‘War of the Worlds’ (2005) 4k Blu-ray Review

War of the Worlds (2005) 4k Blu-raySteven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (2005) has been upgraded to 4k along with two other movies that star Tom Cruise: Top Gun (1986) and Days of Thunder (1990), all released to Digital 4k on May 12 and 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray on May 19, 2020.

War of the Worlds should not be confused with Byron Haskin’s Oscar-winning film The War of the Worlds (1953), Fox’s TV series War of the Worlds, or BBC’s mini-series The War of the Worlds). But each of the aforementioned titles does adapt H. G. Wells’ classic novel, first published in 1898, to both screen and TV. The War of the Worlds was published in 1898 and remains one of the earliest novels to propose the existence of extraterrestrial life. 

War of the Worlds is really an incredible piece of filmmaking in terms of special effects. For many cinematographers, it would have been a dream to direct the photography in WOTW, but the gig thankfully went to 2x Oscar-winning DP Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List). We talk more about the imagery in War of the Worlds below.

War of the Worlds (2005) 4k Blu-ray movie stillAs far as plot, it’s simple. Alien lifeforms invade earth and kill everyone. The twist: their ships (referred to by Wells as tripods) were already embedded into the earth and the aliens use humans for fertilizer. The movie starts as a light sci-fi but quickly becomes a horror film as people are eviscerated by the alien vessels. 

But it’s also a story about survival as told through one man and his family, as Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is faced with keeping his daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning), and son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) safe from the invaders. Along the way, we see the true face of humanity as Ray acquires one of the only working vehicles and is almost killed for it.

War of the Worlds is sort of claustrophobic in the way it stays with the family. Ferrier’s x-wife plays a role, but only briefly in the beginning. After that, she and her husband head off to Boston and don’t return until the very end of the movie, somehow missing all the action taking place around their New Jersey home. 

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It gets even more claustrophobic with the introduction of the character Harlan Ogilvy played by Tim Robbins. While on the run from an alien onslaught (and following the presumed death of Robbie), Harlan calls Ray and Rachel into his basement, which miraculously seems to be some kind of soundproof safe house amidst the chaos above. But War of the Worlds may have been better without this scene which takes up a whopping 25 minutes of the movie (extending chapters 15 through 20 on the Blu-ray). 

There is no doubt Spielberg wanted to show the desperation and lengths a person would go to to save their loved ones, but the scene was way too long and probably the down point of this film. It’s also, for those of you who may not have noticed, the second time in the film that Ray is hiding in a basement. Talk about redundancy. Can you see these shots in the script? SHOT: Ray, Rachel and Robbie (the three Bs) hide in Mary Ann’s basement. SHOT: Ray and Rachel hide in the basement with Harlan the Maniac. 

Many critics found the first half the film interesting, even exhilarating, but the second half problematic. And, others found Morgan Freeman’s opening and closing narration superfluous.  Spielberg may have done his best with the script for War of the Worlds but had problems ending the movie in a way that is satisfying. Enough critique of the film, though, let’s talk more about the video and audio presentation.

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Video

War of the Worlds is presented in 2160p video resolution with High Dynamic Range via Dolby Vision and HDR10. The HDR layer is an added benefit for those of you who own HDR TVs, which can be expanded to display even more color than a non-HDR 4k TV. 

There are several shots worth mentioning, some of them referenced in film stills above and below. Take for example the expansive shot of Cruises’ character overlooking the red-colored vegetation that the aliens seem to be attempting to take over the earth. The color palette is something we wouldn’t see on traditional TVs. 

The scene where Ray examines an airplane that had crashed outside his x-wife’s home is so sharp you might want to pause the movie to take a look at all the detail. There are other shots in WOTW that are rich with detail and worthy of close examination.

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And, while we talked about the agonizing 25-minute scene in Harlan’s basement, there were some moments of pure dramatic lighting that are so much better with HDR. Dolby Vision and HDR10 (supported on HDR TVs) allow more detail in dark areas (which is typically a characteristic of basements) by expanding the color space. The luminosity of color can also be improved, as well as range of contrast between dark and light areas. See the shots of Dakota Fanning’s character Rachel for reference on how much the color space has been improved.

You will find though, that the shots in the basements and at night are not quite as sharp as the daytime imagery. This is understandable as there is an increase in grain (or noise) as the amount of light decreases in any given scene. It’s a common trait of film, on which this film was shot and printed for theatrical presentation.

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Audio

With a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack (derived from Dolby TrueHD 7.1 48kHz audio) War of the Worlds on UHD BD has been upgraded from the now 10-year old Blu-ray release that at the time was cutting edge with DTS-HD 5.1 channel audio. The film was actually nominated for two Oscars: Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Both the Blu-ray and new 4k Blu-ray offer 48kHz (24bit) audio with a wide spectrum of frequencies. 

The way audio travels is fun to listen to in the new 7.1 channel mix which includes effects directed overhead. The crashes of electrical bolts during the initial invasion of the aliens (who travel through the bolts to get down to Earth) are surprisingly realistic. Another highlight is the way the sounds of the alien ship’s laser beams (for lack of better term) travel across audio channels, shifting left, right, up, down, and seemingly in diagonal fashion. It’s almost as if you are on the streets of New Jersey running from the invader with everyone else.     

With 7.1 channels there is even more to hear through surround sound speakers, an Atmos sound system or soundbar, or high-quality headphones (if your 4k Blu-ray player supports headphones like the Sony X800M2 or streaming player with headphone support like the Roku remote control).

Subtitles are provided in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as many more languages not listed on the disc insert. 

Bonus Materials

There are no extras included on the 4k Blu-ray, but previously released extras are provided on the 1080p Blu-ray Disc. Those include several featurettes, previsualization, a look at the musical scoring, production diaries, and more.

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Summary

The Harlan scene and seemingly inadequate ending aside, War of the Worlds is a visual masterpiece that must be seen in 4k, especially with HDR. And, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack makes this film an even better Friday night flick. There were critics who called Tom Cruise’s performance in War of the Worlds one of his best. Well, it certainly isn’t Jerry Maguire, but Cruise is convincing as the New Jersey longshoreman who is faced with what could be the end of the world. He, along with Dakota Fanning and the cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, make this 4k Blu-ray release a must-have for home theater devotees. 

War of the Worlds (2005) Scores

Movie
3/5

Video
4/5

Audio
4/5

Bonus Material
0/5 (There are no new extras)