No one would have believed that in the early twenty years of the twenty-first century that movie discs were being watched keenly and closely by physical media nerds as average people busied themselves about their sad and boring minimalist lives. Yet across the gulf of back catalogs, those beings at Paramount Home Video with intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded these collectors’ cash-strapped wallets with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release plans against them. By the toll of a dozen disc releases, man has bought his birthright of Paramount Presents’ release of George Pal’s The War of the Worlds on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with an excellent A/V presentation upon which to observe as microbes in a microscope with a Blu-ray of When Worlds Collide unto which two science fiction classics demand prominent and permanent shelf space.
I don’t quite recall how old I was when I first saw George Pal’s 1953 version of The War of the Worlds - but it had a lasting impact. If I had to guess I was maybe four or five when my Dad rented it and it terrified me. Even today, as soon as that opening Cedric Hardwicke narration begins a chill always runs up my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Because this was such an impactful movie on me and my sense of what science fiction could be, I purposefully rarely pull it off the shelf. It’s one of those movies that demands my complete undivided attention as humanity is put on its heels and desperately tries to survive its annihilation. I mean I largely grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Last Starfighter with pew-pew lasers, funny aliens, goofy droids, and a rousing victory for humans. This was a whole new experience.
While the film is a fairly loose adaptation, at its core it’s faithful to the heart of H.G. Wells's seminal science fiction novel. Changes were made to be more cinematic, tighten the pace of the story, and thin down some of the characters, but for all good intentions, it’s a fine piece of movie making. George Pal was a showman of celluloid through the 1950s and 1960s with the likes of Destination Moon, Houdini, and The Time Machine. With The War of the Worlds, he and director Byron Haskin managed to wow and terrify the audience by bringing H.G. Wells’ terrifying Martians to the big screen in a special effects extravaganza. While the novel and later Spielberg’s War of the Worlds showcased the Martians attacking in tripods, here they hover over the land laying waste to anyone and everyone in their path.
Just two years before War of the Worlds, George Pal delivered another iconic spectacle of mankind’s impending doom with When World’s Collide directed by Randolph Mate based on Edwin Balmer and Philip While’s novel. Here man is caught in the crosshairs of a pair of rogue celestial bodies. A planet will nearly wipe out all of mankind simply by passing so close as to impact Earth’s gravity. Then a star is set for a direct impact destroying Earth completely. The only course available for humanity is to construct rocket ships and hope to carry lucky survivors to the new planet.
The idea of mankind’s imminent destruction isn’t nearly as terrifying as watching world leaders deliberate and bicker about what to do - if anything. There are those who will do whatever possible to survive while others will obstruct by refusing to believe the data right in front of them… sound familiar? This film is still chilling while also being a rip-roaring adventure. Filmmakers like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich have tried for decades to ape this film’s level of wholesale mayhem, but this is a singular experience that stands above all imitators.
Now thanks to Paramount Presents’ new two-disc set, fans can experience both of these iconic films back to back. It’d been since Criterion released their Blu-ray of The War of the Worlds that I last sat down to give that film my fullest attention and it’s still a thrilling piece of work. As for When Worlds Collide it’s been ages, I think even as far back as a Sci-Fi Cinema class I took in college since I last sat down with it. I didn’t realize I didn’t even have a DVD of it in my collection until I was prepping for this review. I’d forgotten a lot of the finer details and thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with this film. It might not be as tight as The War of the Worlds and can be a bit too silly at times with a shoe-horned love triangle, but all in all, it’s a wildly entertaining film. Together, Paramount delivers sci-fi fans a practically perfect George Pal Double Feature.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Paramount Presents lives up to its premier label namesake delivering a two-disc 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray with Digital George Pal Double Feature. Pressed on a BD-66 disc we pick up The War of the Worlds. On a Region Free BD-25 disc, we have When Worlds Collide. Both discs are housed in a standard two-disc clear case with a book-style slipcover that opens up to reveal the poster art for the 1977 re-release double-billing of both films. Spine number is 35. Both discs load to basic static image main menus with standard navigation options along the bottom.
Quick note - images for The War of the Worlds were sourced from the Criterion Blu-ray release. When we can rip the 4K disc we'll update with new images and hopefully a video sample.
UPDATE: 9/23/22 - 6:20PM EST
Thanks to some readers for pointing us toward some comparison images of When Worlds Collide. I'd assumed since Paramount was responsible for the Imprint Film master, it would have been identical to the one for this set - that turns out not to be the case. Upon initial inspection, I thought this transfer was pretty good but after seeing some of those screenshots floating around out there it's clearly not the best version of this film. Coupled with the issue of "Blueberry Mars" on the 4K Ultra HD of The War of the Worlds - we are taking off the image quality score and lowering our overall recommendation until such time that corrected discs are hopefully issued. A brief few seconds of a Blue Mars was one thing but this release has too many flaws to overlook or shrug off.
After a very successful tenure with The Criterion Collection, Paramount Presents delivers their own 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The War of the Worlds. Sourced from the same restoration elements, this 1.37:1 2160p Dolby Vision transfer is simply magnificent. But before I get too far ahead, there is a teeny tiny “however” I need to address. For whatever reason when Paramount went through the wringer of restoring this film, the colorist somehow made Mars blue instead of the rusty orange with blue highlights it should be. This appears in the Imprint Blu-ray release as well as the digital streaming 4K release that came out roughly the same time as Criterion’s disc. Criterion had the foresight to fix that little small issue for their disc. With this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Paramount evidently kept with the master they had and Mars is still full blueberry blue.
If that is your only deal breaker point for this release, then no need to read further. If you can overlook that very brief oddity, the rest of this disc is an absolute delight. Details are magnificent throughout with a healthy grain structure. After recently reviewing some odd catalog 4K releases - one from Paramount themselves - it’s nice to see that this transfer is largely unmarred by any signs of severe grain management. Even during the prolonged optical scene transitions, grain maintains stability and bitrates hold high and tight. Facial features, clothing textures, and the Martian attack vehicles look fantastic. I appreciate they opted to digitally remove the wires holding the Martian attack vehicles, past releases either left them alone making the wires painfully clear or the scenes were blurred to hide the effect but you’d lose all of the detail of the models. It may be a revisionist tactic and some may huff and puff about it, but it was tastefully and carefully done with the intention of preserving the illusion of deadly invaders from Mars. Matte lines for various optical effects are handled well without looking like they’ve been tinkered with.
Dolby Vision HDR offers up some wonderful nuances to the screen with deep black levels and lovely Technicolor. That shift from the sepia stock footage to the bold red, green, yellow, and blue titles is glorious! The film holds tight to the bright primaries but the Dolby Vision pass offers some excellent shading and shadow gradience for the death rays and the pulsing lights of the attack craft. That pulsing three-colored eye of the Martian probe and the light glowing on the faces of Gene Barry and Anne Robinson As is a wonderful effect.
As for comparisons to the Criterion disc, that is a tough call because both are so good. The extra resolution room and the addition of Dolby Vision HDR certainly gives this release a leg up. Maybe not enough of a difference for folks to call a dollars to donuts vast improvement, but enough to appreciate. That said, Criterion’s disc has the proper coloring for Mars… so there you go. The only reason this review isn’t a 5/5 is that silly miss-coloring of Mars at the beginning. Maybe Criterion will someday release their own 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray or Paramount will hopefully issue a recall/disc replacement program? Either way, you have options, and all of them are good.
As for When Worlds Collide I don’t have any confirmed information about the vintage of the master. Imprint previously issued this film in Australia and that reportedly was sourced from a new 4K master. Without that disc to compare, I assume Paramount reused that same master and it’s pretty good! Maybe not quite as impressive as The War of the Worlds but certainly impressive for a film that recently celebrated its 70th birthday. The issues that hold this one back from greatness are rather simple but they stack up. There are some odd color fluctuations, even within the same scene. There are also some slight color flecks that pop up from time to time. Some of the optical effects can be a tad rough around the edges as well. However, when the image looks great it’s really impressive with clean lines and details in facial features and costumes. Colors – when they’re in good shape – offer up that lush lovely Technicolor range of primaries. It’d been many years since I’d last watched this and I found this release to be quite something.
As noted above - since the publishing of this review we've learned that this transfer used for When Worlds Collide IS NOT the same as the one used for Imprint Films' Blu-ray release and the differences are pretty clear. Again, I don't have access to that disc for a direct personal comparison but after searching for numerous examples from a variety of sources, I'm confident the contrary images are accurate. While this transfer is decent enough, it's impossible to ignore that a better presentation does exist out there and should have been used for this release. Now I really hope Paramount issues a replacement.
The War of the Worlds attacks 4K with the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track delivered for Criterion’s release - which isn’t a bad thing at all. While some folks may have wished for a legacy mono track, this 5.1 mix holds tight giving all of the impact of the invasion from Mars and the human retaliation. That atomic bomb drop sequence is fantastic and the pulsing chirping sounds of the Martians echo beautifully throughout all of the channels for a fully active and engaging soundscape.
When Worlds Collide rockets in with an impressive DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. My understanding is Imprint’s release of this film offered up an LPCM track - without that disc to compare, I have to say I’m good with what we get here. Dialog is clean, and scoring from Leith Stevens is solid, and works beautifully with the film. Sound effects are terrific from the roar of the rocket engines to the wholesale destruction, the track is fully engaging without issue. No signs of age-related trouble spots like hiss or breaks, and levels are spot on without the need for adjustment or compensation.
Without a comparison available we're currently leaving this portion of our review alone. I haven't read anything to indicate that the 2.0 mono track used here is anything vastly different than what's currently available.
Given that Criterion likes to keep their bonus features close to the vest, Paramount offered up what they could from their archive. Some items carry over but we don’t quite get as robust a package. What’s here is still very good and worth picking though - especially if you’ve never heard the Joe Dante, Bob Burns, and Bill Warren audio commentary! It's also nice to see they carried over the original Mercury Theater broadcast. Sadly When Worlds Collide only comes with a theatrical trailer.
The War of the Worlds
When Worlds Collide
Two of the greatest science fiction films of a generation came from the spectacular eye of producer George Pal. While The War of the Worlds was directed by Bryan Haskin and When Worlds Collide by Randolph Mate, Pal was the distinguishing marker shepherding both spectacular films and in the process influencing filmmakers for generations to come. Both are fantastic films in their own ways. While I would give The War of the Worlds the edge, partly because it’s one of my favorite books but also because it’s such an impressive film; When Worlds Collide is another excellent picture itself delivering a terrifying landscape of man’s imminent destruction.
The War of the Worlds comes home with a generally excellent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray experience with Dolby Vision HDR. The lone sticking point for this otherwise excellent transfer is the “blueberry” Mars at the beginning. This issue existed with Paramount’s original master provided for foreign releases and their digital 4K transfer. Criterion fixed the problem for their Blu-ray release and it is a shame that wasn’t carried over here. Beyond that lone issue - which I would encourage Paramount to issue a disc replacement program - the rest of the transfer is spectacular offering up gorgeous Technicolor colors with beautiful details and an excellent audio track along with a nice assortment of bonus features.
When Worlds Collide makes its U.S. Blu-ray debut in fine form. It may not be perfect, but it is a lovely transfer with clean details and an excellent audio mix to match. Sadly this disc doesn’t come with anything in the bonus features beyond a trailer. As a two-film release, Paramount Presents’ The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide is an excellent addition to the collection. ,.
UPDATED Final Thoughts
Again as previously noted throughout various sections - this is an unfortunately flawed release. While the issue facing The War of the Worlds 4K UHD is relatively small - it never should have gotten this far along the release process and should be fixed ASAP. And as we've recently learned with the picture quality for When Worlds Collide - this disc should also be fixed and reissued. Overall it's okay, but there's definitely a better version out there. This most recent development deflates a lot of my initial enthusiasm for this Double Feature release of these two iconic sci-fi classics. Fans looking to pick it up should proceed with caution as I dearly hope Paramount Home Video is aware of these numerous issues and is in the process of working on a disc replacement program - or pulling it from shelves until corrected discs become available. We've removed a final star average for the review pending further developments.