DVD Review: War of the Worlds (2005)

While almost completely devoid of logic or sense, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of War of the Worlds offers spectacle. It's what anyone sitting down to watch an alien invasion movie should expect to see. Anything more is a bonus, and while those pieces are missing, it's the images that make this film unforgettable.

There's a surreal style to the film, one that blends in the excessive CGI flawlessly, and most importantly, makes an absurd situation real. The slight fog, over saturation, and high brightness add to the tension and settings. There's also an incredible sense of scale as the alien machines tower over a helpless human populace, wiping them out with a single stroke of their brilliant blue beams.

The sound work is also worthy of an Academy Award. If it doesn't receive one, that award should lose all credibility. It's not just about surround sound here. What it does is add to the terror, the horn that almost becomes a war cry blaring and becoming nothing short of horrifying by the film's end. It also mixed so that it sounds natural, with an echo that can only be described as eerie.

While there are moments that the audience should expect to see more of (the military assault), this telling of the story stays true to the original book, presenting it all from a single character's point-of-view. Through this, there is little information passed on, and what is said can only be taken as rumor. Some of it has caused confusion and plot holes (Ogilvy stating the machines have been underground for a million years the big discrepancy). Others just make no sense no matter how you look at them.

There are also complaints pertaining to the performances, and these are especially unwarranted against Dakota Fanning. She is completely believable given the situation, and it's only natural to expect this screaming from a child of her age. Tom Cruise also does a stand out job as a desperate father, even if it's a character that's tiring coming from the director.

If there's anything impossible to defend, it's the ending. It's not the way the aliens are defeated, but the aftermath. Not even the cameo from Gene Barry and Ann Robinson (from the 1953 version) can save a cheesy, impossible, and almost disgusting family friendly finish. If you were already frustrated by the lack of explanation for things that occurred earlier, you'll be left completely cold by what happens here.

Still, on a per-minute basis, no film this year offers the incredible sights War of the Worlds does. In fact, it's been ages since we've been given such a visual eye candy treat, one done so well, the questions you have don't enter your mind until it's over. You're sucked into the on-screen action, and that's exactly what this film should do to its audience. (**** out of *****)

Presented in proper 1.85:1 widescreen, this is a hard transfer to judge. With all the color correction, blooming, and contrast changes, it's impossible to gauge what is a DVD mastering problem and what was intended. In scenes that appear normal, it's a flawless presentation. Detail, black levels, and sharpness are stunning. It captures all of the detail needed to create the believable effects and it's one more way to avoid noticing how none of this makes sense. (*****)

While the video is a tough call, the audio is not. All of the sound mixing pays off on DVD, both in standard 5.1 and DTS 5.1. This is a loud, demanding, and ear-blistering audio presentation, and the only way to listen to it is to blare it. Alien lasers can be heard moving from front to back in a sweeping motion as they take our planet, and explosions provide the best type of bass: the stuff that knocks things off the wall. Also, anytime a giant machine destroys an entire city block just to start up, you know this is going to be intense. (*****)

This single disc edition of the film only offers one feature: Designing the Enemy. It's a short feature on how Spielberg (and his team) designed the tripods and aliens that pilot them. There are some fun animatics and tests to watch, but that's it. (*)

Even though the character's ending is a letdown, it's nice to see a change from the original script. On paper, Tom Cruise's character explains the ending to Dakota Fanning. On film, Morgan Freeman narrates while providing the necessary information lifted right from the book.

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