War of the Worlds (2005) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Jun 16, 2020
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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War of the Worlds (2005) (4K UHD Review)

Director

Steven Spielberg

Release Date(s)

2005 (May 19, 2020)

Studio(s)

Amblin Entertainment/Cruise-Wagner Productions/DreamWorks Pictures (Paramount Pictures)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B

War of the Worlds (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a blue-collar New Jersey dockworker, struggling to make ends meet. When his ex-wife Mary Ann (Miranda Otto) drops off their two children for the weekend, Ray promises to take good care of them. In truth, he can barely manage his own relationship with the pair. His teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) hates his guts, while his 10-year-old daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning) has grown more aloof—an affected manner that covers her deep insecurity. But these issues are only magnified when a freak lightning storm strikes Ray’s neighborhood, shorting out all electronics, and a monstrous mechanical “tripod” suddenly erupts from the ground and begins destroying everything in sight with an unearthly beam weapon. So while he can barely manage his normal day-to-day existence, Ray must now find a way to save his family from what appears to be a planet-wide alien invasion.

War of the Worlds (2005) is a surprisingly personal film for director Steven Spielberg. It essentially completes his “alien trilogy” that began years earlier with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Spielberg’s interest in the subject of aliens began when he was a child growing up in New Jersey, which made the location an obvious setting for a modern updating of the original 1953 film (reviewed here at The Bits). Screenwriter David Koepp makes a wise choice here, restricting Ray’s knowledge of the invasion to just what he and his children can see and hear. Combined with Spielberg’s commitment to a hyper-realistic style, the resulting film is considerably more fraught with tension than the original. Having recently collaborated with the director on Minority Report (2002), Cruise was an obvious choice to take on the starring role. Add a remarkably creepy tripod design, spectacular sound mixing, gritty cinematography by Janusz Kamiński, and another great John Williams score, and War of the Worlds is a damn great action film.

War of the Worlds was shot on 35mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL cameras with Panavision Primo Lenses spherical lenses. It was presumably finished on film (at the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio), with VFX shots printed back out to film and combined with original camera negative into a cut negative, from which a properly color-timed master interpositive was produced. For the film’s Ultra HD release, it appears that the cut negative was scanned in native 4K to produce a new Digital Intermediate, which was then graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available on this disc). The resulting image represents a significant improvement in overall detail over the 2010 Blu-ray Disc, which often had a “muddy” appearance, with a bit of edge enhancement baked into it as well. The contrast on the HD version was deliberately pushed, resulting in crushed blacks and washed out highlights. The 4K image is notably more refined-looking, with much tighter detailing, while still retaining the intended “gritty” appearance. What’s more, the color and contrast are massively improved—the colors are more vibrant and natural now, while again still having a slightly bleached/gloomy look (like a bright winter day, or sunlight breaking through a rainstorm). And while the pushed contrasts really tested the limits of SDR, the HDR handles it like a champ—both the darkest and lightest areas of the frame now retain more detail, which having added depth and luster. HDR10 and Dolby Vision both do a great job here (I wouldn’t say that either has the edge). And while I wouldn’t quite call this a reference image, for this particular film, it’s pretty spectacular. Fans of the film should be very pleased.

Unfortunately, the 4K audio experience is more of a mixed bag. The Ultra HD disc includes a new English Dolby Atmos mix, which should be an improvement. And in many ways, it is—the soundstage feels larger, smoother, and notably more immersive, with lots of lively directional play and significant movement. It just sounds like a more active and natural sonic environment, and the height channels come into play nicely in set pieces—especially during the lightning storm and when the tripods rise ominously into the frame multiple times during the film. But what’s missing here is the sonic bite. The 2010 Blu-ray (included in this package) had a then reference grade 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that really worked your subwoofer with moments of tremendous low frequency extension. The tripod’s ominous “horn” for example—you could almost feel it in DTS-HD MA. But that low-end heft is missing from the Atmos mix. There’s bass there, certainly, but it’s just not the same. You get plenty of dynamic range to be sure, but too little muscular oomph. And sadly, that oomph is important to the film. The fact that Paramount missed the mark on this is… frustrating (and appears to be indicative of a recurring pattern in their catalog releases at the moment). To be clear, this track isn’t bad. But fans of the Blu-ray audio experience will likely be disappointed. In any case, additional audio options on the UHD disc include 5.1 Dolby Digital in Czech, German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Hungarian, Russian, and Thai, along with 2.0 Dolby Digital in Polish. Optional subtitles are also available in English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, German, Greek, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Romanian, Simplified Chinese, Finnish, Swedish, and Thai.

>Paramount’s Ultra HD package includes the film on disc in 4K along with that original 2010 Blu-ray (it’s not remastered from the new 4K scan). The Blu-ray does at least add the following special features:

  • Revisiting the Invasion (SD – 7:39)
  • The HG Wells Legacy (SD – 6:34)
  • Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds (SD – 8:00)
  • Characters: The Family Unit (SD – 13:22)
  • Previsualization (SD – 7:42)
  • Production Dairies: East Coast – Beginning (SD – 22:30)
  • Production Dairies: East Coast – Exile (SD – 19:39)
  • Production Dairies: West Coast – Destruction (SD – 27:29)
  • Production Dairies: West Coast – War (SD – 22:20)
  • Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens (SD – 14:07)
  • Scoring War of the Worlds (SD – 11:57)
  • We Are Not Alone (SD – 3:14)
  • Galleries: Sketches by Costume Designer Joanna Johnston (HD)
  • Galleries: Production Stills (HD)
  • Galleries: Behind the Scenes (HD)
  • Galleries: Production Sketches (HD)
  • Theatrical Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:59)

Most of these extras were produced by longtime Spielberg documentarian Laurent Bouzereau for the Blu-ray, while a few were included on the original 2005 DVD release. They’re quite good and, taken as a whole, impressively comprehensive (though it is a little odd that they were shot in SD, as HD was certainly available at the time). Of these features, Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds is my personal favorite, as it details the many connections between this film and the 1953 original. The only thing that’s missing from the DVD release a piece called War of the Worlds: The Final Invasion (SD – 13:03), which was more of an EPK—presumably it’s not here because the other features cover the same ground far more comprehensively. There are no new extras created specifically for the 4K release, though you do at least get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.

War of the Worlds is somewhat under-appreciated given the sheer number of great films that Spielberg has made over the course of his long career, but I think there’s a real argument to be made that it’s one of the director’s better works. Paramount’s 4K Ultra HD offers a significant improvement in image quality, but the new Atmos mix falls a little short of the mark. Still, there is enough improvement here that the release is certainly recommended for fans of the film.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

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