War of the Worlds is a Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg movie that I remember having a lot of fun with when I first saw it, and I believe a repeat viewing when it first came to home video kept that same excitement; however, upon revisiting the film 15 years later, I have to say that it’s deflated some of the love and while still good enough for a watch, it’s definitely not near the top of any Cruise or Spielberg filmography lists.
Now, that’s not to say it’s bad, as it is entertaining enough and sometimes that’s what’s most important; but unfortunately, this one suffers from the story getting progressively worse as the film goes on instead of building up momentum like any movie strives to do. The third act of the film is rather wonky and comes and goes with a whimper, and while I’m sure the window for refraining from spoilers closed well over a decade or so ago, I’ll still warn you in advance here that a spoiler on the ending is coming in the next few paragraphs.
The ending of the film is one of the worst I’ve seen, so much so that it’s the one part of revisiting the movie I was dreading, as I knew I hated this moment even in my first viewing of the film. The moment I’m talking about is when Ray’s (Cruise) son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) comes out from his grandparent’s house at the end of the movie revealing that he’s alive and well and everyone hugs as we roll the credits. It’s just so bad. For those who haven’t seen the movie in a while, in a scene about 40 or so minutes earlier, Robbie left his dad and sister to go rush into battle alongside the army that was attacking one of the alien tripods. Robbie runs over the hill and not 30 seconds later the entire hill erupts in fire and explosions, Ray calls out, “ROBBIE!!!” in that classic Cruise scream, and we believe that Robbie died.
Now, Robbie is kind of a dick to his dad, but as the movie progresses early on we learn that he’s that way because Ray is kind of a…I don’t want to say bad, but not so great, self-centered dad is fitting. So it’s been up to Robbie to help raise his sister, Rachel (played wonderfully by Dakota Fanning) and he’s a good kid overall. When the moment comes that he rushes off to his ‘death,’ we should feel sad, but it’s kind of abrupt and the story moves on so quickly, with Rachel barely acknowledging that her brother just got roasted by aliens.
Some time passes, and eventually Ray and Rachel head out on the road to Boston again, hoping to find Rachel’s mom at her grandparent’s house. They stumble into town with some other survivors and here’s where we learn the aliens are just dying off. I don’t mind that part so much, as the reveal of why they’re dying kind of forces it to be completely random, but it just feels so flat after things have been ramping up only to slow down heavily in the moments before they head for Boston. And then to have Robbie just be there is so…it’s just cheesy. Not only did he survive this absolute napalming of the area he was just running into, but then he also just beelined it to Boston without trouble, safe and sound.
With how unforgiving the movie is with human life, how much death we see and how the aliens are relentless in the extermination of the species, to have Robbie just be like, “Tada!” in the final moments of the movie just feels cheap. A sombre moment between Ray and his ex-wife, with her still grateful he was able to save Rachel would’ve been bittersweet, but it also would’ve fit the tone of the movie a lot better. This turned into quite the rant about the final moments of the movie, but it does take away from it as a whole.
The first act and most of the second act are really solid. There’s a lot of tension built up properly early on, some fantastic alien invasion visuals, and some really great moments as Ray tries to come to terms with the end of the world happening around him, while also finally having to step up and be a proper father-figure to his children. With how strong it starts it feels like War of the Worlds could’ve really taken a turn to greatness, but instead, a number of misfires that mainly begin with Robbie running off, as well as a poor representation of how much time has passed as the movie goes on all cause it to flatline on simply being pretty good.
The 4K format for War of the Worlds is what’s the selling point here though. This is for the fans of the film that want an updated, sharp, visually beautiful version of the movie to enjoy and they’ll find that here. The 1.85:1 HEVC 4K transfer gives the movie a fresh look compared to the previous DVD and Blu-ray releases. They never looked particularly bad for their time, but it is nice to get the upgrades of films we may love as technology progresses. This is a really dark film, but the detail and contrast are incredibly handled here, which just makes the film a lot nicer to watch.
On the audio side of things the film received a new Dolby Atmos mix, which really works wonders for this film. The sound of the aliens blasting through the air, the lightning cracks early on, and the eerie, solid score just sound incredible, and are all strong points of what make the film work as well as it does for the first three quarters. This is a movie that benefits from cranking the audio, and this mix really showcases that.
The 4K disc is just the movie, which may irk some who don’t like swapping discs; but it’s the movie that truly matters and that disc is where the visual and audio quality lies. For those looking for the extras, they’re found on the Blu-ray disc from the previous 2-disc Blu-ray release of the film. They include:
Revisiting the Invasion – Spielberg and the cast and crew talk about the film, while Spielberg also talks about his love of alien movies.
The H.G. Wells Legacy – Wells was the writer of the original story, for those who don’t know. Here we hear from his grandson and great-grandson, who talk about him. Spielberg also touches on the impact Wells had while he was alive and writing.
Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds – This piece sees Spielberg talk about his film in comparison to the original from 1953.
Characters: The Family Unit – This featurette is all about family, and how that theme grows throughout the course of the film.
Previsualization – This featurette showcases some previz of scenes from the film.
Production Diaries – This is a feature that’s broken down into four parts: East Coast – Beginning, East Coast – Exile, West Coast – Destruction, and lastly West Coast – War.
Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens – Here’s a fun feature where we get a glimpse of the thought process of what the aliens and tripods they drive in the film would look like, how they were brought to life and so forth. A fun watch for sure.
Scoring War of the Worlds – Here we see Spielberg joined by John Williams, and they talk about the score, how it came to be and how it influenced the film. As mentioned before, the score it one of the stronger pros of the film, which shouldn’t be overly shocking with the talent involved.
We Are Not Alone – Here we see Spielberg talking about those who influenced him, more on the alien and sci-fi genre, as well as why it was he chose to remake War of the Worlds.
Galleries – There are four galleries here for those that are interested.
Paramount Pictures Presents War of the Worlds. Directed by: Steven Spielberg. Written by: Josh Friedman, David Koepp. Based on the novel by: H.G. Wells. Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Tim Robbins. Running time: 116 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: May 19, 2020.
Tags: Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, Steven Spielberg, tim robbins, Tom Cruise, War of the Worlds