Not one but two separate versions of War of the Worlds hit the direct-to-video shelves just prior to the theatrical release of Spielberg's adaptation; one, directed with slobberingly slavish devotion to the H.G. Wells source material, is a three-hour turkey-burger of massive proportions. The other, while certainly not any sort of B-movie classic, is fitfully entertaining in a cheeseball sort of way, partially because it's got a colorful cast and some nice moments of madness, mayhem, and gore, but mainly because it does what the turkey-burger did not: It borrowed Wells' name and general concepts -- and then just went in its own direction.
Known prior to its release as Invasion, David Latt's cheapie version of War of the Worlds is pretty much what you'd expect from a fourth-generation low-budget remake of a classic story that stars C. Thomas Howell, Jake Busey, and Peter Green. The effects are quaintly shoddy, the dialogue occasionally borders on goofy, the action is fairly plentiful, and you can keep your eyes peeled for just a little gratuitous nudity. Basically, all the B-movie staples are covered here, and with a surprising amount of kitschy style.
There's nobody out there who doesn't know at least the bare-bones plot by now, but here's the scoop on Mr. Latt's War rendition: Astronomer George Herbert is supposed to meet his wife and son in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, an armada of ruthlessly vicious alien invaders have other plans for George (and the rest of the screaming masses). The flick's basically George moving from point A to point B, coming into contact with spaced-out soldiers, grimy single mammas, and desperately shrieking alien fodder of all shapes and sizes.
Sure it's cheesy and familiar and obviously done on the (relatively) cheap, but Latt's clearly directing this thing with tongue firmly in cheek. The guy's directed a handful of generally unloved horror flicks (Killers, Killers 2: The Beast, and Scarecrow Slayer), but since I've never seen those ones, I'll opt to recommend Latt's comedy Jane White Is Sick & Twisted, which is quite the hilarious little surprise.
Dismiss it as just a dime-store copycat if you like (and I probably wouldn't argue with you), but this particular version of War of the Worlds is just entertaining enough to warrant a rental, if you're into the "aliens invade and kill everyone" sort of vibe. It's a whole lot cheaper than Spielberg's version, a whole lot better than the Cliff's Notes rendition from Great Britain, and (like all the others) it's not nearly as good as George Pal's original.
Video: The Anamorphic Widescreen transfer is a welcome sight, even if the picture quality does range from "perfectly watchable" to "intermittently scatty" with little warning. Darker scenes showcase indie-grain and low budget fleckitude, but anyone willing to give this flick a shot will also be willing to forgive a few visual hiccups.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is clear and clean and all that, but ... hoo boy does there seem to be a serious calibration error between the dialogue and the sound effects. You'll crank the volume up just a bit to hear the dialogue, and the first time something blows up -- well, let's just say you should keep that volume button nearby. Unless you have no neighbors, in which case crank it up!
The Asylum is not afraid to pack their platters with all sorts of supplemental material now and again, and War of the Worlds must be their equivalent of a Special Edition.
First up is a pair of audio commentaries, one with Dave Latt and actors Andy Lauer & Rhett Giles, and the other with producer David Rimawi, cinematographer Steve Parker, and FX supervisor Bill Powloski. Skipping randomly through both chat-tracks I found a group of filmmakers who A) had fun, B) worked hard, and C) don't take the flick all that seriously. Fans of the flick should find both commentaries fitfully entertaining, but those would be folks with a lot more free time than I have.
Visual Effects: How'd They Do That? is a 4-minute peek at the special effects. If you scoffed at the FX during the movie, this little look behind the scenes might change your mind just a little. Or maybe not.
Behind the Scenes runs about 13 minutes and offers on-set interview segments with multi-hyphenate David Latt, producer Sherri Strain, lead actor C. Thomas Howell, (temporarily topless) actress Tinarie Van Wyk-Loots, supporting actors Andrew Lauer, Kim Little, Rhett Giles & Jake Busey. It's a fun little look at an indie sci-fi set, but nothing too revolutionary.
You'll also find three minutes worth of deleted scenes, a goofy outtakes reel, and a bunch of trailers for H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove, Alien Abduction, and Hide and Creep.
As direct-to-video sci-fi goes, this particular War of the Worlds version is a perfectly entertaining little diversion. If you just love the Alien Invasion stories, you could certainly do a whole lot worse. In fact, you probably have within the past year alone.