WAR OF THE WORLDS Blu-ray Review

     June 14, 2010

War of the Worlds movie image slice

Steven Spielberg’s War of The Worlds did solid business at the worldwide box office, but it didn’t do anything towards fixing Spielberg’s reputation for being unable to provide audiences with a genuine ending.  It’s also got the inclusion of a troubled Tom Cruise to contend with, not to mention some pacing issues, and perhaps that’s why the film hasn’t become the modern classic that everyone involved was clearly hoping for.  If you’re a fan of the film, chances are that you’ve already purchased the film on DVD.  So, is a Blu-ray double-dip in order for Spielberg’s latest alien adventure?  Find out after the jump:

Spielberg’s slowly been releasing his most recent films on Blu-ray– Minority Report just hit about a month ago– and War of The Worlds is the latest to hit shelves.  The 2005 alien invasion flick features Tom Cruise as Ray, a deadbeat dad who’s charged with shepherding his kids from one point on the map to another while a whole fleet of alien invaders stomp humanity into the dirt.  At this point, you know the plot and you’ve already picked up a copy of the film on DVD if you’re a fan (which I swear that I am, though I’m also going to be honest about the flick’s shortcomings), so the only real questions here are: How are the special features?  Is the film’s Blu-ray definition enough to earn a double-dip?  And, finally, will revisiting the film change one’s opinion of it five years later?  Let’s go through those one by one.

Let’s start with the way War of The Worlds looks on Blu-ray.  Recently, I purchased a 55″ Plasma Panasonic Vierra, one of the very best televisions for watching Blu-ray’s currently available.  The thing’s a monstrosity, dwarfing virtually all that surrounds it, and I can assure you that some films– Up, for instance– and video games– Red Dead Redemption, for another– look absolutely stunning when tossed up on that screen.  War of The Worlds is presented in 1080p, so it oughtta look just as jaw-dropping as everything else does in this format and on this television, right?

War of the Worlds movie image

Well, no, not really.  I had the same problem with Minority Report (another film I’m a total apologist for) when I arrived a month ago: Spielberg’s purposely “grainy” look doesn’t do these films any favors once they hit BluRay.  For the casual viewer, think back to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.  Remember how everything looked all documentary-style, grainy, and dark?  Well, it’s a style that Spielberg also employed in Minority Report and War of The Worlds, and– with the exception of Ryan, which I’ve yet to watch on Blu-ray — it just doesn’t look amazing in this format.  Sure, there’s some startling clarity here and there (I noticed several things I’d never seen in-frame before while watching this version of WotW), but that graininess never leaves.  If, like me, you’re into the Blu-ray format specifically because it provides your picture with stunning clarity and amazing resolution, you’re going to be a little disappointed with the way the film looks here.

Which, as I’m sure you know, means that a double-dip for WotW based solely on the desire for a better picture than DVD is not a solid idea.  You’re going to get some great clarity, but you’re still going to be dealing with that graininess.  After I accepted that the look of the film was intentional, it eased my frustration a bit, but it’d be nice not to have to remind yourself that the picture’s “intentionally grainy” every ten seconds to belay your complaints about the quality of the Blu-ray you just popped into your player.

Secondly, revisiting the film after a few years (and coming from the perspective of a fan), the film’s problematic plot points were even more glaring.  A buddy watched the film with me, and while we were in the process of navigating the menu and actually getting the film going, he expressed confusion about why I liked the film at all.  He outlined the issues he had with the plot, and I just shouted out all the cool things the movie does.  From there on out, he was watching for the cool stuff…but I was watching for the problems.  With a few years having passed since I’d seen the film, I’m sad to say that these issues only seem more prominent.

War of the Worlds movie image

War of The Worlds has some pacing issues, and the fact that it’s really just a series of set-pieces strung together feels far more obvious on one’s fourth or fifth viewing.  All of these little nitpicks would be forgivable, however, were it not for that pants-shittingly awful ending that Spielberg tacked on here.  For years now, film geeks have been badgering Spielberg about his inability to give us a real ending, something that isn’t necessarily all sparkly unicorns, puppy-dog kisses, and rainbow cotton-candy-flavored ice cream.  There’s no point in listing out all the offending films; you know who they are.  But WotW is one of the worst, with a final three or four minutes that seem totally absurd when put up against the massive destruction, chaos, and death that we’ve been watching for the 112 minutes
that precede it.  Really, it’s just an awful ending.

That said, I’d still consider myself a fan of the film.  When an alien invasion film is done 95% right, I’m onboard with it.  Spielberg’s WotW doesn’t pull (hardly) any punches during its first hour-and-a-half, and the body count is insane.  These aliens are a far-cry from E.T., and Spielberg seems to have embraced their villainy for much of the film’s run-time.  It’s often awesome to behold.  In fact, it’d probably be a modern classic– as everyone involved was surely hoping– had they just written the right ending for the damn thing.  At this point, though, it’s unlikely that Spielberg’s ever going to shrug off that particular tic.  Either you’re onboard with the film and accept it in spite of the ending, or you allow the ending to trump everything that leads up to it.  Simple as that.

War of the Worlds movie image

Finally, there’s the special features.  Back when the film hit DVD, some retailers carried a double-disc version that contained some of the special features here (though I’m not sure if it had all of them, but certainly the majority).  There’s a tribute to H.G. Wells, a look at how the various film versions of WotW have mirrored our social and political climates over the years, a featurette dedicated to the various members of the family at the center of the film, and half a dozen other little bonus doc’s that cover the film’s pre-viz and design work.  Some of these– quite frankly– were mind-numbingly boring, which is all wrong if you’re already on the film’s side.  I’m beating a dead horse to say this, and I know that the likelihood of it ever happening is slim to none, but let’s just do it anyway: I wanted a commentary from Spielberg here.

He’s avoided including them on his discs for…well, forever.  One has to wonder if the fact that so many of Spielberg’s movies have jarringly off-putting endings has anything to do with the fact that he’s unwilling to explain himself or his film in commentary form.  I mean, isn’t there a chance (and it’d be a small one, but still a chance) that I’d appreciate Spielberg’s ending a little more if I knew what he was thinking when he committed it to film?  Steven Spielberg, if you’re reading this, I beseech you: for all the great films you’ve ever given us, and in the name of protecting your legacy, consider laying down some commentary tracks on these bitches.  If we knew why the hell you insisted on giving everything a tidy, happy little ending, we might be less apt to bash the endings of your films every time they hit theaters.  Just sayin’.

So, what the final verdict here?  If you’re a completist, and you’re also a fan of the film, you’ll want to have a copy of War of The Worlds on Blu-ray.  Curb your expectations about the way it’s going to look on your fancy-pants TV, and you’ll probably be OK.  Don’t pick it up expecting wildly exciting special features or– God forbid– a commentary, though.  Despite everything I’ve just spent several hundred words bitching about, I still consider myself a fan of Spielberg and WotW; I just wish that both the disc and the film’s ending had given us a little more.

Scott Wampler doesn’t just bitch about Steven Spielberg’s endings– he’s also a standup comic and the Comedy Examiner for Examiner.com.  If you want more from this author, you can read many more of his snarky ramblings at THIS LINK, or you can just go out in your garage, where he’s currently urinating into your gas tank.

War of the Worlds movie Blu-ray

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