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Behind Enemy Lines

Fox // PG-13 // November 14, 2006
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Mitchell Hattaway | posted December 18, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
With its square-jawed patriotism and heroics, it's no big surprise that Behind Enemy Lines became a hit when it was first released back in December of 2001. Arriving just three months after 9/11, the movie was, as strange as it might sound, more than a bit cathartic, providing audiences with a chance to live vicariously through the actions of its main character.

The plot follows the travails of Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson), a navigator on an F-18 Hornet. Burnett is a bit of a wiseass (surprise, surprise), and after complaining that he and his fellow airmen aren't doing any real good by simply flying over mountains and taking photos, he and his pilot, Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht), are assigned to spend Christmas Day flying over some mountains and taking photos. After venturing into a no-fly zone and discovering a mass grave, Burnett and Stackhouse are hit by a surface-to-air missile and forced to eject. While Burnett attempts to radio back to their aircraft carrier, Stackhouse is executed by troops loyal to a rogue Bosnian general. Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman), Burnett's commanding officer, organizes a rescue party, but his efforts are thwarted by NATO commander Piquet (Joaquim De Almeida), who thinks that any American intrusion into Bosnian territory will threaten the peace accord he recently brokered. Burnett is then forced to hump it across the war-torn country, hoping to make it to a safe extraction point.

I'm pretty much a sucker for slick action flicks, and Behind Enemy Lines certainly fits the bill. The movie marked the directorial debut of commercial director John Moore, who apparently graduated from the Tony Scott Filmmaking Institute, and I don't mean that as an insult. Moore, who would later go on to helm remakes of both Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen, employs quick cuts, skipped frames, slow motion, and just about every other modern cinematic trick in the book to tell his story, and his efforts pay off. Sure, the movie requires you to suspend your disbelief (although the plot was inspired by the story of pilot Scott O'Grady, who was shot down over Bosnia in 1995, I doubt O'Grady, who filed suit against Fox over the movie's content, was ever doggedly pursued by a tracksuit-wearing evil henchman), and the final ten minutes or so are really hard to swallow, but the movie is an effective, well-oiled machine, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I seriously doubt that Owen Wilson is anyone's idea of an action hero, but his cocky, smart aleck personality is put to good use here (I get the feeling he improvised many of his better lines). And while Hackman is essentially playing a kinder, gentler version of his character from Crimson Tide, you still can't go wrong by hiring him. Aside from the likeability of its two leads and director Moore's visual trickery, the movie's greatest asset is its relentless pace. There's essentially fifteen minutes of setup, after which we find Burnett and Stackhouse up in the air. Five minutes later they're being shot down. After that the movie becomes one extended chase sequence, piling set-piece upon set-piece. The momentum never lets up, which is a smart move, as the audience is never allowed to stop and ponder the improbable nature of what's being presented. This isn't a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is great fun. Behind Enemy Lines wants to do nothing more than entertain, and it certainly accomplishes this modest goal.


Behind Enemy Lines is presented on a single-layer disc, encoded with the AVC codec at a rate of 18 mbps. The 2.35:1 transfer is very nice. Colors are superb, blacks are deep, and shadow detail is excellent. There is no evidence of flaws in the source elements. The only imperfection I noticed in the presentation--and I remember this from the standard definition disc--was some digital noise in a few shots, primarily those in which white or grey skies serve as backgrounds.

The improved resolution on this Blu-ray disc definitely works to the movie's benefit (for example, the tripwires in the minefield are more clearly visible), but it also calls attention to some of the movie's gaffes. It's now painfully obvious that isn't Owen running through that minefield; the stunt double's hair has been died to a shade of yellow not found in nature. The CG snow cloud in the shot where the ejector seat slams into the ground looks even phonier than it did on the SD disc. And the miniature work in the SAM sequence now looks like something that Derek Meddings would have cooked up for Gerry Anderson back in the day (take a look at those jettisoned fuel tanks).

The audio, presented here in a 5.1 DTS-HD lossless track, is flawless. Surround action is plentiful and perfectly integrated into the soundstage. Bass is deep and tight. Dialogue is always perfectly intelligible.

From an aural standpoint, there are many noteworthy moments here. The SAM sequence, with its flybys and explosions, is a knockout, as is the aforementioned scene in the minefield. The fight in the ruins of the city of Hac, the climactic battle and the scene in which the bad guys riddle the mountainside with bullets in hopes of killing Burnett all sound incredible. But I think my favorite bit occurs during the scene at the dam; when the Bosnian general's tracksuit-wearing evil henchman fires at an unsuspecting Burnett, the bullet at first sounds like a buzzing fly, gaining power before impacting with the force of a bomb.

Aside from the DTS-HD track, the audio is also available in French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital options; English and Spanish subtitles are also included.

This release ports over the two audio commentaries from the original release. The track from director John Moore and editor Paul Martin Smith (the infamous "head cold" track) is enjoyable and informative. Although there is some information regarding the story and casting, the track is dominated by discussions regarding the more technical aspects of the shoot, but it never becomes too geeky. The track with producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey isn't quite as enjoyable. The two spend a lot of time discussing the project's origins as well as the back-scratching and negotiating required to bring it to fruition.

The only other extra is the movie's theatrical trailer. The deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurette, and pre-vis footage for the ejection sequence that were included on the SD disc have not been carried over.

Final Thoughts:
Behind Enemy Lines doesn't have the unexpected impact it did when it was first released, but it's still a damn fun action flick. The technical presentation does the movie justice, earning this one an easy recommendation.

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