After a highly promising and fairly captivating opening, 'The 5th Wave,' the latest adaptation of a popular YA series that spans three books, settles into a monotonous routine of predictability, following the usual collection of tropes and conventions that turn an easy piece of entertainment into a chore. I hoped for better from J Blakeson, the British filmmaker who made quite the impression in 2009's 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed,' effectively marking this box-office disappointment as his American debut. And for the most part, his particular brand and style is well showcased in this story about an alien invasion that puts humanity on the brink of extinction, making a good deal of this otherwise mind-numbingly plain production visually amusing. But even Blakeson is limited by a prevailing, oh-so-familiar blueprint that offers little room for alteration and genuine creativity, essentially making any of the imaginative touches he designed with cinematographer Enrique Chediak moot. And so, despite its visual pleasures, the sci-fi action thriller ultimately fails to provide any worthwhile surprises.
That aforementioned opening thrusts audiences into the middle of the invasion after the fact, showing Chloë Grace Moretz fearfully running through the forest to a gas station food mart armed with an AR-15 rifle apparently too heavy for her to carry. In the span of a couple minutes, Moretz's emotional 16-year-old Cassie Sullivan is confronted with a situation that basically surmises the plot's central dilemma when she kills a wounded stranger with bated breath because he might be an alien disguised as a human. The story then momentarily switches to an extended flashback showing how events led to that particular moment, how a typical and average teenager went from protective sister and good daughter who's only worry was a school crush to a frightened survivalist that will kill if necessary. This entire segment, taking about a quarter of the 112-minute runtime, makes for an engaging watch as it also features the first four of the five waves hinted at by the film's title. There's a fair amount of suspense and a sense of urgency speeding each scene along, nicely displaying Blakeson's talent behind the camera.
It doesn't hurt that 19-year-old Moretz is also a joy to watch, delivering a convincing performance as a teen caught in the middle of a global catastrophe that impels her into adulthood if she wishes to survive. She possesses a natural charisma and allure that has others gravitating towards her without much effort. She takes control of a scene even when she's not the central figure of a conversation and confidently establishes herself as the moment's emotional core. Other actors do well around her, and their portrayals seemed elevated in her presence. Unfortunately, when Moretz is not involved, much of the film appears to suffer from melodrama and campy theatrics, such as the moment über-soldier Ringer (Maika Monroe) meets Ben Parish (Nick Robinson), Cassie's school crush. Later, Alex Roe plays love-interest, dreamboat hottie Evan with the sort of cardboard stiffness and one-dimensional dullness expected of a boring love triangle plot device. The story devolves into lameness as Monroe feigns interest for Robinson and Roe predictably is not who he seems, taking viewers into humdrum territory riddled with tedious hurdles.
Admittedly, the original story by Rick Yancey is an intriguing tale that essentially combines Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers — and the subsequent big-screen adaptations — with John Milius's cult favorite 'Red Dawn' by film's end. In spite of that, what ultimately ruins 'The 5th Wave' is a surprising lack of tension after Cassie's long flashback sequence, and though Liev Schrieber and Maria Bello provide a formidable presence, the teens are never really confronted with daunting challenges and taxing obstacles. Never is there a sense of genuine danger or the possibility of failure, effortlessly defeating barriers that fail to excite, particularly during sequences when Cassie saves her brother from one disaster after another. It also doesn't help that the computer-generated special effects, such as a massive tidal wave and a colossal explosion of an army base, look cheap and cartoonish. Added to that, it's never made clear why the alien invasion commences in a small town in the middle of Ohio with little to no strategic advantage. In either case, it wouldn't help moving the setting to a metropolitan area because this invasion is a dud.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'The 5th Wave' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc and housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with a flyer, a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and glossy slipcover. After several skippable trailers at startup, viewers are taken to a menu screen with full motion clips, the standard set of options along the bottom and music in the background.
The fight for human survival begins with a remarkable, reference quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that leave viewers wishing the movie could better complement the visuals. The freshly-minted transfer shows extraordinary and often stunning detailing in every scene, from the threading in the denim of the jeans and the combat uniform of soldiers to the fabric of straps and the wood grain of several shacks. The veins and fine lines in the leaves of surrounding foliage are distinct, and the rough edges of tree barks are razor sharp. While the majority of the photography looks splendid throughout, some of the best moments are those sequences taking place within the forest where every leaf moving on branches in the distance are crystal clear. At times, cinematographer Enrique Chediak photographed scenes in a shallow focus, but those interesting moments maintain an excellent sense of depth and clarity. Facial complexions appear natural with lifelike textures, exposing every wrinkle, pore and blemish in the faces of actors.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, contrast is spot-on and pitch-perfect with brilliant, crisp whites that make the film really pop and burst off the screen. The video also arrives with superb brightness levels, displaying inky rich, full-bodied blacks with exceptional gradational differences between the various shades. Even in poorly-lit sequences, the smallest object in the background is plainly visible while still able to see the distinction from the shadows and dark clothing. The palette offers a sumptuous array of radiant, energetic primaries that make the visuals come to life, and several moments can easily serve as demo clips for showing the capabilities of one's display. Secondary hues are equally top-notch, animating every scene with a lovely, picture-perfect warmth and richness that makes forest sequences a genuine feast for the eyes. Shot entirely on digital cameras, the presentation is simply amazing, which in turn, makes the rather boring, clichéd-ridden film bearable.
The invasion lands on Blu-ray with an equally impressive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that nicely complements the many action-packed visuals. Imaging is highly engaging and expansive with lots of background activity that keeps much of the film within the front soundstage. A sharply detailed mid-range exhibits superb clarity and differentiation between the softest and loudest segments without the slightest hint of distortion. The lossless mix also delivers excellent channel separation and movement across the entire screen with outstanding off-screen effects while maintaining precise, well-prioritized vocals in the center. The low-end is striking powerful and responsive with a couple authoritative, wall-rattling moments, such as the earthquake and tidal wave sequences.
On the whole, the rears are often more silent than not, which is not an entirely bad thing since the fronts do a majority of the heavy lifting and much of the focus is admittedly on character interaction and dialogue. Nevertheless, when the surrounds are employed, the room bursts to life as debris and gunshots fly everywhere while helicopters hover and move from the front to back or from one side of the room to the other. Theses same action sequences reveal superb directionality and flawless panning, giving one's system a welcomed workout. Quieter moments also arrive with subtle atmospherics, like birds chirping high above in the trees or the echo of voices resonating all around, satisfyingly expanding the soundfield. Added to that, the high-rez track lends itself nicely to the receiver's DSU function, occasionally moving a few randoms noises and the sounds of helicopters into the overheads with ease. The score makes the best use of the format, spreading into the front heights for generating a larger soundscape.
In spite of a highly promising opening, 'The 5th Wave' quickly settles into a monotonous routine of predictability, relying on standard tropes and conventions rather than expanding on its fairly intriguing start. The latest adaptation of another popular YA series stars Chloë Grace Moretz in an admirable performance that's sadly wasted in a story that doesn't offer much of a challenge to the characters, let alone the audiences. The Blu-ray arrives with a reference quality audio and video presentation that will surely please fans, but supplements are sorely lacking, making this a case of good disc, bad flick.