I can barely remember what happened last week, much less what happened 12 years ago. But in 1997 people went to the theaters in droves to see Air Force One, to the tune of almost $175 million. And yet, I still can't figure out why.
On the surface, the story seems well-suited for an action film. The President of the United States (Harrison Ford, The Fugitive) visits Russia and gives a "we don't negotiate with terrorists" speech, which shakes up his staff. This new policy soon becomes very relevant just as he's leaving Russia. A Russian officer (Gary Oldman, True Romance) boards Air Force One with several other loyalists as a member of the press, and they hijack the plane. Their goal is to force the President to talk to Moscow and urge them to release a high-ranking general in the Army from prison. If their demands aren't met, they plan to execute a hostage on the plane every half hour.
That's an appealing sounding story. The film's main plot is reminiscent of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (which might be the reason why there's an offer for redeemable movie cash included with the disc.) And Andrew Marlowe's script even cares for the smaller subplots as well, and there are familiar faces involved in the action. The Vice President (Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction) is in the White House Situation Room, plotting the next move for the United States. She deals with these duties despite a subtle move for governmental control by Defense Secretary Walter Dean (Dean Stockwell, Blue Velvet). Dean is clearly channeling a slightly more intellectual Alexander Haig. Meanwhile on the plane, the President, a Medal of Honor winner from Vietnam, receives some help from Major Caldwell (William H. Macy, Fargo), one of the members of the flight staff. Clearly, this starpower is designed to keep the non-Ford scenes moving and interesting.
But let's face facts: Oldman is just playing Gary Oldman, albeit an Eastern bloc version of himself, and Ford, despite showing flashes of emotional vulnerability, winds up saying a few of the same lines that he says in similar films. And when it comes to action, the film, directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot), includes a bunch of scenes of extensive gunfire...on a plane? Let's put aside for a second the possibility that the real Air Force One might have bulletproof material that would prevent the plane from up during firefights. There still are other scenes where the plane appears to as maneuverable as a single-engine Cessna. Considering how loaded for bear the plane is, I don't see how that could work. I know the basic premise of the film is supposed to make you check your common sense in at the door, but really?
In the filmmakers' defense, a couple of things have occurred since then that could change the perceptions of many. Ford's marquee name/bankability status is now virtually nonexistent. Save for that horrible fourth Indiana Jones film, Ford's action films have been both critical and financial disappointments, and he seems to struggle with finding new and challenging projects. And since the attacks of September 11, films like Air Force One look even sillier. Considering the state of our political system, it's clear we probably won't see a Medal of Honor winner in the real White House anytime soon.
Back in 1997, Air Force One was released six weeks after Con Air and almost 18 months after Executive Decision. Of the three films set in mid-air, Air Force One doesn't know that it's a dumb movie. Or to put it another way, what's worse, having self-awareness or being oblivious?
The Blu-ray Disc:
Air Force One comes to Blu-ray in 2.40:1 widescreen, using an AVC MPEG-4 encode and presented in high definition. Director of Photography Michael Ballhaus (The Departed) does a good job at recreating that harsh artificial light found in most planes, and when bullets reach their intended human targets, blood stands out nicely. Along those same lines, flesh tones are reproduced accurately and without complaint. The level of film grain is prevalent through much of the film, which does deter from the overall enjoyment, but it doesn't obscure some fine background detail. It would have been nice to see a better presentation from one of the titles from the old Sony "Superbit" line, but it's no big deal.
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack brings the goods, beginning from the opening sequences in Russia. Crowd activity in the front and rear channels is effective and excellent, making the viewer the feel as they're right in the plane. Airplane noises are realistic with subwoofer engagement that rumbles through the room, bullets sound clear and come from all areas and speaker effects are clear throughout. Oddly enough, the dialogue is the weaker part of the feature, coming in soft starting from Ford's speech in Russia. In fact, I had to turn up the quieter scenes, only to have the windows rattle during the action sequences. This disappointment is the only thing holding me back from a five-star rating, but it's a quality sonic presentation nonetheless.
Petersen is featured on the commentary track, which includes Michael Coleman as a sort of facilitator, trying to keep the track...on track. Coleman does his job decently enough in some areas, but not in others; for example, Coleman asks Petersen if he really had an airplane perform a fuel dump for the movie. Petersen brings a bit of detail to the film, like the fact that Kevin Costner was the original choice for Ford's role. He also discusses various shots in the film, pointing out what was done on set and whether visual effects were used. He throws out the obligatory shout-outs for the supporting cast and crew, and I was surprised to hear him say that Ford should have gotten an Oscar nomination for the work. Again, really? Overall, this is an active track though it's hardly revealing or, for that matter, anything special. That and the aforementioned movie cash are the only things on this BD-Live enabled disc.
Time hasn't been all that good to Air Force One. The action sequences are stale and contrived, the performances are hardly inspiring, and the story is just boring. I loved the sound of the disc, but it doesn't look all that hot, and the extras are pretty much nonexistent. If you're a fan of the film, I'd recommend a double-dip, but if you're looking for demo material, there's better overall content out there to show off your home theater setup.