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Air Force One
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Screenplay: Andrew W. Marlowe
Stars: Harrison Ford (President James Marshall), Gary Oldman (Ivan Korshunov), Glenn Close (Vice President Kathryn Bennett), Wendy Crewson (Grace Marshall), Paul Guilfoyle (Chief of Staff Lloyd Shepherd), William H. Macy (Major Caldwell), Liesel Matthews (Alice Marshall), Dean Stockwell (Defense Secretary Walter Dean)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1997
Country: U.S.
Air Force One Blu-Ray
Air Force One James Marshall is some President. Not only is he a great speechmaker who can ad-lib a quick attack on international terrorists, thus setting U.S. policy against the will of his top advisors ... not only is he a loving family man with a beautiful wife and a lovely 12-year-old daughter who actually looks up to him ... not only is he the down-to-earth kind of guy who loves football games and beer ... he’s also a Medal of Honor winner from Vietnam who can handle a submachine gun as readily as sign an international agreement. He has the kind of genuine force of conviction that allows him to make Bush-esque threats to would-be terrorists while also openly admitting the U.S.’s moral failure to help those in need unless benefits America. Oh, and he speaks fluent Russian and looks like Harrison Ford.

If you can get over the extensive suspension of disbelief it requires to accept the heroic perfection of this fictional President of the United States, Wolfgang Peterson’s Air Force One is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of action pulp, a movie calculated with statistical precision to function as both a patriotic call to arms and an emotional heart-tugger about a man’s family in jeopardy. In fact, if Air Force One had been made in, say, 1939 and had been funded by Germany with a slightly different nationalistic bent, it might have made a pretty good Nazi propaganda film.

The plot can be easily described as Die Hard on the presidential plane: After declaring that the U.S. will never negotiate with terrorists, Air Force One is summarily hijacked by a group of Russian terrorists posing as reporters (which conveniently side-steps the Middle East issue because no one ever seems to feel the need to stand up for caricatured Russian baddies). Led by the ultra-nationalistic Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), the terrorists gun down most of the passengers, but keep about 40 alive so they can execute one every half an hour until the Vice President (Glenn Close) can guarantee that one of Korshunov’s recently arrested comrades is released from prison.

Although it starts off a bit slowly, Air Force One is a slick package that keeps us enthralled because both home and country are at stake. Even though the movie gives lip service to the Russian terrorists by allowing Oldman’s character to explain his plight every once in a while and pointedly compare murdering hostages to the President dropping smart bombs (“The only difference is he does it in a tuxedo with a telephone”), there is never any confusion about who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. This is as black hat/white hat as a classic western.

As James Marshall, Ford gives it his all, turning himself into something of a RoboPresident, an amalgam of everything we would love our leader to embody, which is a bit of a letdown since no action star should be quite this perfect; even Indiana Jones was sometimes accused of being a grave robber and John McClane was a male chauvinist. The rest of the roles are just background, with quality players like William H. Macy and Dean Stockwell floating around the margins enough to have their presence noticed, but without ever making their actions all that important. Ford vs. Oldman is the whole show here, and their vicious verbal and physical battles are both intense and laughable in their hysteria.

The script by first-timer Andrew W. Marlowe (End of Days, Hollow Man) quickly reaches ludicrous proportions and never looks back, which keeps the audience from thinking too much. Although the movie has been made with a great eye for physical detail, especially the incredible sets that replicate the vast interior of Air Force One, the movie is never meant to be taken seriously. Petersen, who was coming off the hits In the Line of Fire (1993) and Outbreak (1995), stages the action scenes with a great deal of gusto: there are shootings, strangling, explosions, and plane crashes (although some of the movie’s more elaborate sequences are undermined by shoddy digital effects). The body count is high and sometimes the violence is more intense than it probably needs to be, but on the whole Air Force One delivers a ridiculously satisfying twist on an old plot line.

Air Force One Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
Audio
  • English Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish, French, Portuguese
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director Wolfgang Petersen
  • DistributorSony Pictures Home Entertainment
    SRP$28.95
    Release DateJune 2, 2009

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    This is the third incarnation of Air Force One on home video, following the initial DVD release in 1998 and a Superbit edition in 2002, both of which looked quite good. Nevertheless, the Blu-Ray edition’s new high-definition 1080p image provides a noticeable improvement. It looks overall extremely good, with strong colors, solid blacks, and great definition and detail that don’t sacrifice the filmlike appearance (i.e., you can still see some grain). The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround soundtrack has plenty of kick and surround effects to immerse you in the various action sequences.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    The only supplement included on the Blu-Ray is a screen-specific audio commentary by director Wolfgang Petersen that was recorded for the initial DVD release back in 1998. Speaking in perfect English, Petersen seems to enjoy talking about the film, with special emphasis being given on the details of the production process.

    Overall Rating: (3)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


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