Flight on Blu-ray

by Jim Bray
February 6, 2013

Robert Zemeckis is back in the world of live action movies, after spending the last several years pushing the technology envelope and letting filmmakers like James Cameron stand on his shoulders.

It's a welcome return, not that his performance capture CG films weren't worthwhile, though I didn't see his last one. But The Polar Express and Beowulf were both excellent efforts, entertaining and dazzling in the manner of such previous Zemeckis outings as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," the Back to the Future trilogy, "Forrest Gump" and "Contact."

Gump and Contact also showed that the director could deal with serious issues ranging from mental deficiency (and didn't Forrest turn out to be the most decent, if not the smartest, person in that film?) and God him/her/itself (some really big issues are discussed in Contact and, for a nice change in a Hollywood film, the religious people weren't treated as a bunch of knuckle dragging rubes). Yet as he dealt with these serious issues his movies never stopped being highly entertaining.

And that's what I think is wrong with Flight. It deals with serious issues, but somewhere along the way it stopped being entertaining. A shame, that, because all the elements are here: one man's struggle against forces that may be stronger than him, a big time special effects-laden air disaster (though he's done that before, with Cast Away), political hearings (a la Contact), a romantic interest, etc.

But by the time the movie was over and our very flawed hero acquits himself (and would many of us actually have the guts he shows then?), my family found ourselves thinking "Whew! About time! Now let's watch Forrest Gump again!"

That said, there's a lot of meat here; perhaps it's just that the theme of addiction and denial of same makes it tough to make a movie that's as entertaining as, say, Romancing the Stone – and perhaps that was the point.

Denzel Washington stars – and is excellent in the role – as Whip Whitaker, pilot of a commuter jet that suffers what appears to be a catastrophic mechanical failure in some of its control surfaces. He's an alcoholic who also has a penchant for blow, and he may or may not be at or above the legal limit for intoxication when he takes the left hand seat of his jet on that fateful flight.

Even if he isn't "legally" impaired, he's certainly more impaired than any airline would allow if it knew – yet when push comes to shove and the lives are on the line, he rises to the occasion magnificently, bringing the plane to a nearly safe landing with minimal loss of life under the circumstances. He's a hero, as he's told repeatedly throughout the rest of the film.

That won't matter to the powers that be, however, all of whom seem to be in CYA mode and looking for someone to blame – and who better than the guy who flew under the influence?

Most of the movie is really about that theme, of the establishment looking to put blame and Whitaker trying to duck it – and he's given every opportunity to do so. But no, he continues his destructive direction and it looks as if he's going to have to lie – including sullying the name of a co-worker, to keep his life and his career intact.

The movie really is about addiction and addicts, but it beats us over the head with it and the movie could have been shorter since we basically see the same things over and over again as Whitaker fights gamely, and at times lamely, to win the day.

Don't get me wrong; this is still a movie that's well worth seeing. I was just disappointed in the repeated booze incidents ad nauseam and was hoping for a movie that would be a more entertaining time in the home theater. In short, I guess I was hoping for the Zemeckis I knew rather than this new direction.

Nothing wrong with a change of pace or a  new direction and I certainly have a lot of time for Robert Zemeckis - and after all the great movies he's done he definitely deserves some slack. And, really, I'd rather watch Flight again than "Death Becomes Her"…

Washington anchors the cast here and he's fantastic in the role. John Goodman is basically only around for a couple of scenes and the rest of the cast, including Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly and Bruce Greenwood, are all good actors who turn in good performances, but they're outclassed here by Washington's haunted hero.

Oh, if you've only seen the trailers, you could mistake this for another action adventure flick, but you'd be wrong. It starts off like that, perhaps, but then it becomes a character study, so the trailers are quite misleading about this film. Forewarned is forearmed!

As a Blu-ray, it's pretty good, though there aren't a lot of special features.

Trailers start when you first put the disc into your player, but you can skip them and head to the main menu. More annoying is that when you select the pop up menu from the remote (while the film is playing) you're offered a few choices not including the supplements, for which you have to go back to the home menu first. What's with that?

To be fair, this isn't the only movie this "feature" has appeared on, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Zemeckis has long embraced technology and with Flight, he shot the film digitally, though (as George Lucas did with the last two of his Star Wars prequels) he's endeavored to keep as film-like a look as possible.

It works. The 1080p picture is quite superb, real reference stuff (though I doubt most people would choose this particular film as a way to show off their home theaters). The image is bright and sharp, with deep blacks and good depth and great color.

The main audio track is offered in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and it's also excellent. The big plane crash at the beginning really brings all channels to life, including the low frequency effects one of course, and is exciting and enveloping. Yet even as all heck is breaking loose, you can still hear every word the characters say – which of course is exactly as it should be.

Extras are decent but nothing really outstanding. Besides the digital copy, there are three short documentaries on the making of the film, as well as an all-too-short Q&A with cast and crew (sans Washington, who they say was sick that day).

Of the documentaries, I found "Anatomy of a Plane Crash" the most interesting because it dealt with how they actually pulled off the very convincing near disaster – and it's very cool. The other two ("Origins of Flight" and "The Making of Flight") are pretty straightforward "making of" thingies. They're interesting, but I was just getting into them when they ended.  

Flight is obviously not going to go down in my personal Robert Zemeckis hall of fame. Despite that, it's great to see the director back and I'm glad I saw this entry into his library. The fact that it wasn't my cup of tea just means I'm even more up for one of his more highly entertaining offerings. Next time?

Flight, from Paramount Home Entertainment
138 min. 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood and Melissa Leo
Written by John Gatins, directed by Robert Zemeckis

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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