InsidePulse DVD Review – War of the Worlds (2005)

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Director :

Steven Spielberg

Cast :

Tom Cruise……….Ray Ferrier
Justin Chatwin……….Robbie Ferrier
Dakota Fanning……….Rachel Ferrier
Tim Robbins……….Ogilvy
Miranda Otto……….Mary Ann Ferrier
David Alan Basche……….Tim
Yul Vazquez……….Julio

The Movie

The last time Tom Cruise and Steve Spielberg collaborated together, action thriller Minority Report was the end result. Both men have enough clout and established star power that they can be selective in the sort of movies they elect to make. There aren’t too many projects that can cause someone like Spielberg to drop plans to make a fourth Indiana Jones movie or cause Cruise to postpone plans for the third movie in the Mission Impossible franchise.

War of the Worlds is that sort of project. It is the movie that Spielberg has wanted to make for years and the project that Cruise dropped his signature franchise vehicle to make. And War of the Worlds is a good movie, if only due to the fact that previous alien-invasion, end of the world movies have been awful.

Cruise stars as Ray Ferrier, deadbeat dad and dock worker. Arriving late to pick up his two kids, Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and Rachel (Dakota Fanning), Ferrier isn’t a good father. He’s stuck at an age not much older than his son, never having been forced to be the sort of parent he should be. Everything changes when lightning strikes are the precursor to an alien invasion through which Ray and his children have to survive.

This isn’t a movie in the vein of Independence Day or Armageddon; War of the Worlds isn’t about defeating aliens and winning the affections of the daughter of a rock star, it’s about surviving the end of the world. There are lots of scary moments and dark overtones, as Spielberg avoids the pratfalls of disaster movies. By not destroying landmarks, filling up the movie with superfluous melodrama around important military leaders and government figures Spielberg crafts his movie around his special effects as opposed to featuring them as the movie.

The visuals of the movie are stellar. The alien tripods, while silly in some aspects, are spectacular in look and are impressive in presence. Spielberg has invested a lot of time and energy in creating an invading alien force as well as the spectacular imagery of their invasion. This is easily his best looking film to date; for the large budget he was given Spielberg put every penny to use. There are an amazingly number of jaw-dropping effects, spectacular imagery and mind-blowing visuals throughout the movie.

Where he goes wrong involves the human drama of the end of the world. Cruise, Fanning and Chatwin are solid in their roles but Spielberg doesn’t focus as much on them as needed to get their story across. There’s so much unsaid about their relationships and their interactions that the requisite drama about their situation is muted. Cruise and Fanning rise to the situation and are able to charm their way into creating sympathy for their characters but their story gets obscured.

Spielberg’s story-telling ability is a bit lacking. He falls into a trap of having his actors tell the story as opposed to him guiding them along, which is unusual for one of the masters of the art. He is able to create powerful moments and memorable scenes, but his overall story lacks the sort of bite it should. Coupled with an ending that is a bit implausible, what should’ve been a dark film about surviving the end of the world doesn’t have the same of bite in the end; the feel-good moment is ruined by one moment.

Score : 7.5 / 10

The Video

Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen format, the film looks great as the transfer is superb. With the same sort of bleakness and dark coloring meshed with vivid colors.

The Audio

Spielberg’s movie is an audio spectacular and presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format. John Williams’ score comes through spectacularly, as the same sort of bone chilling bass and terrifying themes come through excessively well. There’s a great separation of sound as the audio fills the room.

The Extras

Revisiting the Invasion is an introduction with Steven Spielberg to the concepts of War of the Worlds. Following the initial creative desires by Cruise and Spielberg to collaborate on this project together in the future, and the subsequent desire to create a disaster film that stays away from the clichés, it’s a brief introduction to the film.

The H. G. Wells Legacy focuses on the man behind the novel. With cameos from his grandson and great-grandson, it focuses on how and why he wrote the novel and its impact through the infamous Orson Welles radio broadcast that caused mass hysteria. It runs around six minutes and delves a little bit into the man, but really doesn’t get into his psyche as much as one would hope.

Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds is a featurette on the original movie and how Spielberg & his crew incorporated the 1953 film version with the new version. Calling upon some of the cast members from the 1953 version as well as some of the crew members from the 2005 version, it takes a look back for around eight minutes to the original.

Characters: The Family Unit is a retrospective on how the main characters were developed, from back story to costuming. It’s interesting how they developed Tom Cruise’s character, as he’s imagined as the sort of character he played early in his career in films like Top Gun, except this is 20 years later and life hasn’t worked out like he thought it would. They do the same with Chatwin and Fanning as well as some minor characters, as Spielberg and crew discuss how their character arcs and costuming each contribute to the story. Running around 13 minutes, it’s an interesting look at the characters and how Spielberg, et al, sees them developing in the film.

Pre-Visualization is a featurette focusing on how Spielberg developed his sets by using a concept he borrowed from George Lucas: pre-visualization. It’s a computer-graphic enhanced storyboard process, allowing him to develop out how he wants to shoot the film before he actually gets on the set. Running around seven minutes, it’s an interesting perspective on how certain scenes and shot went from development and “impossible” to being in the film.

Production Diaries follow four aspects of the film: Beginning, Exile, Destruction and War. At a combined 90 minutes or so, it’s a complete retrospective on the entire filming process that covers nearly every aspect of the film from beginning to end. Following the film from all the vantage points of production, it’s an amazing, engrossing look at the filming process. These aren’t the usual sorts of fluff pieces; they are in-depth and candid moments from the actors and crew as they share stories and moments from the set and the filming that go beyond the usual “everything was wonderful” aspect that normally is shown. It’s interesting to see the sort of relationships that developed due to the film; its obvious Cruise and Spielberg are friends and that the cast really enjoyed working with each other. The featurette radiates when they talk about the film and the sort of love put into it; there’s so much discussion about things about the film that delve into interesting side topics from Spielberg and the gang.

Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens focuses on the design of the aliens and their machinery from War of the Worlds. Drawing inspiration from modern horror as well trying to remain true to both the novel and the 1953 film, the animators relay their mission of being able to try and give an updated look and feel while maintaining the sheer presence of the aliens and the terror their machinery brings. Running around 14 minutes, it’s impressive to see the sort of passion the animation crew brought to the film.

Scoring War of the Worlds is a featurette about how they designed and implanted the sound of the film. From the sound effects from the action to the score, it’s a 12 minute retrospective on how they crafted the music and audio effects for the film.

We Are Not Alone is a two minute finishing piece that serves as a bookend to Spielberg’s introduction.

Production Notes are text from the cast and crew allowing you to read the hows and whys behind the film. Nothing of note is added here, as everything that has been said is in the featurettes.

Galleries featuring costume sketches, production sketches & stills and some behind the scenes photography.

Score : 10 / 10

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