AIR FORCE ONE and GLORY Blu-ray Reviews

     August 7, 2009

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The catalog flood of titles to Blu-ray is one of the best and worst things about getting the new toy that is Blu-ray. The good news is that a lot of great titles are coming out looking better than ever. The bad news is not only might you get double dipped, you’re more than likely to purchase something that will look great but always kind of sucked. My reviews of Air Force One and Glory after the jump.

air_force_one_movie_image_harrison_ford_01.jpgI’m a critic, so I get these discs for free. And so I’m sort of happy to revisit things a couple years later to see how I feel about them. Air Force One was a film one of my friends always called President Kick-Ass, and that’s the film’s biggest problem. You could also call it President Die Hard. The premise is that Harrison Ford is James Marshall, the POTA, and just delivered a blistering speech about how the country will not stand for terrorism, or badness, or anything untoward. His advisors are scared about this speech, but he boards his plane back from Russia to America. Along for the ride is Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), who wants the president to free General Ivan Radek (Jorgen Prochnow) from prison. The president is given just enough time to escape in an escape pod, but since his family’s on board, he decides to deal with the terrorists himself. With violence. Cause he can kick ass.

The problem with a film like this is that the main character is the president of the United States of fucking America. I’m sure that’s partly why the film was a hit, and traded on Ford’s more recent turns as Jack Ryan. And in a way, I guess that can be satisfying, having a President who can actually handle himself in a fight and the audience knows that the thrills are going to be safe. But from my perspective, having the main character be essentially unkillable, it needed to raise the stakes elsewhere, and the film doesn’t have the balls to kill off his wife or kid. Otherwise, it’s a fairly skilled but by the numbers jaunt around Die Hard territory, though the cat and mouse is severely limited. There are some good moments here and there, and a nice supporting turn from William H. Macy, but the film is muted in its instincts.

Sony’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 True HD. The transfer is excellent, as to be expected, and it’s not a bad surround sound disc. Extras are limited to a commentary by director Wolfgang Petersen, which originally appeared on the laserdisc, and bonus trailers.

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Glory benefits from being only two hours long. I thought this would be overlong as most movies are these days, clocking in at 140 to 160 minutes or so. That made me feel less bad about the movie.

The problem with Glory is that it’s a movie about the first black soldiers to fight in the civil war, and their training, and the eventual big fight which leaves many of their numbers dead. This story is told mostly through the eyes of Mathew Broderick’s Col. Robert Gould Shaw. Broderick is white (for the record) and as an actor has always been a lightweight. His second in command is Cary Elwes, playing Major Cabot Forbes. Yup, it’s Ferris Bueller and Wesley in command. On the other side of things is Pvt. Trip (Denzel Washington), who is impetuous and on the edge, the older and more learned Sgt.. Major John Rawlins, and Cpl. Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), a free black man, educated to boot, who signs up immediately at the behest of his friend Shaw.

In one corner you have three of the best working actors at the time, or most times, against two of the lightest-weight stars of their era. If Edward Zwick’s career supported the notion, I would think this was the joke of the film, that their story was told through white people’s eyes as a commentary on race relations, and white people trying to show how good they are, and in doing so get in the way of a story that is ultimately less about them, but how white guilt eventually trips the story up and puts the focus on the wrong people. I wish that was the intentional outcome of the story, but instead, you’ve got Washington, Braugher and Freeman literally acing the ur-leads of the movie. As a historical document it’s not terrible, and Denzel Washington was revelatory for many in this role. It’s strange how every time Broderick comes on screen you can’t wait for him to leave, and let the better actors take hold.

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Sony Pictures presents the film in widescreen (1.85:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD. Exclusive to Blu-ray is “Virtual Civil War Battlefield” (HD) which is nothing more than an interactive map for the film’s major set pieces, and the bigger fights of the Civil War. This leads to video clips talking about the significance of each fight, from Gettysburg to the first battle of Bull Run. From the older versions of the film comes a commentary with Zwick. The track is fascinating, and Zwick talks a good game about making the film on a budget. And if the film benefits from anything, it’s not having CGI. There’s two Deleted Scenes (6 min.) with optional commentary. Zwick admits that he cut these because they weren’t that good, which is nice. “The True Story of Glory Continues” (45 min.) has a voice over by Morgan Freeman, and covers the historical ramifications of the first black American soldiers. “Voices of Glory” (11 min.) features letters from the actual black soldiers, and the “Original Theatrical Featurette” (8 min.) is an EPK from the 80’s for an Oscar project. It’s lofty. Also included are bonus trailers.


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