September 2005

John Williams - War of the Worlds
Decca 00456802
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Anthony Di Marco

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

War of the Worlds is a mediocre film; some may even call it bad. The casting is atrocious. Tom Cruise is unconvincing as a working-class father, and his children, played by Dakota Fanning and Justin Chatwin, are annoying. Still, the widespread alien destruction is thrilling to watch, and I respect Spielberg for preserving the original Orwellian ending.

Impressive special effects and a fabulous score save War of the Worlds from being a total disappointment. John Williams’ grand arrangements have become a fundamental part of popular culture, effectively introducing the unfamiliar to classical music. Williams borrows ideas from giants such as Mahler, Bruckner, Shostakovich, Respighi, Holst and Albinoni. Williams also pays homage to motifs fashioned by his early contemporaries Miklós Rósza and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Unlike the composer’s previous work, War of the Worlds forgoes a single, solid narrative theme for unique movements that single out major scenes. The result is a collection of individual tracks with distinct personalities.

I enjoy picking out similarities across a composer’s body of work. Here Williams not only pulls from Jurassic Park and Minority Report, but also reaches back to the bittersweet Born on the Fourth of July and his masterpiece, Jaws. The alien machines, for instance, are represented in "Intersection Scene" by a three-note andante pattern that shares more than a passing resemblance to the simpler two-note motif of a certain great white shark.

This is one of Williams’ best recordings. The stereo imaging is broad with well-placed instruments and rich tonality. Bass is surprisingly tight and powerful without a hint of muddiness or compression. Strings edge toward the sweet without losing their bite, while brass is clean and non-abrasive. This is an exceedingly well-balanced recording, and that increases the overall-enjoyment rating.