Few modern directors can make a movie within confined spaces work as well as Wolfgang Petersen, who gained fame for "Das Boot" and then went on to do "The Perfect Storm" (boat), "Air Force One" (plane) and then "Poseidon" (boat again, only this time, bigger boat.) 1997's "Air Force One" is a tight, efficient thriller with a simple, straightforward plot: a group of Russian terrorists, lead by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), manage to get aboard Air Force One for a flight from Moscow to Washington, DC.
Not long after the plane is in the air, Korshunov and his men put their plan into action, hijacking the plane and demanding that the recently imprisoned director of Kazakhstan, General Alexander Radek (Jurgen Prochnow) be freed - or else. While President Marshall (Harrison Ford) is sent to the escape pod shortly after the attack begins, Marshall instead hides out in the luggage hold.
When the coast becomes a bit clearer, Marshall starts a sneak attack, taking out the terrorists one-by-one in an attempt to take back the plane and save his family. Meanwhile, the Vice President (Glenn Close) and staff in Washington frantically try to buy time and figure out a plan. That's the long and short of the movie, and Petersen manages to stage some tense action sequences within the halls of the plane. Some of the film's special effects have begun to look dated, although one particular FX moment towards the end always looked as if it could have used quite a bit more work.
The performances also help matters, as Ford makes a fitting action hero and Oldman makes an intimidating and unhinged villain. While a bit of a thankless role, Close also gives a good supporting performance. Watching the film again after several years, I will say that I didn't remember some of the dialogue being so clunky, but the picture maintains enough tension to look past some of these concerns.
"Air Force One" isn't without its flaws, but the movie is a tight and tense enough picture to make up for some of the weaker aspects of the film.
VIDEO: "Air Force One" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and while the results are an improvement over the DVD, there are still a few mild concerns spotted. Sharpness and detail are terrific at times (and appear better than the DVD), although some scenes look mildly softer (some of the more dated FX shots are not done any favors by the overall increase in clarity on the Blu-Ray over the DVD.)
Grain is seen throughout the movie (and is sometimes quite noticeable), but is an intentional element of the cinematography. Slight edge enhancement is spotted in a few scenes, as well as a couple of traces of artifacting. The print appeared mostly crisp and clean, aside from a couple of slight specks that were seen briefly. Colors looked bold and well-saturated, with no smearing or other concerns. While not demo material, this was a nice (if not massive) upgrade over the DVD.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Once the film's action gets underway, this is a powerful and aggressive audio presentation, with terrific use of the rear speakers to deliver effects and reinforcement for Jerry Goldsmith's score. The dynamic, powerful presentation boasted tight, deep bass and fierce, well-recorded effects. Despite all the action, dialogue never seemed overshadowed.
EXTRAS: Aside from several trailers for other titles from the studio, we also get the commentary from director Wolfgang Petersen. This is the same commentary that was provided on the prior DVD Special Edition. It's an excellent track that sees Petersen (a moderator and interviewer are also heard) chatting enthusiastically about the development of the film, casting, behind-the-scenes issues and quite a bit more. This is certainly an informative track.
Final Thoughts: Although the picture feels a little dated in spots and has its concerns, "Air Force One" still remains a solid action flick, with a very good performance from Ford. The Blu-Ray offers moderately better audio/video quality, but the same main extra carried over from the DVD. Recommended.
The Film B