War of the Worlds appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The only issues I detected related to the cinematography, as the transfer itself seemed excellent.
I thought sharpness always appeared excellent. At no point did I notice any softness or fuzziness in this tight, concise image. Jagged edges and moiré effects displayed no concerns, and I also noticed no signs of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, none caused distractions. The source material could be a bit grainy at times, but that was inherent to the film and not a byproduct of a bad print.
Much of the time, War featured a desaturated image. As with a few other recent Spielberg movies, it preferred a cold, blown-out look, though some colors still crept through at times. For instance, some of Rachel’s clothes and accessories showed decent definition, and the red vines that appeared toward the end looked full and menacingly rich. The DVD appeared to present the colors as intended, and they worked fine in that realm.
Despite the washed-out presentation, black levels looked dark and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately opaque but not too thick. Low-light sequences were clear and distinct. Ultimately, the picture of War provided a vivid and accurate representation of the original material.
When I examined the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks of War of the Worlds, I found both to work very well. However, the DTS mix seemed noticeably stronger. I’ll discuss it first and then detail the reasons I preferred it to the Dolby track.
The soundfield presented an active and lively piece that constantly engaged the five main speakers. The film showed distinctive imagery throughout the movie that placed different auditory elements accurately within the spectrum and meshed them together nicely. Music provided strong stereo imaging, and effects popped up from the appropriate locations. Quieter scenes displayed natural ambience, while the many action set pieces involved engrossing and vibrant imaging. It became tough to pick a favorite sequence, but the opening attack probably remained my favorite due to the sheer impact of its chaos.
Audio quality also seemed positive. Speech consistently appeared natural and crisp, and I noticed no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music sounded bright and dynamic as the DVD neatly replicated the score. Effects packed a nice wallop when necessary, as these elements seemed clean and distinct at all times. Bass response came across as deep and tight, and the low-end added a good layer of depth and oomph to the package. This was a soundtrack to challenge your subwoofer, as it really administered a heavy punch. I thought this was a consistently amazing soundtrack that earned a rare “A+”.
Why did I prefer the DTS mix over the Dolby track? Because it created a more involving and smooth experience. At times, the Dolby soundfield could be a little awkward and “speaker-specific”, at least in comparison to the way the DTS edition blended its elements. I noticed transitions more obviously when I listened to the Dolby version. Also, bass response was stronger for the DTS track. The Dolby mix came across as a little wan by comparison.
Please note that these flaws only became apparent due to those comparisons. If you solely listened to the Dolby track, you’d probably think I was nuts because it sounded great. However, it just didn’t match up with the incredible DTS audio, and I thought the difference was substantial.
Moving to the extras, we find everything on DVD Two. Steven Spielberg still doesn’t like audio commentaries, so none appears. Instead, a series of 12 featurettes gives us all the information about War.
These start with Revisiting the Invasion. The seven-minute and 35-second piece establishes the format all its siblings will use, as we find a mix of movie clips, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. Here we get comments from Spielberg, actor Tom Cruise, screenwriter David Koepp, and executive producer Paula Wagner. They discuss Spielberg’s childhood influences in regard to similar films, the decision to partner with Cruise again, what they did and didn’t want to include in this version, and some story points. A few decent notes pop up here, but the program seems too general to present much useful material.
In the six-minute and 36-second The HG Wells Legacy, we hear from Spielberg, grandson Martin wells, and great-grandson Simon Wells. We get a few notes about HG’s life and career as well as the enduring appeal of War. As with “Invasion”, a smattering of good bits appear, but there’s not much depth.
The eight-minute Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds includes comments from Spielberg, costume designer Joanna Johnston, senior visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, and actors Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. We learn a little about the 1953 War as well as its influence on the creators of this flick. If you want to know about the 1953 flick, it makes more sense to check out its DVD. The information here isn’t more than a teaser, and the notes about how the film affected Spielberg and the others don’t tell us much.
Characters: The Family Unit includes information from Spielberg, Cruise, Koepp, Johnston, and actors Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin and Miranda Otto. In this 13-minute and 15-second piece, they discuss Cruise’s role and look, casting and the nuances of the various roles. We find decent notes about the characters; I especially like Koepp’s remarks about how he wanted to update Cruise’s parts from his earliest films. The best segments come from the on-the-set footage, though. Cruise makes a funny reference to another flick of his, and it’s also amusing to see Spielberg refer to Fanning by her character’s name.
As we go to Pre-Visualization, we find a seven-minute and 43-second look at that area. It features notes from Spielberg, pre-visualization supervisor Dan Gregoire, and producer Colin Wilson. They talk about the use of pre-vis on War and how it aided the production. I like the glimpses of the pre-vis shots created for the film, and we get a nice impression of how Spielberg used them.
The next four featurettes all come under the banner of Production Diaries. These include “East Coast – Beginning” (22 minutes, 30 seconds), “East Coast – Exile” (19:39), “West Coast – Destruction” (27:29) and “West Coast – War” (22:20). These feature information from Spielberg, Cruise, Wilson, Muren, Johnston, Wagner, Koepp, Fanning, Chatwin, director of photography Janusz Kaminski, producer Kathleen Kennedy, visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman, production designer Rick Carter, concept designer Doug Chiang, property master Doug Harlocker, stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, special effects coordinator Daniel Sudick, digital production supervisor Curt Miyashiro, military technical advisor Major Joseph Todd Breasseale, model/miniature supervisor Steve Gawley, actor Tim Robbins, set decorator Ann Kuljian, compositing supervisor Marshall Krasser.
The diaries start on October 11, 2004 and progress through March 7, 2005. We learn about the rushed production schedule, location scouts, visual design, principal photography and some specifics of filming including stunts, props and practical effects, computer-generated and other visual elements, extras, clothes, and using real soldiers. When we get to the west coast, we learn about sets, scheduling, the Ogilvy character and that sequence, more stunts and visual effects, design of alien elements, battle scenes, and the end of principal photography.
With a program of this sort, I mostly expect lots of good footage from the set, and the “Diaries” offer that in spades. We get a great deal of fine “fly on the wall” material, and the comments embellish those images well. All of this adds up to an informative look at the filming that covers many different areas.
After this we get the 14-minute and seven-second Designing the Enemy; Tripods and Aliens. It includes remarks from Spielberg, Koepp, Chiang, Muren, Kennedy, Cruise, Simon Wells, ILM creature designer Ryan Church, associate animation supervisor Jenn Emberly, digital model supervisor Michael Koperwas, and animation supervisor Randal M. Dutra. As you’d expect, this show covers decisions made in regard to the alien elements. We find out why they chose to depict the tripods and the aliens as they did. The program goes over all these areas quite well and touches on the topics with reasonable detail and depth. Heck, we even get some background on the aliens, and Spielberg lets us know that they’re not Martians!
Scoring War of the Worlds lasts 11 minutes and 57 seconds and offers statements from Spielberg, Wilson, and composer John Williams. We learn how the rushed schedule affected Williams’ work and also what he wanted to convey with his music. This turns into another informative piece.
For the final featurette, we get the three-minute and 15-second We Are Not Alone. A valedictory program, it features comments from Spielberg, Kennedy, and Cruise. They talk about what a great experience the film was and offer some minor connections to Spielberg’s other works and his life. The clip wraps things up in an innocuous but none too interesting way.
Text Production Notes provide a detailed look at various topics. Of course, we’ve heard about most of these elsewhere, but the “Notes” act as a good synopsis. Finally, we find four Galleries. These include “Sketches by Costume Designer Joanna Johnston” (nine frames), “Production Stills” (17), “Behind the Scenes” (20) and “Production Sketches” (30). The various artwork is pretty good, but the photos are a waste of time.
A science-fiction film by Steven Spielberg has to fill some big shoes. A thoroughly exciting and enjoyable action/horror flick, War of the Worlds lives up to expectations. I wouldn’t classify it on the level of Spielberg’s absolute best work, but it’s definitely one of the strongest movies he’s made in years. The DVD offers excellent picture and audio along with a nice collection of featurettes that embellish our understanding of the production. War comes highly recommended.
Note that two releases of War are on the shelves. This review covers the “Limited Edition” that retails for about $40. There’s also a standard version that sells for $30. As far as I can tell, the only difference comes from the extras. Apparently the cheaper package presents the “Designing the Enemy” featurette and nothing else. Are the LE’s supplements worth an extra $10? I think so, but that’ll depend on your interest in such elements.