A New Alien Reality

It’s not World Trade Center or United 93 – rather the strongest 9/11 movie is Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The other films were too soon; War of the Worlds best encapsulates (in totality) shifting feelings and moods as they lingered through America’s social subconscious.

Using H.G. Wells’ century-old words, War of the Worlds’ earliest images show cities and daily life. Standard, dull. Narration speaks of “infinite complacency.” How soon that’s lost.

In a somber image, Tom Cruise stares up at an alien war machine. The sun, burning through hazy smoke, smolders behind the final seconds of peace before life is forever altered. Imagine the uncertainty after the first tower was hit – a surreal accident, maybe. So too is Cruise’s frozen-in-action view. Then the blitz, people literally vaporized, others running from a soot/ash cloud that consumes them.

When War of the Worlds reveals the actual creatures, it’s sobering. They’re just curious

Then comes the fear, panic, hysteria. Naivety too. Robbie (Justin Chatwin) asks if this was terrorism; Cruise says no, they came from somewhere else, suggesting terrorists only come from one place. Seething anger follows. Robbie’s self-believed invincibility and indignation refute any sensible call to run – he wants to fight, pleading with passing military to take him into battle, to feel involved, or to invoke national pride. It’s irrational, of course. The enemy struck. They won. So too did anxiety.

Aliens use a prodding eye to invade a home. A basement that once felt safe is intruded upon – here’s War of the Worlds in the surveillance state era. Fifteen years on, it’s a testament to War of the Worlds’ potency, where the sudden loss of freedoms led to a suspicious populace assuming they were always being watched. Wells’ Oglivy (Tim Robbins) is adjusted to modern times as the conspiracy theorist, outlandish and on edge after those he loved were taken by an enemy no one yet understands.

When War of the Worlds reveals the actual creatures, three-legged with a large head, it’s sobering. They’re just curious. Fallible, weak, and terrified. A bike falls from a wall; the aliens scatter. Their weapons make them dangerous. Otherwise, they neither possess great power or represent danger on their own, much as terrorists need a plane, a bomb, or a gun.

If there’s a mistake, that’s Spielberg’s hokey finish, a means to say that tragedy puts problems in perspective. War of the Worlds centers on Cruise, now divorced and distanced from his kids, trying to save this shattered family. The final images show something too glossy, too pure given the chaos that was. But War of the Worlds doesn’t end there. Rather, the final glimpse is of a microbe. As with Wells’ story, military might doesn’t fix or solve or heal – nature does.

It’s eerily foreboding, even sobering, when considering that organism’s power aligns with War of the Worlds’ 15th anniversary.

War of the Worlds (2005) 4K UHD screen shot


War of the Worlds never looked like this. That’s good, in this case. Given a modern pass, color gains new life. Certain elements always stood out, like Dakota Fanning’s multi-colored sweater. Now though that sweater absolutely pops. Often among blooming and hazy cinematography, nuance was lost, reduced to a gray mass. That’s still there, of course, but now primaries filter in behind the smoke. Smooth gradients capably resolve, richer and more defined than what Blu-ray was capable of.

This rings true even in darkness. In Oglivy’s basement, the muted cool tones set mood, yet flesh tones maintain purity. Expect boosts in density, helping set elements thrive in these conditions. This takes into account black levels too, which by design do intentionally crush at times, yet bolder saturation helps lift small details in clothing away from shadows. Before, those minutiae were lost.

It’s admittedly strange the Dolby Vision touches look reserved; Janusz Kaminsky’s delectable cinematography accentuates light and dark. Things like alien spotlights seem only marginally raised. Same goes for their lasers blasts too. As Fanning watches bodies pass on a river, sunlight reflects from the surface at peak nits, matched by a hearty explosion as military forces meet their end.

As always, War of the Worlds’ thick grain structure defies the modern want for total clarity. Thankfully, Paramount preserves the grit. An uptick in generational encoding makes a marginal difference in resolving the thick film stock, but consistent performance holds true. Detail raises a notch, if not enough on its own to be a worthy upgrade. Certain composites (in particular, one around 1:18:00) sink in available resolution, but this isn’t a disc error, merely the effects work filling that long tracking shot. Other CG elements look superb, any faults masterfully hidden in Kaminsky’s style.


Update [5/18/2020]: After multiple readers brought the LFE into question, I did a direct back-and-forth between the Blu-ray’s DTS-HD track and the 4K disc’s Atmos mix. While the Atmos track holds sufficient LFE – I disagree with some saying there’s no LFE – the Blu-ray makes a substantial difference in HOW low it goes. The depth from the DTS-HD mix is significantly richer and bolder in hitting those lowest marks. Comparatively, the Blu-ray sucks air from the room and punches a listener’s chest; the UHD rumbles, richly, if nowhere near the older mix. That’s a shame. The score is adjusted from the 5/5 to a 4/5.

Original review:

Few films deserve Dolby Atmos more than this: pure sonic bliss. Always was, always will be. Only now, the height extension adds more space to a ceaselessly perfect mix. Thrown cars sweep overhead. Drying clothes in backyards flap on their lines, wind additionally pushing into the space. Jets and missiles rush past during the army strike, while debris filters into each speaker. Rear channels receive aid, positional touches standing out further than before.

To this day, War of the Worlds remains a true LFE test disc. Throbbing blasts from alien lasers shake walls with zero loss in dynamic range. Crumbling streets and an eerie call by the tripods rattle bones as much as the room. When the final alien falls, it does so through a building, the rising bass as it nears the camera a striking example of subwoofer variance.


All content from the two-disc DVD release ports to the included Blu-ray, unchanged. Seven featurettes comprise a bulk of the bonus features, totaling around an hour or so of content. Spielberg discusses his influence (and previous work in the genre) in Revisiting the Invasion, while the ’53 film gets its due via Steven Spielberg and the original War of the Worlds. Focuses on the design of the ships, pre-visualization, the characters, H.G. Wells, and the score are included as well.

Four production diaries are included offering solid insight into the film’s creation. Galleries and trailers remain.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

War of the Worlds
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  • Audio
  • Extras


While partly let down by its too-clean ending, War of the Worlds acts as a bridge to understanding post-9/11 feelings and a changing reality.

User Review
4.33 (3 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 58 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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