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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Air (2015) (Blu-ray)
Air (2015) (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // October 6, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $30.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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An indeterminate amount of time after a chemical weapon poisoned the world's oxygen, two men awaken in an underground bunker. One is Bauer (Norman Reedus), and the other is Cartwright (Djimon Hounsou), and both are employees, responsible for maintenance and upkeep of an entire storage facility of people sleeping in similar containers -- a convenient "world's best and brightest" starter kit of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, biologists, and more. Every few months, the men are roused from hibernation to spend a couple of hours making sure everything's still running smoothly -- a schedule set by a timer connected to the facility's air supply -- before returning to bed until the next scheduled round of maintenance. This time, however, something goes wrong with Bauer's sleeping pod, and the men must activate an emergency supply of fresh air while they try and locate a solution.

Air follows in the footsteps of at least a couple of movies to chart the lonely existence of blue collar workers in a sci-fi setting, the most prominent example being Moon. Premises like these are home runs for everyone involved: a movie can seem expansive and create the impression of scope without spending too much money, it gives actors (or in some cases, a single actor) a meaty challenge, writers will enjoy developing the setting for the film and filling in the blanks, and directors will enjoy bringing those descriptions to life. Although the movie doesn't deviate much from the established playbook (said workers, X length of time into their assignment, start poking around until they discover something that changes their view on what or who they've been working for this whole time), the film is generally successful for the same reasons other examples work (strong performances from the leads and an interesting environment), even if there are a couple of big plot holes in the story, and it never truly explores one of its most interesting ideas.

The film was produced by Robert Kirkman of "The Walking Dead" fame (which in turn explains how "Walking Dead" star Reedus was likely brought onto the project), but it was actually written and directed by Christian Cantamessa, with Chris Pasetto serving as co-screenwriter. Although the story is not particularly original, constantly falling back on predictable sort of conflicts that would arise from either the setting, the situation, or any two-person drama, Pasetto and Cantamessa have done a decent job of creating a universe that feels complete without turning "world-building" into a crutch like so many modern sci-fi movies. Air wisely values simplicity and suggestion over explanation, which is a relief even when it does these things in ham-fisted ways (example: why do video recordings explaining the air crisis play when the wake-up process initiates at the beginning of the movie?). The same goes for the way the characters of Bauer and Cartwright are written. The characters have been doing this for awhile and already know one another's quirks, yet forced "familiarity" in scripts like these tends to feel like nails on a chalkboard. Thankfully, the script doesn't work too hard to sell this relationship, realizing that it's down to Reedus and Hounsou to sell it rather than the dialogue.

Although I would not necessarily have pegged the two actors as a good combination, Reedus and Hounsou are certainly up to the task of capturing the familiar yet slightly uncomfortable working relationship of the two men. Based on the actors' respective careers, it might be considered unsurprising that Bauer is more cynical and sarcastic, and Cartwright is more rigid and rule-oriented, but the movie then flips this on its head, with Reedus investing Bauer with a certain degree of nobility, while Hounsou tinges his performance with more paranoia and fear than expected. Both performers allow a glance or a pause to speak volumes, and both manage to match each other's pace and tone quite nicely. If forced to choose, of the two, Cartwright seems to get a bit more screen time and story in the script, enough that the film feels like it features one lead and one supporting role, but both work hard to keep the movie on an even keel.

The only disappointing thing about the movie is that it touches on some ideas that it doesn't explore as fully as it ought to, a fact that's doubly disappointing given the script contains more than its fair share of plot points that would be less interesting than the sense of moral ambiguity that the screenplay finally settles on. Bauer and Cartwright come to question their jobs for reasons that are never fully resolved, and their struggle to come up with an answer or a decision as to what they should do about what they eventually learn ultimately builds to revelations about questions the audience can probably guess the answer to while leaving other details unexplained. There is also the arbitrary nature of how the movie's conflict is created, and the fairly arbitrary way that conflict is maintained. We are left with an ending that presents us with crucial developments in the story, but without any sense of what the filmmakers feel about them. Ambiguity is a valid place for a movie to end, but Air is so ambiguous, ultimately, that it's not even clear Cantamessa and Pasetto were aiming for ambiguity.

The Blu-ray
Air is built on the backs of its performers, and the Blu-ray art created by Sony reflects that, with Reedus and Hounsou staring at the person holding the disc, with some of the sleeping pods in the lower half of the image. The single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Vortex case, and there is no insert.

The Video and Audio
Presented in a 2.39:1 1080p AVC transfer, Air looks pretty great on Blu-ray. This is a very dark movie, with a color palette tending toward a cold green, and yet Sony's transfer of the film is well-defined, crisp, and even sort of vivid, in its own sewage-y way. No banding or artifacting interrupts the shadowy environment of the bunker the film takes place in, and fine detail is impressive. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that does a lot of environmental work for the film, with plenty of ambient sound effects to help sell the idea that the compound is a large machine, with all sorts of distant gears and machinery chugging along in the distance, behind the walls. Dialogue is spot-on, especially in some claustrophobic scenes where breathlessness adds to the tension, and the occasional bit of music sounds very nice as well. Parisian French and Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks are also included, as well as an English 5.1 Audio Description track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

The Extras
Two brief featurettes are on board as bonus features. "An Account of Confinement: Creating Air" (8:02) is a basic behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew commenting on their characters and story, featuring a mix of clips and B-roll. Nothing too remarkable. "The Custodians" (7:10) focuses specifically on the movie's two leads, with more interviews from the cast and crew.

Conclusion
Air doesn't always break ground in the little subgenre it's a part of, but there's enough going for it to warrant a recommendation. Djimon Hounsou turns in a strong performance, the universe is reasonably intriguing, and even though the film often eats up screen time with cliches rather than the morally ambiguous ideas it's exploring, the audience may get enough out of the experience chewing on those ideas in their free time.


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