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War of the Worlds
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
Conrad Pope
Eddie Karam

Decca Records

Release Date:
June 28th, 2005

Also See:
Minority Report
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Audio Clips:
1. Prologue (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

2. The Ferry Scene (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

11. The Confrontation with Ogilvy (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

12. The Return to Boston (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

Regular U.S. release.


War of the Worlds
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Buy it... if you appreciate John Williams' propulsive rhythmic figures of this era and his high standards of complexity no matter the level of atonality or dissonance prevalent at nearly every moment of this score.

Avoid it... if you prefer your Williams scores to be easily digestible and feature strong, pleasant lines of thematic cohesion and an obvious concert arrangement.

War of the Worlds: (John Williams) Fifty years after its initial appearance on the big screen, H.G. Wells' novel "The War of the Worlds" received a $135 million Steven Spielberg facelift with megastar Tom Cruise as the heart of its people story. Written just before 1900, the original tale is best known for the historic 1938 Orson Welles radio broadcast in which the actor deviously convinced much of the nation that our planet was actually under attack (it really is too bad the media can't get away with such a thing today), as well as a 1953 cinematic adaptation that has long been a favorite of the vintage science fiction crowd. Spielberg's adaptation of the story, with the help of Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp, forgoes the opportunity to update the alien pod creatures (as well as their mission and their demise) and instead reverts to the original concepts and illustrations that accompanied Well's novel. Some critics and enthusiasts of the concept were not kind to this Spielberg vision of the invasion, for the film does seem to suffer from its share of fallacies of logic, including the awkward design of the alien pods themselves. The necessary human drama element also bogs the film down, and without the spectacular imagery of Independence Day, War of the Worlds is a comparatively mundane film. It did manage to earn more than half a billion dollars at the box office and three technical Academy Award nominations, accolades long forgotten due to the film's failure to build a lasting legacy out of its initial hype. Tackling the project with a very serious intent was composer John Williams, whose level of mastery in his music maintained itself with force as he ventured further past the turn of the century. Spielberg's usual collaborator, Williams offered War of the Worlds only a month after his final journey into the Star Wars universe, and despite the two films' shared topic of human despair, alien creatures, and large-scale special effects, the focus of the two scores could not be further apart from each other. It's safe to say that War of the Worlds has a happy ending, albeit not one of human triumph. Our military is useless, our collective panic forces us to turn on each other, and, in the end, the solution to our problem is a technically intellectual one rather than something blatantly victorious. Williams responded to this challenging narrative by providing music that is so enveloped in this chaos that he actually forgoes a discernible concert piece, a major deviation for the composer.

The base complexities of Williams' usual high standards are clearly evident in War of the Worlds. Flourishing woodwinds, explosions of timpani, and rapid brass bursts that would test any player's abilities are put on good display. The strings are as frantic as ever, sprinting over massive blasts of deep brass and rolling rhythms that keep you on the edge of your seat with persistent jumps, sudden stops, and desperate changes in direction. A steady momentum in these cues is conveyed by brutal rhythmic propulsion, chopping incessantly in the composer's typical way for this period in his career. This would be describing, of course, the action cues in the score. Interspersed with these walls of noise are the even more disjointed and dissonant cousins of those cues, representing the suspense in the film. Outside of "Probing the Basement," perhaps, the term "spine-tingling" isn't accurate to describe these cues, for Williams hits the listener with the blunt force of his Los Angeles ensemble of players rather than using particular, individual instruments mixed above the ensemble to create his fright. Large washes of atonal sound, sometimes painful to the ears in their ability to take the ensemble and simply move its pitch upward in uncomfortable ways, effectively create a twisted atmosphere of panic, though they don't linger on the mind long after. The final elements in the score are those for the film's primary two characters, as well humanity and its suffering. Surprisingly, Williams chose not to provide anyone in the film with dedicated thematic development. Motifs representing the destructive pods are scattered throughout the score, but the people themselves receive the treatment of a lost piano and string section, "Refugee Status" passing those duties onto the composer's standard noble horn stature. Only in the extensions of this material in "Epilogue" do Williams' obscured melodies barely reveal themselves. Luckily, he is still able to inject some of the warmth in his solo piano writing without accessing available themes, so once again, the music suffices on a primordial level. Without a title theme, and certainly without any statement of resolution at the end, War of the Worlds is not a readily enjoyable Williams score, however, a reflection of the composer's desire not to resolve anything in this composition. The closest cue Williams has to adapt for a concert performance is "The Return to Boston" (and only portions therein), which resembles some of his Raiders of the Lost Ark franchise music in its better enunciated organization of rhythm, propulsion by snare, and finally tonal brass notes that take a page from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

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Aside from the generally palatable "The Return to Boston" cue, however, Williams' score intentionally strays towards the intellectual consequences of the attack on humanity rather than the bombastic alternative that would have made for better listening out of context. The epilogue cue is all the evidence you need to support this point; Williams provides the standard structure of a momentous string crescendo that you would expect, followed by the solo instrumental sendoff, but he does so with continued dissonance up to the final note, leaving us to wonder if the tale is really finished (or lessons learned). With this challenging conclusion in mind, the average Williams collector will not be leaping at the chance to listen to War of the Worlds with any great frequency. You cannot fault Williams for producing a score that is so largely unmemorable outside of its context, for this path towards the atonal was obviously his merited intent. At the same time, both the action and suspense material along these lines has been better rendered in his previous works, even at the expense of easy harmony, and many listeners will be reminded of The Lost World: Jurassic Park and the similarly interesting but equally unglamorous score for Minority Report when attempting to casually enjoy War of the Worlds. These efforts will not leave you humming a theme after their conclusions, and with a remake on the magnitude of War of the Worlds, you can't help but wonder if the same fright could have been realized with a sound more readily identifiable. Even with the inherent complexities of Williams' action writing here, which you have to appreciate for their mere prowess, you still are left wishing for just a little continuity from cue to cue. Without the typically masterful threads of cohesion evident in most of Williams' work, War of the Worlds is merely an average background listening experience on album. That hour-long product does offer Morgan Freeman's classy narration for the opening and closing of the film, featuring a few alterations from the original novel. With the score functioning in context much better than on its own, the narration is a welcome addition to the album (if not the highlight), supplementing Williams' disturbingly tense underscore with the deep, soothing voice of Freeman performing some of the story's most famous lines. The album will remain an interesting listening experience for those score collectors who appreciate Williams' stylistic mannerisms despite how derivative they became by this point in his career, but the many "Williams table scraps" that form the nucleus of the work will more likely alienate the majority of his fans who prefer his scores to have strong lines of thematic cohesion and an obvious concert arrangement. *** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 338,223 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.13 Stars
Smart Average: 3.07 Stars*
***** 336 
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    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   It's actually quite good.
  NjabuloPhungula -- 5/14/12 (11:47 p.m.)
   Boring movie, disappointing score
  S.Venkatnarayanan -- 9/30/08 (9:33 p.m.)
   message for John Williams.
  Theodora Poole -- 7/29/08 (3:49 a.m.)
   Re: What happen to Mr.Williams?
  Krazie835 -- 6/6/08 (10:57 a.m.)
   What happen to Mr.Williams?
  S.Venkatnarayanan -- 5/7/08 (3:21 a.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 61:01

• 1. Prologue* (2:52)
• 2. The Ferry Scene (5:49)
• 3. Reaching the Country (3:24)
• 4. The Intersection Scene (4:13)
• 5. Ray and Rachel (2:41)
• 6. Escape from the City (3:49)
• 7. Probing the Basement (4:12)
• 8. Refugee Status (3:50)
• 9. The Attack on the Car (2:44)
• 10. The Separation of the Family (2:36)
• 11. The Confrontation with Ogilvy (4:34)
• 12. The Return to Boston (4:29)
• 13. Escape from the Basket (9:21)
• 14. The Reunion* (3:16)
• 15. Epilogue (3:11)

* includes narration by Morgan Freeman

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes a note from Spielberg about the score and film, as well as a list of players. The format of the unfolding insert, however, is very cumbersome.

  All artwork and sound clips from War of the Worlds are Copyright © 2005, Decca Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 7/1/05 and last updated 9/19/11. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2005-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.