War Of The Worlds: 2-Disc Limited Edition DVD Review

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by Chris McEneany Nov 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    War Of The Worlds: 2-Disc Limited Edition DVD Review
    SRP: £24.79


    Well, I have to tell you that I HATE Spielberg's grainy documentary look. It doesn't enhance the film in my opinion one iota. I feel that the grain, although intentional, mars the image and reduces its integrity - particularly with regards to edge definition and skin tones. The film looks grubby. Detail is very good, but again, to my eyes, it is hampered by the decision to mask the film with a thin patina of grain.

    Anamorphically enhanced from its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect, I have no complaints at all about the digital transfer of the film, apart from some slight traces of edge enhancement. I encountered no compression-defects, no dot crawl and no blocking. Pretty much what you see here on disc is exactly how the movie looked theatrically - the disc coping admirably with the silvery look that Spielberg has attained, achieving an almost monochromatic sheen during some daylight scenes. However, as I witnessed at the flicks, this stylistic choice seemed to affect the contrast a little, leaving elements of glaring during some early sequences. And again, the disc has captured this unfortunate effect as well. However, the gleam works well with the shiny umbilical probe down in the darkness of the basement. Which neatly leads me onto the black levels - which, you'll be pleased to note, are reassuringly effective. Night scenes have an agreeable sense of depth and the long shots of the ferry overturning and its aftermath are suitably rendered. Obviously, the standout moments would be those down in Ogilvy's basement, where detail is still very impressive amid the copious and strong shadows.

    Colours are actually quite good, considering the washed-out look of the film. Clothes, the red weed and the army going up in flames all look splendid, although not quite as vibrant as a lot of other releases. But again, this is down to Spielberg's intended look for the film and not any form of deficit on the part of the transfer. I'd possibly mark this image a little higher if I actually liked the look of the film, after all it is an accurate reproduction of its original print - but since I don't think the style does the movie any favours I'll leave it as it stands. If you happen to like this sort of look then you can add a mark for yourselves.
    War Of The Worlds: 2-Disc Limited Edition Picture


    Blessed with two superb surround tracks - a DD5.1 and a remarkably intense DTS 5.1 mix - War Of The Worlds storms ahead of the competition for sheer boom-boom-shake-the-room aural dynamics. The track of choice is surely the DTS, though. Sounding louder, clearer and much, much deeper, the DTS opens up the film to a staggering degree of gut-punching power. Right from the outset, at Ray's dockyard, we have big trucks rumbling heavily across the front, from right to left, with a real sense of weight to them. Even the baseball through the window has a cracking full-on impact that would have mischievous kids in the street ducking for cover. Of course, when the real action kicks in, you could be forgiven for thinking that a demolition crew had set to work on your house. The lightning strikes carry a marvellous organic “thwup!” sound and when the first tripod roars out of the ground salvage-junkies will be searching the living room for strewn wreckage, such is the convincing level of impact and directionality. You can actually hear all the bricks crashing away from the buildings whenever a tripod thunders through. Their terrific siren-call swoons across the front soundscape, too with eerie resonance. And you better duck when that plane makes an unscheduled landing.

    Explosive effects aside, the subtle moments are pin sharp too, with successful rain tippling down, ambience and voices emanating from all around the set-up and the distant gunfire and missile runs sounding genuine and distant. The score comes over well amid this sonic extravaganza, and I had no problem with the dialogue being drowned out.

    The full surround that we all know and love is in full-effect, folks, producing an ear-blistering aural assault that resounds with awesome bass levels, clear and clever steerage and a well-rendered high end. Top stuff.
    War Of The Worlds: 2-Disc Limited Edition Sound


    Still no commentary from Spielberg, eh? Definitely could have done with one over this film - to explain some of the odd choices he made.

    Disc 1 contains the movie, whilst the extras are to be found on Disc 2. Commencing with Re-visiting The Invasion (7.38 mins) we get Spielberg making a point about mankind coming together to fight a common foe, although that is not what he depicts in the movie, and he is up-front about the 9/11 allegory. Basically this brief featurette details why he, Cruise and writer David Koepp decided to make the film. Keopp outlines the things he wanted to ditch from Pal's film, like the news reporting element - but, hang on, he's actually using a roving crew of reporters as plot developing aid, himself! Sadly, this is just promo-pap.

    And not much better is the slight H.G. Wells Legacy. Running for 6.35 mins, in this we get to meet some of the writer/fabulist's descendents as they arrive on-set to chat to the director, himself, and offer some small sound bites about the man and his celebrated literary works. Simon Wells (a great grandson, and filmmaker, himself, with a remake of The Time Machine under his belt) crops up for a chat, too.

    Steven Spielberg and the Original War Of The Worlds (8.01 mins) is actually more of a Gene Barry and Ann Robinson and the original War Of The Worlds in that The Spiel doesn't actually have that much input. But we get to hear some nice reminiscences and even visual fx guru Dennis Muren finds an anecdote or two about the original Pal/Haskin movie. Nice little shot of the original Martian, too.

    Character: The Family Unit (13.23). Oh dear, more gushing filler, folks. We meet the principles, Cruise, Fanning, Chatwin and even Miranda Otto, who is barely even in the film, and discover just how much they wanted to make this film and how great their companions are. Lame.

    Next up is Pre-visualisation (7.45 mins). Well, the other Bearded One gets a heads-up here as Spielberg states that he has only begun to use pre-visualisation as a tool because George Lucas has inspired him to. This little section deals with the creation of computer-animated storyboards for the film's big set-pieces. We get to meet some of the team involved and even get some pre-vis-to-final-film comparisons. Not bad, but too brief.

    Next, we get the extensive Production Diaries which chronicles, in four sections, the immense production of the film from literally Day One right on through to the final wrap. Starting with East Coast - The Beginning (22.28 mins) we get lots of interview footage with Director and Star, producer Kathleen Kennedy, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, ILM luminary Pablo Hellman and others. The incredible fast track that drove the production into its almost record-breaking shooting schedule comes across quite apparently and we get a nice section of filming from the very first day of principal photography. Some early ideas for the heat ray frying its victims as opposed to disintegrating them are revealed and we are treated to a dissection of what went into the first tripod attack - the intersection scene. This is all quite cool stuff, actually.

    Then we have East Coast - Exile (19.36 mins) which mainly details the much-hyped ferry scene. To be honest, I found this sequence in the film to be another let-down but it is interesting to see how it was achieved. No prizes for guessing that it wasn't actually a real ferryboat getting tipped over, though. A lot of the stunt-work was filmed in a water tank and the ferry terminal crowd scenes called for a thousand extras per night of filming. Vic Armstrong recalls co-ordinating the stunt work required here, too. There's smart conceptual artwork to look out for. Real soldiers on their return from Iraq and Afghanistan were used during the final lacklustre battle sequence in Boston. That had to be a case of Hollywood coming nowhere near to the real thing for these guys.

    Then it is the turn of West Coast - Destruction (27.28 mins). In this we finally get to meet Tim Robbins as he is interviewed briefly on the basement set. However, he is hardly revealing, although this brilliant sequence is covered quite extensively with some neat behind-the-scenes footage of him and Cruise wrestling with the shotgun. Pablo Hellman from ILM also reveals that it is best to have an actual prop there on set for the actors to have something to react to, e.g. the umbilical probe. This section also details the downed 747 in the heart of suburbia. Spielberg is convinced that showing less is more with regards to the human fatalities and their lack of body parts amid the wreckage. I'd actually assumed that they'd all been vaporised pre-crash. Vic Armstrong crops up again to explain the chaos of combining live-action shots with CG for the intersection scene and then we get some more stuff on the ferry sequence.

    West Coast - War (22.20 mins) Spielberg here says that if he achieved his effects “all in Post Production - that would be an exercise in futility.” Take note, Mr. Lucas. The red weed gets a good going over here, as does the whole human fertilizer notion. We also have a little background on the mob attacking the car, the hilltop battle and the shoddy human basket sequence. But it is nice to see The Wizard Of Oz paid homage to with the scene of Ray opening up the practically monochrome door onto the red weed-covered world outside. Strangely, I never picked up on that during the movie. Shame on me! By the way, Dakota Fanning may be extremely talented but she is also extremely annoying during interviews - you have been warned.

    Designing The Enemy: Tripods and Aliens (14.05 mins) sounds really interesting but asides from some cool animatics and conceptual artwork - which almost always looks far better than what we get in the movie - this is just a bunch of tech-heads discussing how to articulate the tripods and give them buoyancy and grace. The aliens, themselves, are only allowed about five minutes worth of attention. Erm, I don't know about you, but I wasn't too fussed on them really. Their sinuous movement is quite cool, but their overall look is a little bit too familiar.

    Scoring The War Of The Worlds (12.00 mins) features composer John Williams as he discusses how came up with the score for the film after only seeing roughly sixty minutes of footage. Just enough to give him a feel for the emotions and the drama, apparently. It is also the first time that he has composed for a Spielberg movie without actually seeing the whole thing beforehand. Filmed by Steven Spielberg, this is a little bit of filler but it is still a welcome treat. He is keen to reveal the moments in the film when a choir is augmenting the cue - love that element of almost Tibetan chanting. He claims that he set out to produce a different score and I feel that he has certainly succeeded in doing that. It is also one of the better things about the film.

    We Are Not Alone is roughly three minutes of utterly wasted time with Spielberg waxing lyrical about how his dad made him a telescope and - hey presto - gave him a passion for all things otherworldly. Horrible filler, folks.

    Then we get a few text pages of Production Notes that aren't very illuminating considering what has gone before and then a set of four Galleries. These contain Sketches by Costume Designer Joanna Johnston (not very good, really), Production Stills (not very good, either), Behind The Scenes (again, not up to much at all) and, saving the best for last, Production Sketches (which is nice). This last batch covers the dazzling and vivid conceptual artwork for the tripods, the mass destruction and the aliens. The images are marvellous, colourful and crystal clear - so unlike the images as they appear in the film.

    So, with this selection of bonuses, we get the rough with the smooth. Overall, it is not a bad package. Fanning is an annoyance and there are a little too many lovey-dovey giggle shots of Cruise and Spielberg on set. But, on a technical slant, there's more than enough to keep you occupied for a while.
    War Of The Worlds: 2-Disc Limited Edition Extras


    Spielberg's human-bashing opus has many moments of merit and some grand-slam visual imagery, but it is ultimately scuppered by not being spectacular enough. This is more rumble-in-the-cuds than War Of The Worlds. I tried very hard to like this film more on its second, and indeed, third viewing on DVD, but I really shouldn't have to try. Two thirds very good, but the most important third, that of narrative intelligence and integrity, is utterly squandered. Whereas Pal's version is a classic and will be fondly remembered forever more, I feel that Spielberg's addition will be forgotten by Christmas.

    The AV quality is very good, with the DTS sound being truly phenomenal, and the extras offer some pretty decent incentives to add this to your collection. But, once again, the movie is a fairly hollow experience and no amount of dressing will alter that.
    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79

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