Friday, June 5, 2009

AIR FORCE ONE - Blu-Ray (Columbia 1997) Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Back in the day when homeland terrorism was not quite so immediately ingrained in the public consciousness it was fair game and avid film fodder for high-octane thrills on the big screen. Wolfgang Peterson’s Air Force One (1997) is no exception: a bare-knuckled thrill ride capitalizing on yet another variation of the ‘what if’ scenario that delivers the cinematic goods on almost every level.

The film stars Harrison Ford as fictional U.S. President James Marshall. After addressing a Russian delegation in Moscow on America’s ‘zero tolerance’ stance toward terrorists, Marshall, the First Lady, Grace (Wendy Crewson) and their young daughter, Alice (Liesel Matthews) board Air Force One for a routine flight back home.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the plane is hijacked by militant Russian terrorist, Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman) and his brutalizing band of cutthroats who are intent on holding the President, his family and members of his cabinet flying home with him hostage until Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) can negotiate the release of dissident enemy of the state, Gen. Ivan Radek (Jurgen Prochnow).

Double unfortunate for the terrorists - because Marshall refuses to give in. An all out war breaks out high in the sky as Marshall and his captives struggle to make Korshunov and his men accountable for their actions. Time, however, may not be on anyone’s side. As Air Force One continues to taxi in the sky its fuel supply dwindles until the only means of safety for the President and his crew is to evacuate via parachute.

In his best non-Jack Ryan political thriller of the decade, Harrison Ford proves once again why he is one of the best action heroes of his generation; infusing that special blend of defiance with a thin veneer of vulnerability that makes all of the characters he plays ultimately more human and satisfying. Glenn Close gives fine support from her briefing room at the White House. Gary Oldman is a veritable chameleon.

Director Peterson is a master of this sort of cliché action thriller – never allowing the audience to stop and reconsider the improbabilities - like firing a litany of rounds from a semi-automatic rifle without one bullet piercing the plane’s pressurized cabin. Instead, Peterson concentrates and capitalizes on the looming claustrophobia. After all – we, like the President and the terrorists, are confined to a plane for nearly two hours. There are only so many places to hide. Yet, not once does the maneuvering between upper and lower levels become boring, stultifying or dull.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Blu-Ray is a step up from its two previous and competing versions on standard DVD: the first a bare bones disc; the second - an equally bare bones ‘Superbit’. However, there’s really not much difference between the Superbit transfer and the Blu-Ray. Arguably, there wasn’t much room for improvement.

A side by side comparison in image quality between the Blu-Ray and standard DVD reveals just how impeccable the original disc’s mastering efforts were. The anamorphic widescreen image is superb. Yes, the Blu-Ray’s color palette is ever so slightly more vibrant and refined on the Blu-Ray. Yes, contrast levels have been more finely rendered to include subtler details. Blacks are deep and solid; whites, pristine. Still, this 1080p transfer is hardly worth an upgrade unless you’re a die hard fan of the film, particularly so since only a director’s commentary is included as an extra feature. The audio is presented only as 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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