War of the Worldscomes to Blu-ray with a 1080P transfer in the OAR of 1.85:1. I was not sure quite what to expect with this transfer. The film has always deliberately had a gritty, grainy, washed-out look and I was wondering how well this would transfer to Blu-ray.
Well, I was stunned by just how good this image looks. As a faithful transfer it handles a difficult source well - but there are a couple of scenes here which I will use as my new demo disc. Yes, this transfer is that good.
Normally I would spend this section breaking the image down into colour, detail, sharpness, and depth. But due to the way the image is presented I am not going to do that on this occasion. For example, there is no point in talking about how saturated the colours are when the level of colour in the image is deliberately reduced. What I will talk about is the increased level of detail. It is immediately possible to notice much more in the image than you did before. For example, the early scenes in the city when Cruise exits his house and people are standing around. You can see more detail in the faces, and in people's clothes. They are no longer an anonymous blur but individual people. Likewise in the most stunning scene in the film, the car escape. Just watch the snake of abandoned cars disappearing into the distance, as Cruise winds his way through. Also, as the displaced crowd come running down the street towards the departing ferry, the tripod towering above them. You can see the look of terror on their faces as they flee, and make out individuals way back into the image. What Spielberg shows you is certainly not pretty, but you can certainly see further into the depths than you could before.
One particular scene really stood out though - and I am going to mention it here to illustrate just how stunning this image can be, despite the aesthetic. This is just after the family escape from the boat. It is night, but their surroundings are illuminated by distant spotlights and the flash of the martian's heat rays. As they climb the hill, the rain falls and just for a second Blu-ray reveals itself in all it's wonderous glory. The rain stands out with each individual drop, the humans are clearly delineated against the horizon and in the far distance the martians go about their murderous business. It is a stunning image, and for this rather jaded reviewer, that original wow factor I used to feel when I first saw blu-ray was back.
Of course, the way the film was shot will certainly not be to everyone's taste. The film is overblown, and soft at times. There are halos - in particular in the early scenes where some of the characters actually have a thick white line around their edges. Yet this is all deliberate - it is the way the film is meant to look. Likewise with the grain. It is not overdone in any way shape or form, but it is there and it is designed to degrade the image. This makes the source difficult and this disc copes admirably.
Black levels are fantastic - deep and inky with a nice contrast level. Whether you have a problem with the way the film was actually shot or not, the fact remains that a difficult transfer is rendered superbly on this disc.
Oh boy. Sometimes you have high hopes for a disc before you even spin it, and even more rarely the disc in question will surpass those expectations. I am pleased to report that War of the Worlds does that with its soundtrack and I'm sorry if you like your reviews with a bit of tension - but folks, this is only my second ever 10 score.
The disc presents the sound with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and this takes an already notorious DVD track and ramps it up to 11. The amazing thing is just how busy the sound field is without ever being cluttered. There is a lot going on here, but every sound is given room to breathe. The attention to detail is breathtaking.
Even early on, in calmer moments, the sound field is expansive with ambient sounds being accurately placed to the left and right both behind and in front of the viewer. All the way through the film the dialogue is anchored firmly to the front and is always clear even in scenes of mayhem.
When things start to get nasty, the attention to detail with the sound is still immense. There is no sense of the sound merely being ramped up in volume resulting in a muddy mess. Instead, every aspect of the destruction is clearly represented within the mix. Whether it be the exultant howl of the tripods, the fizz of the rays, the horrible indescribable sound as humans are reduced to dust in an instant, or the crack of car windshield glass - all is beautifully place in the mix, leaving the viewer cowering in the center as the destruction is waged around them.
The atonal Williams score (a complete departure for him) is also well represented. It may not be beautiful music, but it sure as hell fits the atmosphere of the film and is prioritized perfectly - balanced well in the mix.
But of course, War of the Worlds was always particularly notorious for the bass and believe it or not, this disc possibly goes even lower than the DVD. The walls will shake, and a decent sub will really be pushed to the limits by this mix. I am not a fan of LFE when it is not used properly (see my review of Terminator Salvation for example) but here it never overshadows the rest of the mix - a true achievement considering the depth.
At this point I would normally hit you with a but - a caveat that will slightly undermine everything that has gone before. But there is no such situation here. I simply cannot fault any aspect of this mix - and that is why it gets a 10 from me. Outstanding.
Well, lets get what is not included out of the way first. There is no chat-track on this disc, but come on - are you really surprised? Spielberg doesn't do them, we already know this. There is also no PiP feature or deleted scenes. Apart from one trailer for the film in HD, there is nothing included here that wasn't on the original 2 disc DVD edition.
Revisiting the Invasion (7:38) is Spielberg talking about the terrorist allegory in the film, and the David Koepp talking about some of the choices he made. There is some interesting material in this short piece, but also far too much fluff to make it worth more than one viewing. Worse is H.G. Wells' Legacy (6:35). We get to meet some of the author's relatives as they visit the set and this turns out more like an indulgent home movie. Certainly not about the author's lasting literary or filmic legacy, unfortunately.
Slightly better is Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds (8:01) although it is more about Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. There are some nice nostalgic bits here, but again there is not much meat to this featurette. Character : The Family Unit (13:23) is much longer, which is a shame as it is truly awful - with everyone gushing about how wonderful everyone else is. More interesting but again too brief is the 7:45 Pre Visualisation in which Spielberg talks about this vital tool.
After this, though, things get so much better with the extensive and endlessly fascinating Production Diaries which last a total of 91 minutes. These are divided into sections looking at East Coast : The Beginning, East Coast : Exile, West Coast : Destruction and West Coast : War. These are endlessly fascinating and give a detailed look behind the scenes of key events in the film. It is a real shame these aren't in HD. Designing the Enemy : Tripods and Aliens (14:05) is a little boring, and concentrates too much on the tripods and not enough on the aliens, and the twelve minute Scoring the War of the Worlds is filmed by Spielberg and reveals much about the great composers approach to this film and how it differed from his normal way of working.
Finally, we get the worst extra on the disc - the three minute We Are Not Alone which is a brief and saccharine interview with Spielberg, and some Galleries.
Blu-ray may be struggling to reach a decent level of market penetration in the UK, but it would seem to me that I have seen more great discs in 2010 already than I have throughout the whole of last year. There have been some must-have discs, and to that list you must add War of the Worlds. The film was always a sci-fi classic in my opinion - and perhaps a little distance from the events of 9/11 which so inspired it will help a re-appraisal. It is dark, for sure, but it is brave filmmaking and really brings a lot to an over-saturated genre.
Marry a brilliant film with a stunning soundtrack and almost as impressive picture, and stir in a comprehensive set of extras (although nothing new, and not presented in HD), and you have a disc which can come with nothing but the highest possible recommendation. I would not hesitate to suggest that this added to every blu-ray collection.
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