War of the Worlds


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Working off a script from David Koep and Josh Friedman that jettisons all of the clichéd moments in a typical End-Of-The-World narrative, actor Tom Cruise and director Steven Spielberg deliver a grossly involving and superbly intense movie in their version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  As an alien invasion movie, War of the Worlds is a deviation from what Spielberg has done before on the subject of aliens (Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.) which makes the film's tone and theme all the more exciting and fresh – especially as a commentary on the post 9/11 world that first welcomed it back in 2005.

Cruise plays Ray Ferrier, a hard-working dock worker on the Jersey shore, who could arguably be the Maverick character from Top Gun grown up; he’s disillusioned, nearly broke, and hidden to the world by the extra layers of clothing he wears.  He’s also a deadbeat father to his son (Justin Chatwin) and daughter (Dakota Fanning) from a still-failing relationship with his ex-wife, Mary Ann (Miranda Otto).  Ultimately, as the horrific events of the movie unfold and the aliens begin their blood harvesting of humans, Ferrier steps forward as paternal protector and goes out of his way to protect his children from the grisly fate befalling those around him.  Intense and never problematic, Koep’s script plays against expectations – especially in light of Roland Emmerich’s take on disaster films – and is a rewarding experience light years ahead of its audience (which might begin to explain its initial criticism).

End-of-the-word scenarios are hard items to push on their audiences because they simply cannot be happy affairs.  Filled with radical anarchy and mob mayhem, the genre – which often turns into a grueling duel between man and nature – often betrays its audience by being completely unbelievable as it develops.  With War of the Worlds, however, Spielberg - surrounded by the fabulous cinematography of longtime collaborator Janusz Kaminski - weaves a tale that is shockingly gritty, believable, and consistently raw in its development of natural human emotions.  With a visual structure that challenges the minds of his audience and the skils of his competitors, Spielberg illustrates that the real threat to humanity is, in fact, humanity itself.  For Cruise and Fanning, this harsh realization makes for more than a few uncomfortable moments – whether in a crowd of frenzied people fighting over the family van or man-to-man moments when Cruise finds himself eerily threatened by Harlan Ogilvy (Tim Robbins), sole survivor of his family’s slaughter at the hands of the alien invaders.

Superbly juxtaposing innocence and destruction throughout the run of the picture, Spielberg wonderfully illuminates the despair and darkness of War of the Worlds with moments of humanity as Cruise, in fine form, protects his daughter, going so far as to blindfold her when the happenings of murder and mayhem are too much to even think about.  As the world crumbles around him, Cruise recovers Roy's humanity through his discovered fatherhood; he sheds his jacket, peels off the extra shirts and symbolically strengthens his resolve to keep his family together as the “armor” comes off.

From the hard-hitting suspense of Munich to the sentimental timing of The Terminal and even to the grittiness of Schindler’s List, Spielberg has the devastatingly wonderous ability to make glorious works of art when he constructs a film – especially when he steps out of his comfort zone - and that tradition continues with War of the Worlds, a film that looks at what happens when the genre of Science Fiction meets that of absolute Horror.

Component Grades
5 Stars
5 Stars
DVD Experience
5 Stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - June 1, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

Visually representative of Spielberg’s intended “look” for the film, War of the Worlds arrives on Blu-ray with an impressive 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer.  Drained of most color, the subtleties of the color almost give it a black-and-white feel – especially in the cold and dusty city moments.  Not always focused, the transfer has some moments of inferiority when faced with representing the chilled factor of apocalyptic gloom, but – in all seriousness – that could be the way Spielberg wanted it.

With a healthy dose of informative features, the release is a must-have for any fan of Spielberg and Science Fiction.  Sadly, there is still no commentary from Spielberg, but that can be ignored given the quality of the features.  The following breakdown is in the order appearing on the Blu-ray:




  • Revisiting the Invasion (7:39): this feature is largely helmed by Spielberg, in which he speaks about alien invasions and past films, resulting in a comment on what he feels makes for good Science Fiction
  • The H.G. Wells Legacy (6:34): this feature showcases Wells' grandson Martin, his great-grandson Simon, and Spielberg all commenting on the notable legacy of H.G. Wells
  • Steven Spielberg and the Original 'War of the Worlds' (8:00): this feature examines the surprising connections between the original 1953 film and Spielberg's version
  • Characters: The Family Unit (13:22): this feature examines the character traits in story and themes
  • Previsualization (7:42): highlights the new technique Spielberg used (courtesy of George Lucas) that helped him shoot and develop the special effects
  • Production Diaries is a four-part segment that chronicles a detailed look at the shoot.  The segments include East Coast Beginning (22:30), East Coast Exile (19:39), West Coast Destruction (27:29) and West Coast War (22:20).
  • Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens (14:07): a glimpse into the creation of the look of the aliens
  • Scoring 'War of the Worlds' (11:57): features a look into the ideas that influenced John Williams and his score
  • We Are Not Alone (3:14): features Spielberg waxing poetically about the possibilities of life existing elsewhere in the universe

Gallery: Four still galleries: Sketches by Costume Designer Joanna Johnston, Production Stills, Behind the Scenes, and Production Sketches

Theatrical trailer (1:59)