise’s character Ray Ferrier. “I think the genius of Wells’ book is that he doesn’t try to tell everything that’s going on in the world. He sticks almost exclusively to his hero’s experience,” Koepp says.
There are still plenty of homages to the original. Two of the original actors – Gene Barry and Ann Robinson – appear in a cameo during the finale. Can you spot them?
(1) Ray and his neighbors investigate the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Merchant Street where the lightning struck. (2) Ray picks up a piece of asphalt that’s crystalized from the lightning. (3&4) Run for your life. (5) Ray commandeers a van from his brother’s repair shop that had just been fixed after the alien electromagnetic pulse disabled all electronic devices.
Spielberg considers Ray Ferrier a deadbeat dad. “I hate to use that word, but he’s a little bit negligent toward his kids,” he says. The divorced longshoreman works the port across from Manhattan, and hasn’t seen his kids in seven or eight weeks. His ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto), drops their 10-year-old daughter Rachel off for visitation. Rachel is played by Dakota Fanning, the hottest kid actor in Hollywood at the time. Older brother Robbie, played by Justin Chatwin, accompanies her. Both kids are reluctant guests in their father’s home.
There’s no time to dwell on that, however, because the aliens arrive. Big, mean ones. The world is basically coming to an end around them, and there’s nothing they can do except run. Ray “has to become that friend and parent or they’re not gonna make it,” Cruise says.
“Great science fiction has tremendous characters and is still relevant…because it hits universal, human themes.” – Tom Cruise
Cruise’s longtime partner Paula Wagner, an executive producer, considers the film a cautionary tale. “We’re far more dangerous to ourselves than the huge, extraterrestrial invaders,” she says.
Spielberg says the “hyper-real” film is much like “Close Encounters” and “Private Ryan.” “And into this reality comes something that is beyond the imagination, that is very scary to look at and almost impossible to imagine,” he explains.
Two-plus hours of in-depth bonus features break down the warp speed production, developed from conception to the multiplex in less than 10 months. In Hollywood terms, that’s speedy, especially with the film’s hundreds of special effects.
(1) Ray rushes to his ex-wife’s house. (2) During the night a jetliner crashes into the neighborhood and destroys Mary Ann’s house. (3-5) Ray stops to let Rachel go to the bathroom and she discovers dozens of dead bodies in the river. (6&7) The military are called into action. Robbie wants to leave his father and sister and join the fight.
Paramount has produced another first-rate 4K master via 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) from Spielberg and his go-to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List”), with its intentional gritty film grain and desaturated palette. The expansive clarity is most evident in wide shots – when Ray and Robbie play catch in the backyard, located in the shadows of the Bayonne Bridge connecting New Jersey to Staten Island. And again when Kaminski positions the camera high over the street as Ray and his neighbors examine the spot where silent, alien lightning bolts have struck.
Some of the Oscar-nominated visual effects are slightly soft or lack sophistication – especially digital fires and flames – compared to the latest VFX. But overall, the sharpness is several notches better than the Blu-ray, which is the same disc from a decade ago.
The HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning provide dramatically darker tones – especially during the nighttime ferry sequence, and the dark basement of doomsday maniac Harlan Ogilvy, played by Tim Robbins, where the cobra head of an alien explorer searches for humans.
The Oscar-nominated sound mix and editing are highly active with the new Dolby Atmos eight-channel soundtrack. Plenty of effects and John Williams’ neoclassical score are pushed to height speakers. The rocking bass level also keeps subwoofers vibrating throughout.
With a production budget of over $135 million, “War of the Worlds’” worldwide box office topped $600 million, continuing the winning match of Spielberg and Cruise. You can’t go wrong adding this 4K thriller to your collection.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1&2) Ray and the kids are surrounded by desperate people wanting the vehicle. (3&4) The military attacks the alien tripods, and a massive fireball is seen in the nighttime sky. (5) The tripods advance on the military position.
(1) Tim Robbins plays doomsday maniac Harlan Ogilvy. (2) Ray is uncertain of his and Rachel’s future. (3) One of the cobra heads of an alien explorer searches for humans. (4) Rachel is snatched by the alien machine. (5) The tide has changed as the alien tripods start to crash to the ground. One of the aliens dies immediately after breathing the air.
Ray & Rachel reunite with their family
Actors Gene Barry and Ann Robinson of the original 1953 film make a cameo appearance.