Looking at "Behind Enemy Lines", there's really nothing much to see. Characters that are not terribly well-written, enemies that are sort of vague and stereotypical and a lot of Bruckheimer-ish flash. So, why did I find it basically enjoyable? It's hollow, but it's well-filmed hollow, putting the viewer in the middle of the situation convincingly enough that it begins to generate some fairly strong tension.
The film stars Owen Wilson, previously more widely known as the comedic star of such pictures as "Shanghai Noon". One wouldn't think of Wilson as much of an action hero, but his everyguy-ness makes most of the film's situations even more believable. As the picture opens, Chris Burnett (Wilson) is a Navy pilot who finds himself sent out on a Christmas Day mission by his commanding officer, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), who acts gruff but sees potential in the young pilot.
During the mission to capture some arial photographs of the surrounding area, Burnett and pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) notice something on the radar. They're not supposed to go off-course into other areas, but Burnett convinces his co-pilot to go exploring. There's not supposed to be anything in the area, but they spot illegal Serbian troop movements and are fired upon, bringing the plane down.
Stackhouse is killed, but Burnett escapes and goes on the run, with what looks to be most of an army after him. Back on the ship, Reigart must fight through much of the usual, since rescuing Burnett would cause harm to some political missions currently going on in the area. This is all generally skimmed over by the picture. Amazingly, this has been directed by John Moore, who won the job after directing a SEGA ad that apparently impressed others. No longer do we get folks who make their way up by actually directing low-budget to mid-budget pictures - one really good video game ad is all you need to be presented with a 40-50 million dollar thriller.
But no matter; suprisingly, whether by sheer luck or otherwise, Moore's hyperactive style actually works somewhat better than expected. Employing just about every editing and camera trick in the book, the film often gets little boosts of tension here and there as a result. Much of it isn't really that believable, either (the film often chooses an almost excessive amount of style over realism) - but I generally found it involving and the film itself doesn't really stop long enough for the audience to ponder what's really amatter with the plot at that particular point. I'd comment on the dialogue, but there really wasn't that much of it; whole scenes seemed to play with little talking. Maybe I shouldn't be complaining, given that this film is written by the writers of "Wild Wild West" and "Mission To Mars".
Again, Wilson is suprisingly good in a non-comedic role. Hackman, while not given that much to do (he played this much, much better in "Crimson Tide"), at least tries his very best. "Behind Enemy Lines" often works better than it should; it doesn't seem very realistic, but it's got enough nervous energy to push the tension and suspense up and the performance by Wilson was strong enough to keep my interest.
VIDEO: 20th Century Fox also gives the presentation of "Behind Enemy Lines" its best effort. The film's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is not flawless, but it's awfully close. Given the amount of supplements, the two soundtracks and the film's hyperactive visual style, the fact that Fox has produced such strong picture quality for the film is impressive. Sharpness and detail are wonderful throughout, as the picture appeared crystal clear and very well-defined, at no moment revealing any softness.
There were only a few minor problems that I noticed throughout the picture. The print certainly wasn't one of them - the picture remained free of specks, marks or any other sort of wear. Obviously, that's what one would expect from a film that was in theaters recently, but it doesn't always work that way. Pixelation wasn't seen, but there were a few very slight instances of edge enhancement. Certainly, this wasn't very noticable or irritating, though.
Colors looked stellar during the entire picture. While the film's color palette during many sequences is subdued, some sequences present brighter, more vivid colors. Whatever the situation, colors looked crisp and nicely rendered, with no problems. Black level remained solid throughout and flesh tones looked accurate and natural. This is very nice work from the studio.
SOUND: Fox offers the choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 soundtracks for "Behind Enemy Lines". The film's soundtrack is a mightily agressive piece of business - there are several sequences that are stunning in both the sheer power of the audio as well as the envelopment. The film's most remarkable action sequence - one, then two missles engaged in a chase with a fighter plane - offers a strong you-are-there feeling, as the sounds of the winds rip-roaring by as well as the missles tracking the plane are clearly heard spiraling around the listening space.
That's not all, though. A handful of other action sequences employ the surrounds heavily for gunfire and other sound effects. The surrounds really don't stop throughout, as even some of the more subdued moments in the picture have a strong amount of environment sounds, even in the interior sequences. The score by Don Davis, which isn't really that noteworthy (it sounds like the score of a lot of other action movies), had strong presence.
Audio quality remained fantastic throughout. Strong bass was often present, while the score remained crisp and rich-sounding. Sound effects were clear and almost a bit too convincing, while dialogue sounded clear, as well. This is really a thrilling and very intense soundtrack that will please fans of agressive film audio.
MENUS: Nice, if not too remarkable, animated menus that use film-themed images and music from the picture nicely.
Commentaries: Two commentary tracks are provided for the film, one with director John Moore and editor Paul Martin Smith and the other with producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey. The producers commentary isn't fascinating, but the two do provide an interesting perspective on the picture, discussing the tasks that had to be accomplished to get the picture made (such as securing the assistance of the Navy) as well as other elements such as foreign box office potential and working with the actors and a first-time director. It's an informative and occasionally entertaining track worth a listen.
The problem with the director/editor track is that both of the contributors happened to have a cold on the day of recording, which is noticable. While this takes away a bit from the potential energy of the chat, the talk is still pretty enjoyable. Although the two overlap some of the information that is provided on the producer's track, these two do have some material of their own to discuss, talking about the look of the film as well as some of the technical details about how some scenes were accomplished.
Deleted/Extended Scenes: 5 extended sequences and 2 deleted scenes are provided - all include optional commentary from director Moore and editor Smith. Some of the extended sequences include material that was cut out of the picture to achieve a PG-13, but the other material was largely cut for pacing reasons.
Behind The Scenes: This featurette is actually moderately informative, offering discussions of how the filmmakers achieved the assistance of the Navy and what it was like to film on an actual aircraft carrier. There's also some discussion of Wilson's training and actual experience flying on a plane like those seen in the movie.
Pre-Vis Ejection Sequence: This is a pre-visualization (animated storyboards, in other words) of the remarkable ejection sequence.
Also: The trailer for the upcoming Spielberg picture "Minority Report".
Final Thoughts: "Behind Enemy Lines" is an example of a film that works better than it should; it's intense and rockets from action sequence to action sequence quickly enough to certainly keep from being boring. While the film isn't substancial, very good performances from Wilson and Hackman keep things involving. 20th Century Fox has delivered a very fine DVD edition, complete with strong video quality, very agressive audio and solid supplements. Recommended.