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The Terminal is such a quiet, charming, and beautifully realized movie and yet it opened in 2004 to lukewarm reviews and only modest domestic box-office. I suppose part of it is that audiences were not sure if they wanted to see an over two hour long movie about a man stuck in an airport terminal. Yet what some filmmakers would be incapable of making work, Spielberg turns into something incredibly moving and enjoyable that is full of surprises. The Terminal is textbook movie magic.
The magical qualities that Spielberg brings to everything he involves himself in are apparent here in strikingly bold strokes. This is one of the director's best and most underappreciated films. The effort reunited Steven Spielberg with collaborator Tom Hanks, who performs the main role in the film as the character Viktor Navorski. The two paired together equals cinematic goodness of the highest kind.
The story of the film is fascinating to me. It is (partly) based upon an actual real-life experience someone had but the film itself is a work of fiction. Airplane passenger Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) is coming to New York City from a flight from his home country Krakozhia. Yet upon arriving in the United States he finds himself not being greeted with a pathway into the country but instead with news he can barely understand as he doesn't speak English; that his country is in conflict and the United States has placed passports and citizenry on hold for his country during the war. He can't return to Krakozhia because of the war taking place and he can't enter into the United States. So what's he to do?... Live in an airport?
Enter Frank Dixon. Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) is in charge of overseeing the protection and security of the airport where Viktor arrives as head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Frank greets Viktor and tries to explain the situation to him. Dixon decides that he will let him stay inside the terminal while the conflict in Krakozhia is occurring, believing that it will be a short time before it is cleared up (or perhaps thinking that Viktor will be leaving on his own). Viktor stays in the terminal and waits for a resolution. Yet it takes much longer than expected and Viktor begins living inside the terminal as if it were his home. It takes months for anything to happen for him in regards to going into the country or returning to Krakozhia.
During these months of waiting Dixon becomes increasingly frustrated with Navorski and the two have an increasingly high number of 'moments' between each other - such as when Viktor tries to be helpful to a detained passenger who was trying to bring medicine home to his dying father but who lacks the proper documentation. Viktor helps communicate to him and figures out a way he can help him get his medicine to his dad by calling it goat medicine: this moment is one which causes increasing friction between the by-the-books Dixon and Navorski.
The story of the film focuses on Viktor and the experiences he has while staying in the terminal. It explores the relationships he forms with others - the friendships he makes. He befriends many of the employees working at the airport, including Mulroy (Chi McBride), Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna), Gupta Rajan (Kumar Pallana), and Dolores Torres (Zoe Saldana). Along the course of this story, Viktor learns of the affections Enrique has for Dolores and helps to arrange secret professions of love to her that eventually lead to a relationship between the two lovebirds. Grumpy janitorial worker Grupta has his own secret story that unfolds over the film and is climatically involved in the story's resolution. Actor Pallana surprises and impresses with his large supporting part following some great roles that were smaller parts within the films of Wes Anderson. All of the supporting parts are magnificently performed and greatly enhance the heart and soul of the film.
Perhaps the most prominent supporting part is for the character Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta Jones), who is a flight attendant that Viktor meets and begins to like during his stay within the terminal. The two connect and have good moments together but Amelia is in a relationship to someone who is married. She tries to end her relationship to the other person but still finds herself drawn to him, but over the course of The Terminal Viktor and Amelia share many beautiful moments together as they get to know each other more. In the opinion of both filmmaker Spielberg and myself it's more of a story of two people liking each other but nonetheless the beautiful nature of the romance is inherent in the chemistry between the performances by Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta Jones.
The great performances from the entire cast helps to make it succeed so well. Tom Hanks is so perfect as the lovable Viktor Navorski (who one can't help but root for), Catherine Zeta Jones delivers one of her best supporting performances, and Stanley Tucci is a scene stealer in this movie as the firm security supervisor over the airport. The nuance of Hanks is especially an impressive feat as he sinks completely into the role. This is one of his greatest performances.
The production quality of The Terminal is unbelievably fantastic. To make the movie the way they wanted to they couldn't just shut down an airport and move in to start filming or work a schedule that would allow for certain scenes to be filmed at certain times. Instead, this was nothing short of a monumental project in which the film crew built an actual airport terminal specifically to be used as the "set" for the filming to take place as needed. The expense and the efforts made here were no doubt worth it. The film showcases so many different areas of the terminal effectively and brilliantly.
The film does an interesting job of exploring the way Viktor survives inside of the terminal. It explores him gathering carts to earn some money and using it all to go to the only kind of food option available to him - fast food. It shows his approach and inability to find work in a store. However, Viktor's skills as a painter come in handy for him when he does some "freelance" working to paint an area of the terminal and finds himself getting a good paying job to do additional work for one of the teams hired to make improvements to the airport.
I enjoyed the way the development of Viktor was handled from the beginning to the very end, with the moving ending cementing it. The quest for Viktor was to come to America to receive one last signature from an acclaimed jazz musician. He was doing it for his father. His dad had collected the signatures based on a photo and had succeeded at gathering all of the signatures - except for one, before his passing. Viktor came to American so he could fulfill his father's dream for him.
The cinematography by longtime Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski is so beautiful and vibrantly rich in color while feeling entirely 'cinematic' in a way that only film can feel. The effect is incredible and remarkably enveloping. I still don't understand how this brilliant and underrated cinematographer doesn't have more Academy Award wins under his best. Maybe that's got something to do with how consistently great he is when working with Spielberg? Regardless, the photography excels in every frame.
Steven Spielberg is a legend. As far as filmmakers go, Spielberg is one of the most loved and universally praised filmmakers that has ever emerged within the United States. Yet for some reason his films tend to be divided into two categories by most film-going audiences with the generalized description of 'serious' Spielberg and 'fun' Spielberg. I'm often baffled by hearing these generalizations about his movies. As if to prove some of these generalizing moviegoers wrong, The Terminal was made to be both a serious and lighthearted movie at the same time. Which category would these moviegoers put The Terminal in? Is it fun or is it a serious work? Perhaps Spielberg is such a talent that he is perfectly capable of doing both at the same time. This film should be illuminating to that idea. What a concept.
The direction is so energetic, detailed, and artistic. I love the way that Spielberg frames shots, works with actors, and finds quiet moments to make a film shine. From bringing forth subtle emotion from Hanks to showcasing the stunning artistry of the production team, Spielberg is constantly finding ways to make the story work, flow beautifully, and without ever losing its wonderment. Spielberg has long been one of my favorite filmmakers and I feel his films will always hold a special place in my heart for the immense creativity and artistry one can find in each of them. In my mind, the textbook definition of 'movie magic' would include words about Spielberg and his films. The Terminal fits in easily alongside his best movies as a tribute of sorts to moviemaking and as a reason to why I began to love movies in the first place.
The music is also so ingrained in the core of the film and in the film's of Steven Spielberg. It's difficult to imagine that John Williams was once someone who didn't know Spielberg and did not compose his earliest efforts. The two are so inseparable and as ingrained into the experience as possible that at this point (and for a long time) one cannot think of one artist without thinking about the other. Spielberg and Williams are one of the finest and longest running collaborators in the history of film. The Terminal has a light, airy, and moving score that pulls at the heartstrings with beautiful effectiveness. Williams makes each scene by Spielberg become its absolute best.
With a solid script by Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson, The Terminal manages to also talk about issues like the role of government in people's lives. It especially makes commentary on government in the United States and how it can affect immigration. In some subtle (and not necessarily subtle) ways the film paints a picture of America from its bureaucratic view to compassion from the many employees working at the terminal who show affection for the stranded Viktor Navorski. This makes the heart of the film so much more powerful and it contributes to the intellectual ingenious of the film at the same time. By the end one may ultimately wonder what it means to be home and what does home now mean to Navorski? It's genuinely powerful, indeed.
The Terminal is a underrated masterpiece from Spielberg and company. I cannot recommend the film highly enough. This film is an essential American classic and a gem not to be overlooked in consideration of Spielberg's fascinating and diverse filmography. While some may find it to be a bit over-sentimental, I find the sentimentalism one of its charms. Here is a film that is jubilantly wearing it's heart on its sleeve. I wouldn't want it any other way.
The Terminal arrives on Blu-ray with an impressive 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer that retains the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Paramount has done an excellent job with regards to the transfer on this release. The beginning of the movie does show some slight artificial sharpening, but this was a minor quibble. Most of the movie is free from having anything distracting in the form of digital alterations to the image.
The transfer retains a filmic presentation that is never marred by any DNR (digital noise reduction). This means the detail in the image has been well preserved and that, in this case, there's a fine amount of film grain preserved in the image. The colors are accurate and retain cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's vision. There is good image stability, depth, and details in the image. This is a superior release with an all around impressive boost in High Definition. The bit-rates for the encode average to 30 mbps and this helps to provide the film with a strong, high quality presentation. I was quite pleased with the effort Paramount clearly made on this release.
The main audio inclusion is the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The audio is presented in 24bit and the difference is notably resonant with the beautiful score by John Williams, which sounds marvelous. The dialogue is always clear and easily distinguishable. There is a good resolution boost from the lossless audio presentation. I also enjoyed the use of surrounds. Surprisingly, the separation and attention to detail in the surrounds was strong for a film concerned mostly with telling a drama-comedy storyline.
The disc also includes subtitles in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Additional audio options include Dolby Digital 5.1 in Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
The release ports over all of the extras from the 3-Disc Collector's Edition DVD release (minus the film's soundtrack CD). This release also boosts the supplements to a moderate HD encode, providing a minor boost in clarity on the extras (though it should be noted that some footage came from a standard definition source).
The features include:
Booking the Flight: The Script, The Story (8 min.) is an overview of the film's formation from being a script Spielberg read over a weekend amidst several other scripts he didn't enjoy as much, and to the hiring of additional screenwriters to work on forming the final product. Screenwriters in the process and Spielberg discuss the evolution of the film's story and underlying themes.
Waiting for the Flight: Building The Terminal (12 min.) is a piece about the process involved in building the massive set: which was an actual Terminal that was built specifically for the film's shooting.
Boarding: The People of the Terminal (32 min.) is a three-part featurette focusing on some of the character's that populate the film's storyline. It's three parts are: Tom Hanks is "Viktor" (8 min.), Catherine Zeta Jones is "Amelia" (9 min.), and Viktor's World (15 min.)
Take Off: Making The Terminal (17 min.) is a standard making-of piece that covers various stages of production and features interviews with the filmmakers and crew involved in the production.
In Flight Service: The Music of The Terminal (6 min.) is a brief overview at some of the ways John Williams score helped to bring major movie magic to the proceedings. Williams provides details about both his and Spielberg's thoughts on the requirements of the music. A few words are shared about the storytelling importance of a few of the score's themes.
Landing: Airport Stories (6 min.) features the cast discussing their stories from the set during filming.
Photo Gallery includes production photos . Lastly, two theatrical trailers are included for The Terminal.
The Terminal is a seriously underrated gem within Steven Spielberg's filmography. It's one of the most charming and delightful movies from the 2000's and the story and filmmaking adds up to a surprising, heartfelt, and meaningful story that is one of the best told by its director.
This film might not have been as successful for Spielberg's career but it's a movie that manages to make me smile every time I see it. Movies like this are the reason I love movies in the first place. When I think of "magic in movies" I think of Spielberg, and a film as full of beauty as The Terminal is a large reason why.
The Terminal is a heartfelt film that is effectively made with an interesting script, great acting, impeccable direction, a glorious score, and one of the most underrated production designs ever utilized in a film. After all, an entire airport terminal was built just so that the film could be as effective as it needed to be throughout filming. That's an incredible feat that should have been able to net the film some more recognition that is still deserves.
I give this film my highest recommendation: the highly coveted DVD Talk Collector Series.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.