Leave it to Steven Spielberg to take a seemingly dull story and turn it into a watchable film. His breakthrough TV film, Duel, turned a long, mundane stretch of highway into a tense, dramatic 90-minute masterpiece. Fast-forward to 2004: how many of us would pay to see a two-hour film about a guy stuck in an airport? Yet with The Terminal, Spielberg has created a moving and entertaining film---not without fault---that makes an ordinary story seem like so much more.
The Terminal tells the story of Viktor Navorski (Hanks), a man whose (fictional) Eastern European country goes to war during his flight to New York. Essentially, he's trapped in a political glitch (loophole?) that leaves him as a "man without a country", and he's basically stuck in JFK airport until everything's sorted out. For the most part, he's left to his own devices, but the cultural barrier makes his stay anything but routine. Aided by a top-notch supporting cast---including Catherine Zeta-Jones (Traffic), Stanley Tucci (Road to Perdition), Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and even Kumar Pallana (The Royal Tenenbaums)---The Terminal is full of great little character moments and a truly unique atmosphere. Sure, it suffers from uneven pacing---especially during the middle---but it's about as entertaining as long-term airport delays get, folks.
It's worth noting that The Terminal is loosely based on the real-life story of Merhan Karimi Nasseri, a man who's been trapped in France's Charles De Gaulle airport since 1988. Essentially, it's the same concept: Nasseri has been left as "a man without a country", and various loopholes have strangely kept him stranded there since. He's been doing just fine since then, rarely accepting help and handouts (although word has it that Spielberg and company paid him well for the story rights). While this is quite a strange way to become a celebrity---and it's unfortunate that it should happen to anyone---it's an intriguing premise that can't be properly conveyed in a two-minute trailer. It doesn't beat the viewer over the head with political messages or overblown special effects; it simply tells a story and leaves the viewer with a few things to mull over afterwards.
In truth, most audiences and critics didn't warm up to The Terminal, despite strong performances and likeable characters. It floundered at the box office and received its share of mixed reviews, but it'll hopefully find a new audience on DVD. It's surely not a film for everyone, but there's plenty to like during this film's 129-minute running time (which admittedly could've used a bit of trimming). Although life imitates art, the reverse is also true: like Nasseri himself, sometimes things just get lost in the shuffle. For the film itself, it's easily worth a second look on DVD.
Unfortunately, Dreamworks isn't exactly putting forth their best marketing effort with this single-disc release (although a 3-disc version is also available). It's true that the technical presentation is excellent, but the complete lack of bonus features and stiff price tag won't exactly help matters any. For those who love extras, the 3-disc version is certainly preferable---which included a second disc of extras, as well as the film's soundtrack---but the $40 price tag is equally intimidating. It's a real shame: with a more realistic amount of content for the dollar, The Terminal could've been one of 2004's better mainstream releases. As it stands, it's an overpriced disc that will likely get passed over on the shelf. The movie's certainly worth checking out...but $30 is too expensive for any blind buy, if you ask me. With that said, let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Here's the good news: The Terminal features an excellent technical presentation in all regards. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer offers a natural color palette and fine image detail...in short, everything you'd expect from a Dreamworks release. There were no major compression issues or edge enhancement to be found, making this a nice-looking film indeed. The audio treatment is also exceptional, available in English or French 5.1, English 2.0, or English DTS. Each proved to be adequate choices when sampled, but I chose the DTS mix for the majority of the film. While it's not an audio tour-de-force, The Terminal offers a pleasing soundstage and great ambience. You won't be blown out of the room, but you surely won't be disappointed. English, Spanish, and French subtitles have been included for the deaf, hard of hearing, and English-impaired.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The overall presentation was nice, highlighted by terrific animated menus and easy navigation. The 129-minute film has been divided into 28 chapters, and no layer change was detected during playback. The packaging is fairly sparse, from the simply-designed cover to the unfortunate lack of a chapter insert (hey, those black plastic clips are there for a reason!). Overall, a decent job, but really nothing spectacular.
Unfortunately, there's absolutely no bonus material here...no commentary, no interviews, not even a trailer! To get any goodies at all, you'll have to shoot for the more expensive 3-disc version, which is a real letdown. While I really appreciate the great technical presentation, it's a shame that there couldn't have been a more favorable middle ground for this mainstream release. Remember the good old days when every Dreamworks disc covered all the bases?
The Terminal was a nice surprise indeed: Tom Hanks continues to impress with another great performance, and Spielberg also delivered the goods (as usual). Even though it's neither of their best outings---and could have possibly been shortened a bit---The Terminal boasts an intriguing premise that plays well on film. While the DVD treatment by Dreamworks offers a nice technical presentation, it's unfortunate that they decided to skip the extras entirely on this overpriced one-disc release. Long story short: if you really enjoyed the film, I'd recommend going all the way for the 3-disc edition. If you're not a fan of bonus material, I suppose you're better off sticking with this version. In any case, I'd still recommend dipping your toes in the water before jumping right in. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is a domesticated art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.