Michael Scott

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War of the Worlds


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Movie: :4stars:
4K Video: :5stars:
Video: :5stars:
Audio: :4.5stars:
Extras: :3.5stars:
Final Score: :4.5stars:



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Movie

While Roland Emmerich is known as the king of disaster movies, Spielberg has been known to dabble in the genre as well, and even though his star had been fading around the early 2000 era, War of the Worlds was probably one of the greatest sci-fi movies of 2005. The source material is certainly not exactly knew, as the grandfather of most modern sci-fi H.G. Wells had penned the novel many decades ago, creating an instant classic novel. The novel’s source has been adapted to radio shows, films several times over, and now a modern TV show about the infamous alien invasion of our world. However, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Spielberg/Cruise update on the classic ideas.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is your average divorced dad living in New York City. He’s struggling to get back on his feet after a painful divorce with his wife (Miranda Otto), splitting his time between his work and weekend access to his two children Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin). As with most divorces, relationships between parents and children are a bit raw, and Ray’s rough exterior creates a bit more of a divide. But they’re family relations are about to be tested as someone else is coming to dinner (so to speak). With no warning whatsoever, a gigantic storm like entity approaches the city, bringing forth mechanical beings that destroy EVERYTHING in their wake.

Running, hiding, and desperately looking to survive, Ray, Robbie and Rachel begin a fight to live as they try and find shelter of some kind. It seems that the invasion by an unknown enemy has not only decimated New York City, but the entire rest of the world. As Ray tries to find safety somehow, and hopefully reconnect with the children’s mother, the family man is forced to confront his soiled relationship with Robbie, as well as figure out a way survive. Even though they face crazed and scared human refugees, an angry “resistance” fighter (Tim Robbins), and even the machines themselves and the terrible terraforming they appear to be inflicting on the earth.

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War of the Worlds is not just your typical Sci-fi disaster film. While there is plenty of disaster to go around, this is a pure Spielberg special effects extravaganza, as well as a deeply intimate story about a father and his love for his children. The special effects here are much different than the typical Roland Emmerich style, as Spielberg employs a very gritty special effects with a bit of a shaky cam feel to it, ala Saving Private Ryan. The film’s effects are a rousing success by anybody’s criteria, but it also excels as a mystery/drama as well. Instead of playing out like your typical disaster movie, it hearkens more towards Signs and The Sixth Sense instead. The entire film may be a mad race for survival on the surface, but through all of those trappings the film’s enigmatic view of the aliens and their objectives is incredibly nuanced. Even though we all know the ending and the Alien’s susceptibility to our atmosphere, the film really keeps you guessing on WHEN that particular tidbit will allow the humans to survive (not exactly a major spoiler there as the source material is known by 90% of people reading this, but I do apologize anyways)

While the film is great on it’s own merits, it’s also partly a Tom Cruise vehicle as well. Tom was still a power star in the 2000’s and his particular charm and charisma dominate the story. Still, young Justin Chatwin and little Dakota Fanning’s raw sense of terror and urgency add layers to his character, fleshing him out more than the typical heroic tough guy that Cruise is so well known for playing. It’s a great film at the end of the day, despite some Tom Cruise-isms throughout the movie, is well worth a watch by it’s own merits. Steven Spielberg has had some off and on hits for the last 20 years (ish), but War of the Worlds was very obviously one of his big successes in modern times.




Rating:

Rated PG-13 for frightening sequences of sci-fi violence and disturbing images




4K Video: :5stars: Video: :5stars:
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War of the Worlds has had a demo worthy Blu-ray encode for the last 10 years, and one that still holds up today as well. Steven Spielberg’s religious addiction to using film stock (something I highly laud) combined with the obvious monochromatic color grading and use of heavy shadows makes this a very textured and rich visual landscape, but one that will NEVER (no matter how much one tries) have that visual “pop” and “wow” factor that one associates with glossy digital photography. As a visual design, it was just never intended to look shiny and glossy. Colors are muted and monochromatic, shadows bathe every corner, and the film grain is thick and heavy. However, it has always looked beautiful and a faithful representation to the source on the Blu-ray. The question is, can the 4K UHD disc look as good or improve on the image? The answer is, most definitely yes. The new 4K master makes this a complete knockout, blowing the Blu-ray straight out of the water. The heavy stylistic choices are one of the reasons that the 4K UHD looks so much better, as it handles grain better, uses HDR and Dolby Vision to give us inky blacks that show tons more shadow detail, and generally clean up some of the black crush that was on the Blu-ray (the ONLY flaw I ever found on that 10 year old disc). Comparing the two side by side shows that it’s not even a comparison. The 4K UHD disc shows off a LOT more background detail as well as handles general clarity better. The film has always looked slightly murky due to the sepia and gray color tones that permeate the black levels, but here they are much more precise and color separation is spot on. Grain is never chunky or noisy and there is no DNR applied like some of the Paramount Presents Blu-rays we watched next week, I must reiterate that due to the source and the stylistic choices this will never “pop” and “wow” like a digitally shot film in a more neutral color grading, but this is VERY faithful to the source and VERY much a solid improvement over the already stellar Blu-ray.







Audio: :4.5stars:
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War of the Worlds is well known for having an absolutely LEGENDARY audio mix that is used as reference material to this day. The pod emergence sequences is known to stress test just about every subwoofer known to man (even my multiple 18 inch ported subs get port noise off of that beast on the old DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix from the Blu-ray). Paramount has given us a brand new Atmos track that is MOSTLY fantastic, and enhances the 5.1 mix quite a bit. The surround are more active, and the use of the object based encoding allows for more pinpoint precision to sounds as they shift around the stage. The overgeads are quite good and add a neat layering effect to the monsters as they crash overhead and dive from the sky to the ground. I did notice that like Top Gun, the overheads were a single zone (meaning that all overhead activity is set in one zone, instead of multiple that can allow the sound to shift position and change location depending on how many overheads your system employs). Not a wild deal, but it is there.

When I said MOSTLY enhanced over the Blu-ray, there is one caveat. That is the legendary bass. The LFE for the film is still hot and heavy, but I immediately noticed at the pod emergence that something was wrong. That deep chest crunching feel was gone. The more I listened, the more I realized we were missing some LFE frequencies. I was very suspicious that I knew what was going on, but I had to confirm with a sweep with the microphone to really be certain. The track employs a 30 hz filter, with a steep drop on anything below that frequency. A move which is SERIOUSLY disappointing as War of the Worlds was known far and wide for having some stupidly low frequency material that could go into single digits many times. Again, that doesn’t mean that the track is BAD, as the rest of the Atmos experience is utterly fantastic, but it does counterbalance all of the good we gained from 5.1 to object oriented when one of the defining pieces of the mix is neutered. So instead of a 5/5 rating as I had hoped, I hovered somewhere between a 4/5 and a 4.5/5 (leaning more towards 4.5/5 due to the fact that the Atmos mix gives us some really tangible benefits despite the bass cutoff).






Extras: :3.5stars:
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Revisiting the Invasion
• The H.G. Wells Legacy
• Steven Spielberg and the Original War of the Worlds
• Characters: The Family Unit
• Previsualization
• Production Diaries
• Designing the Enemy: Tripods and Aliens
• Scoring War of the Worlds
• We Are Not Alone
• Galleries
• Theatrical Teaser Trailer






Final Score: :4.5stars:


Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is a dark and dreary sci-fi disaster film and it has a fantastically mean underbelly to it. It’s gritty, terrifying, and completely entertaining from beginning to end. I haven’t seen the film since it was released on Blu-ray in 2010, so rewatching it a full 10 years later gave me a bigger appreciation for Spielberg’s more “pulpy” take on the classic horror/sci-fi novel. The 4K UHD is a great disc for the most part, with a great looking 4K UHD image, and a neat sounding Atmos track (which does have a few quirks). There are no extras ON the 4K UHD disc, but all the extras from the 2010 disc are on the Blu-ray, so that largely remains the same. Good disc, well worth upgrading in my opinion despite the neutered bass.


Technical Specifications:

Starring: Tom Cruise, Tim Robbins, Dakota Fanning, Miranda Otto, Rick Gonzalez, Yul Vazquez, Lenny Venito
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Josh Friedman, David Koepp (Screenplay), H.G. Wells (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 HEVC
Audio: English: Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Core), Czech, German, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), French, Italian, Japanese, Hungarian, Portuguese, Russian, Thai DD 5.1, Polish DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Thai
Studio: Paramount
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 116 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 19th 2020
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Recommendation: Good Watch

 
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Todd Anderson

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Yup. This one gets a hard pass from me. I love the flick... I really LOVE the audio... but I’m sticking with the BD release in my collection.

why?

Bass, brother!! Bass!!
 

phillihp23

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Seems like i may be on board with Todd...how disappointing. If they hadn't messed with the base it seems like a sure upgrade.
 

Michael Scott

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honestly it's give and take. The bass is a bit neutered in the sub 30 hz range, but the audio itself in the Atmos mix is definitely better. It's frustrating and really a symptom of modern sound mixing (from sources who work IN sound mixing for certain studios, they've come out and said that modern sound design theory is that sub 30hz bass is unnecessary bandwidth that could be used for other things in the mix, as less than 1% of people can even utilize it, as well as studio mixers not really using equipment that goes below 30-40 hz anyways. Long story short. Super low frequency is thought of as an older early technology theory and a not a priority. It's why you see Disney Atmouse mixes and stuff like this happen. They put much more focus on the dynamics of the track, or the high and sound positioning but really consider super low frequency bass to be something to be ignored )

it also stems from the fact that there is no "blueprint" for sound design. there is no set in stone sound levels and db levels for certain sounds. Sound designers take the stems of the audio tracks and blend them according to their preference as well as their own theory on sound design. It's why you can hear wildly different sounds from the same film spanning different formats. A track that isn't really "remixed", but just repackaged in a new codec, or given the lossless treatment will sound roughly the same (minus things like compression and dynamics) as long as the studio doesn't re MIX the track. With Atmos it's actuallly requiring a sound RE MIX from the stems, so it's all dependent on what the sound designer of this particular period in time feels is the most "accurate" or "right". It's why back in the day there was some KILLER sound mixes in LPCM from laserdiscs, but when remastered for DVD they sounded completely different. Then on Blu-ray they sound even MORE different. It's because different mixers at different points in time in history applied their own theories on what sounds "right" when they remix it. It basically "is what it is".

while I'm a bit frustrated it's not the death knell that it sounds like. The video is GREAT, the audio is generally GREAT as well, it's just that bass levels and dynamics have been tweaked. it's still an earth crusher of a track, it's just "different".
 
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phillihp23

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I agree with your thoughts in regard to the modern day mixing theory. But..... 1) Neutering a known soundtrack is not the way to do things 2) Atmos seems to continue to be more of a novelty than a serious sound format.
 

Michael Scott

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apologies for anyone reading during the middle of the night. A slight glitch had Days of Thunder super imposed over this review, but it's now been fixed.
 

Epoxy1

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Michael, totally agree on the audio as well. It's decent, but the Blu-ray offers way more punch on the low end.
 
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