Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto
Extras: Behind-The-Scenes Documentaries, Featurettes, Production Diaries, Still Galleries
Well I guess, actually I know, that I will be in the minority here when I say that the latest film from Steven Spielberg, a remake of the 1953 classic that is loosely based on H.G. Wells novel "War of the Worlds" was to me, quite enjoyable. This film might have suffered the consequences of a massive budget, awesome visual f/x and a big name star on the marquee that may have fell short of a lot of people's expectations, leaving some to slam Spielberg for a general lack of un-imagination or un-inspiration. While I agree that Spielberg's earlier works such as; "E.T." or "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" left us with a sense of wonder and amazement, something that seems to be absent from his more recent films to date, I still believe that he was able to tap into our imagination and psyche with this darker re-telling of "War of the Worlds".
I have a simple theory on why this film may or may not have disappointed some, one that happens all too often with today's Hollywood films. It's the simple task of everyone you know, I mean everyone, telling you that you simply must see a particular film as you are sure to love it! You hear this over and over until that unfortunate day when you take the time to screen said film and it falls way below your expectations. This theory has a reverse effect as well, one that sees a chosen film, in this case "War of the Worlds" become loathed by so many for whatever minor reasons, eventually causing you to hold little to no expectations whatsoever prior to viewing the film. So when you actually see the film in question, you are left scratching your head as to why so many were disappointed for whatever reasons. This is exactly why I never allow anyone to discourage me from a cinematic experience by attempting to shape my opinion of any film, good or bad, until I can base my decision on my own, period. Which leads me to my satisfaction with this remake of "War of the Worlds," where most dismissed the film as Hollywood's usual mishandling of a classic, by placing it under a virtual microscope exposing every minor detail or flaw, I simply took it for what it was and in turn enjoyed the overall presentation, thanks in part to viewing the film with an open mind and possessing no predetermined expectations.
Tom Cruise plays dockworker and deadbeat dad Ray Ferrier, whose rather distant relationship with his son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) fuels an ill-tempered rivalry between the two, right down to the opposing baseball hats worn by each other, which seems minor, but shows the amount of thought that went into every detail of the story. Dakota Fanning plays Ray's daughter Rachel, who proves once more that she has the acting abilities to surpass any other actor working within her age group today. Spending the weekend together while Ray's ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) and her new beau Tim are off to Boston for a family get-together, Ray's emotions and abilities as a father are greatly challenged as he must do everything within his power to protect his children during some of the darkest days that Earth will probably ever have to face.
Setting their sights on the execution of all mankind on Earth, a violent and terrifying invasion ensues after some rather unpleasant alien visitors begin their planned attack. Utilizing massive tripod-like killing machines that were buried well below the Earth's surface, long before mans domination of the planet. These "visitors" access their ships through an ultra-violent electrical storm, with each lightening strike containing a mini-pod transporting the aliens to their killing machines, all faster than you can say "Summer-time popcorn flick!" "War of the Worlds" after all is pure escapism and nothing more, something that has been produced by Hollywood since the early days of network television serials that took us to far off places week after week, attempting to take our imagination beyond our wildest dreams.
Dreamworks Home Entertainment brings Steven Spielberg's re-telling of "War of the Worlds" to DVD in a terrific fashion. With your choice of a basic single disc release or a more deluxe two disc limited edition, loaded with extras.
Don't let the different "look" of "War of the Worlds" catch you off guard. With white balance so vivid and almost dream-like during some sequences that the image "blooms" just slightly. Visible fine grain throughout some day and night scenes helps to complete the purely intended rough and gritty feel of the presentation. Color is nicely saturated where needed, with some scenes appearing a bit "washed", which again is intended for the final exhibition, while still maintaining naturally appearing flesh tones. Rich black levels produce good shadow detail that becomes quite evident within the darkly-lit basement of Ogilvy's (Tim Robbins) residence. The transfer also does not exhibit any visible dust or dirt particles whatsoever.
Soundtrack options include DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, complemented by a Dolby Digital 2.0 or French 5.1 channel mix. I chose the DTS soundtrack and was delighted with its tremendously powerful mix that displays some serious butt-kicking bass. "War of the Worlds" is simply a top tier sound experience overall. From the start of the film right up until the final scenes, the lower frequency .1 channel is sure to give your subwoofer an experience it won't soon forget! Overall balance is well executed providing naturally appearing vocals and good use of all available channels.
Exploring the second disc from the limited edition set will present you with, "Revisiting the Invasion", a shorter featurette with input from Steven Spielberg discussing how he felt the story of "War of the Worlds" is a terrific example of how mankind always finds a way to come together after a devastating tragedy, especially in a post 9/11 world. Screenwriter David Koepp explains his decisions to not include the usual clichés typically associated with disaster films such as the destruction of famous landmarks, war generals plotting their attack in front of room sized maps or the totally overdone destruction of the Manhattan skyline, featuring excessive footage of news reporters covering the damage ala CNN-style. This short, yet informative featurette is more than worth the time invested to view. "H.G. Wells Legacy" is another great little featurette that includes input from H.G. Wells's grandson Martin Wells and his great-grandson Simon Wells reminiscing on their own memories of the late great writer.
"Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds" features discussions from the director on his idea to include a cameo of Ann Robinson and Gene Barry, two of the main stars from the original version of the film, which did add a nice touch to his version of "War of the Worlds". "Characters: The Family Unit" offers highlights on the individual casting of the main actors, with a brief background of each. "Pre-visualization" is a behind-the-scenes sneak peek focusing on the animated storyboarding used to bring "War of the Worlds" to life, right down to Spielberg's ability to utilize the same technical unit from ILM that worked on Star Wars Episodes I through III, just as they were wrapping up their contributions for the final installment of that franchise.
The vast information packed section titled "Production Diaries" is split into four separate documentary-style segments including; "East Coast: The Beginning", "East Coast: Exile", "West Coast: Destruction" and "West Coast: War". I have to admit, even though Steven Spielberg has an unwillingness to record a full feature-length audio commentary for his films on DVD, he is not the least bit shy to offer up a plentitude of information both personal and technical for this DVD, which is evident throughout the extensive featurettes and documentaries included in this two disc limited edition of "War of the Worlds".
Next up is "Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens", which offers the viewer more information from the technical side of the production. Centered on the idea to create something new, while paying homage to the original version, while coming as close as possible to nailing the real intended vision of H.G. Wells, by presenting the alien crafts as tripod-like machines, rather than typical flying saucer-type crafts. This is sure to put the thought of which version of "War of the Worlds" is truer to H.G. Wells original vision to rest.
"Scoring War of the Worlds" features composer John Williams talking of how the challenges presented to him by Spielberg were met, as Williams was asked to begin writing the original score, all without any real completed footage of the film to work from. A first for the two creative minds, which proved to be pure magic in the final result!
A short feature titled "We Are Not Alone", a "Production Notes" section and still "Galleries" area complete this fully loaded value added section of disc two.
While this new vision for "War of the Worlds" will not appeal to everyone, I still think it is worth at least one viewing and maybe more. Personally I felt the ending to the film seemed a little rushed. This is one of those rare occasions where I thought the film could have easily stretched out a little longer to enhance the overall story being presented. Still, "War of the Worlds" does manage to wrap up quite nicely; I always liked the idea that, in the end, it was the sheer power of nature and not our advanced weaponry, which was the key element to killing off the invaders. That alone truly shows you just how dominant the micro-organisms of our planet really are.
Keeping in mind that no film will ever be everything to everyone, which is a proven fact, "War of the Worlds" manages to rise to the occasion, despite the rather negative press it was subjected to during its theatrical run.