Fighter Pilot - Operation Red Flag is a very high quality military educational film about fighter pilots. Made for the big screen IMAX format the film follows a fourteen day training exercise at Nellis Air Force base called Red Flag that tests the skills of the best fighter pilots in the world before they are assigned to go into real battle.
The film, written and directed by Stephen Low from a story by Denny Kuhr and Joseph Stanley - is impressive from a technical stand point. The cinematogrphy is excellent, the editing impecable, the use of sound impressive. But the 'narrative' is about as compelling as most educational films.
The filmmakers try to give the film a personal edge by following one particular pilot named John C. Stratton. He does a voice-over narration at times telling us about his father - who was a decorated pilot in World War Two - and about the feelings and experiences that he has during the training excercises.
The excercises - we are told - are more difficult than real battle - although real weapons are not used on live targets. But - from the facts presented - the excercises are indeed challenging. The film does a good job informing the audience that the fighter pilot, the ground crews and the people who run the operations must have a lot of skill; Especially with regards to keeping the planes from hitting each other.
There is a second voice-over narration that mentions all the different planes, such as F-15C Eagles, Stealth F 117's, B-1B Lancers and U-2's [to name a few] and explains the various battle scenarios that are drawn up on computer screens and played out in the skies over the desert.
The one odd weakness of the film is that the speed of the fighter jets is rarely witnessed. Or more specifically much of the footage is shot from a Lear Jet and a B-52 both of which follow the flying action. By doing so and keeping up with the jets the speed becomes relative and everyone looks like they are flying in magisterial slow motion. Rarely do we get jets buzzing over head at 600mph and really rattling the frame showing us their awesome power and speed. Where the film makes up for this is in the sound. However the flying - while impressive - is not as exciting as it is in parts of Top Gun or even Howard Hughes Hell's Angels.
Curious too is the fact that this is an IMAX film that doesn't necessarily use the large screen format to the best ability. There are many shots on the ground that frankly are made for small TV screens. That said the flying sequences would look better on the IMAX screen than on any home entertainment center. But they still look good.
Fighter Pilot - Operation Red Flag is only 48 minutes in length. But there is nothing compelling driving the narrative so it doesn't feel short. It was made to both inform the audience and make them appreciate the work these people do. It also - being and IMAX film - was made to impress us. It partly succeeds.
It does, however, capture the fraternity of the armed forces, the learning process and the enjoyment as well as overall importance and difficulty of the exercises. While the film is not technically a recruiting video it does have that feeling at times. It is hard not to imagine that some teenagers somewhere watching this will want to joining the Air Force and fly their own fighter jet.
The image quality is top notch. The DVD offers both widescreen anamorphorphic [16 x 9] and Full-Frame [4x3]. The images looks sharp with good rich color tones. The cinematography and the large IMAX format help bring out detail better than regular 35mm. The transfer does it justice.
Audio is in English dolby 5.1 and DTS Audio and sounds great on both channels. The sound is full and rich. The fighter jets zooming through the air - or your living room - have probably not sounded better on a DVD. The musical score, by Michel Cusson, is of the majestic classical music film score and it brings an element of importance to the film.
First up is a 22 minute Ambient Flight Music Video that features fighter jets flying set to the film's classical score. The footage is good and includes some really nice shots that give a point-of-view shot of cruise over mountain tops, Then there is a Making of... documentary that is ten minutes long. It has interviews with the filmmakers and covers what they went through to get the impressive shots and the difficulty of filming during a training exercise where no one slows down for them. Of note is the way that they got their camera so close to an actual bombing run. There is Film Trivia quiz with 11 questions that are pretty easy and reiterate the fact that this is an educational film. Then there is a short bio film list of filmmaker Stephen Low. Last are four IMAX trailers including Adventures in Wild California, Super Speedway and Volcanoes of the Deep Sea. There is also a second disc that is the movie presented in Microsoft Windows Media Video High Definition that is only playable on a DVD-Rom drive.
Fighter Pilot - Operation Red Flag is a good educational IMAX film about the ultimate fighter pilot training exercise. The DVD looks and sounds great. While it is not as compelling as the actual flying it is worth a look for those interested in the subject.