FLy Away Home

"Fly Away Home" on Blu-ray disc

Dreams Take Flight

Based on a true story, Carroll Ballard's "Fly Away Home" could be used to illustrate the term "heartwarming" in the dictionary.

Anna Paquin is Amy Alden, who at the movie's opening survives a car accident in New Zealand that kills her mother. Her Canadian father (played by Jeff Daniels) comes to the land of the Kiwi to bring her home to live with him again, setting up a predictable set of conflicts between the estranged 13 year old and the father she scarcely knows.

What brings them together is a clutch of Canada goose eggs she mothers but who, being wild, will eventually want to fly the coop and make their way south for the winter. Together, Amy and her inventor/artist father devise a plan to teach the geese to follow Amy as she flies an ultralight aircraft, leading them to a chosen wintering grounds in the U.S.

The film mostly follows the training, both of teaching Amy to fly and the geese to fly with Amy. The conflict in the film, besides the initial angst between Amy and her dad, are provided by an "evil" fish and game bureaucrat who wants to follow the rule book and clip the geese's wings to prevent them from flying - and near the end a typically stereotypical evil and black hearted businessman who wants to build on the land where the geese will spend their winter.

Ballard, who also directed "The Black Stallion" and "Never Cry Wolf," has a flair for this type of film and, true to form, "Fly Away Home" is a beautiful movie. The look and feel are glorious, and they've picked the most beautiful time (autumn) to showcase southern Ontario's colorful tapestry of changing tree leaves.

Paquin is very good as Amy, the sad little girl who finds happiness and meaning in her life. Daniels, who's always good, is always good here as well; Dana Delany also turns in a good performance, though she's mostly wasted here in what's basically a large cameo.

Despite a couple of "light handed" (as opposed to heavy handed) descents into anti-corporate and anti-authority political correctness, this is a marvelous movie that makes you feel really, really good.

Sony's Blu-ray is also a delightful package. The video is presented in 1080p at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and while it's very good overall - with good detail, wonderful color and even pretty good depth in places, there's also quite a bit of grain that shows up on the high def picture.

Audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it's also very good, with decent use of surround. This is not a reference disc, but it's a nice presentation of a nice movie.

Extras include BD Live, which we can take or leave (and generally leave), and a commentary featuring the director Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (who also worked with Ballard on the gorgeous "Black Stallion" and shot "The Right Stuff" and "The Passion of the Christ" so beautifully).They got rid of the DVD's isolated, track of the film's ultimately forgettable musical score, with commentary by composer Mark Isham, and that's fine with us.

Sony has also thrown in the featurette "Operation Migration: Birds of a Feather", a documentary ""The UltraGeese" and an HBO "Making of" feature called "Leading the Flock".

Fly Away Home, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
108 min. 1080p widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin, Dana Delany, Terry Kinney
Produced by John Veitch and Carol Baum
Written by Robert Rodat and Vince McKewin, Directed by Carroll Ballard.

The One

The One on Blu-ray disc

Jet Li is his own worst enemy in this nifty sci-fi/martial arts action flick.

It's a quantum theory-inspired parallel universe tale in which numerous universes (a multiverse) co-exist, with different versions of each of us populating them. Earth may be in the dark about such a fact, but other universes are aware of the multiverse and some have figured out that they can travel between them - and do. Such travel is strictly controlled, however, and unauthorized use is a criminal offence.

Then along comes Yulaw (Li), a renegade cop from the Multiverse Bureau of Investigation. He has decided to become "the One," the only copy of himself in any universe, and he's zapping himself from space to space, gunning down his other selves brutally. Since there's an energy balance in the multiverse, with each killing Yulaw and the other surviving versions of his character get stronger and more powerful. Yulaw believes that if he can eliminate all his other selves he will become The One and his power will be Godlike.

So we join the story as Yulaw has killed more than 120 of his doppelgangers, with the opening sequence involving the offing of the second last one. So now there's only one left: Gabe Law and, wouldn't you know, he lives in the universe we all know and love so well. So Yulaw he pops into Los Angeles to do the deed, followed closely by a pair of MBI agents charged with bringing him back to face justice in another universe.

What ensues is a series of stylized and choreographed fights between Li and his opponents and, thanks to Hollywood magic, Li and himself.

It's a neat story and an interesting concept and the writers/director have pulled it off quite well. Li is likable and believable in his dual role (well, as the good guy,anyway) and he's backed up by a journeyman cast that includes Carla Gugino as his wife(s), with Delroy Lindo and Jason Statham as the agents sent to track down and bring back Yulaw.

The production values and special effects are first rate and what could otherwise have been a mindless martial arts romp or "Matrix" clone turns out to be a pretty nifty and imaginative story with characters you can believe in and root for.

The Blu-ray is also first rate, though we must confess a bit of disappointment at finding some grain. The movie is presented in 1080p high definition at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. It's sharp for the most part, with vivid colors and decent blacks - good depth, too, but again, we expected more.

Audio is offered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround and it's easily up to snuff, with great dynamics and good use of surround. This is a movie you want to be loud and in your face, and they oblige.

Extras include a commentary by the director and crew (not all the crew, fortunately, or it would get a tad cacophonous) a "Making of" feature called "Jet Li is "The One"" a bit on the multiverse, animatic comparisons, BD Live, and more.

The One, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
87 min. 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround.
Starring Jet Li, Delroy Lindo, Carla Gugino, Jason Statham
Produced by Glen Morgan, Steven Chasman
Written by Glen Morgan & James Wong, Directed by James Wong

Ghosts of Mars

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars on Blu-ray Disc.

The Master Swings, but Misses

by Jim Bray

John Carpenter is such a good and independent filmmaker he deserves a little slack. After all, his films are always interesting and imaginative, and he's constantly risking commercial disaster by following his own path through Hollywood.

In his illustrious career so far he's brought us "cult" classics like Starman, Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13, Dark Star (which he made as a college project) and the brilliantly funny martial arts/action send up Big Trouble in Little China.

He's also done a couple of comparative dogs along the way, notably Escape from L.A. and Prince of Darkness. Yet even these films were at least different from the mindless pap Hollywood usually churns out to make a quick buck (with the possible exception, alas, of Escape from L.A.)

This time, Carpenter turns his auteur's vision onto the Red Planet, and I went into it hoping that, at last, there'd be a Mars film on the par with the excellent Total Recall.

Alas, 'twas not to be. This time, the mighty Carpenter has struck out. Not completely, mind you, but mostly.

The premise is promising: after human colonization of Mars, the people there discover a buried ancient native (well, we assume it's native) species that appears to have been dead for ages. These people, or whatever they are (they're the Ghosts of Mars, of course) don't take kindly to outsiders taking over their planet and, of course, they fight back. Their method of warfare is to take over the invaders, possessing them, and causing them to go nuts and kill each other.

Fair enough. Interesting concept that hearkens back to such Mars literary classics as Heinlein's Red Planet and Stranger in a Strange Land.

Unfortunately, the concept is never followed through logically, not that logic has ever stood in Carpenter's way before! But his films usually follow a kind of internal logic, and this is thrown to the winds of Mars in this flick. So what could and should have been another great John Carpenter horror movie (after all, he's the guy who made The Thing, Halloween, Vampires, Village of the Damned, Christine and The Fog, among others), ends up being little more than an apparently low budget action yarn falls down under its own weight.

Ghosts of Mars' biggest problem is the stupidity of the characters, some of whom are professional soldiers who are supposedly able to think on their feet (or at least that's what I assume professional soldiers can do). Evidence: they discover that whenever they kill someone who's possessed by a ghost, the ghost leaves that body and slips quickly into another nearby one - and it could even be them. Despite this, they don't try to merely incapacitate or stun the enemy: they shoot to kill. And as the bodies fall, other bodies are taken over, in what amounts to an interplanetary repossession operation.

Well duh!

You'd think they'd at least learn from their mistakes after killing the first coupla ghosts. But no.

Okay, maybe they didn't have access to stun bombs, but why not just shoot the possessed people (who are, after all, innocent victims) in the knees?

The cast is okay. Natasha Henstridge is given a golden career opportunity as the lead character, Lt. Melanie Bradford, and though she isn't bad, it appears she wasn't ready to carry an entire film at the time. Ice Cube, the "musician" who was actually pretty good in Three Kings, plays fugitive "Desolation" Williams. He's okay, too. Just okay. Pam Grier is better, perhaps because she's been around longer and has honed some acting chops. She plays Capt. Braddock, the leader of the military force, but she's offed and her head put onto a pike, so that ends her use as a thespian.

The main flaw with the film, as hinted at above - and which is the main flaw in most movies, is Larry Sulkis and John Carpenter's screenplay. Must have been an off day.

Carpenter, as is often the case, wrote the movie's musical score. He's usually pretty good, with heavy use of percussion and synthesizers. Unfortunately, this was an off day for him, too. This soundtrack is more like the hard rock soundtracks found in movies like Final Fantasy and Titan A.E. and, as with those films, it's intrusive and gets in the way of the mood.

In the end, I have to give John Carpenter some slack. Not everyone creates a minor masterpiece every time, and it isn't as if Ghosts of Mars isn't worth watching at least once.

The Blu-ray is pretty good. The high definition widescreen picture (1080p, 2.40:1), looks very good, with very nice color and blacks and pretty good depth. The high def also makes it apparent that this very dark movie was also a comparatively low budget one, or at least that's how it appears - and it shows through.

The audio (Dolby TrueHD 5.1) is better than it was on the DVD, but it still doesn't really leap out at you, unfortunately.

Extras include a commentary track by John Carpenter and Natasha Henstridge, a video diary "Red Desert Nights", special effects "deconstructions," and a featurette on the music. The disc is also BD Live enabled, if you care.

I look forward to the eventual Blu-ray release of many Carpenter classics. The Thing is available already and it looks and sounds great. Better still, it also features a terrific screenplay, like so many other Carpenter films. I wish this one did, too.

John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
98 minutes, 1080p (2.4:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier and Joanna Cassidy
Written by Larry Sulkis & John Carpenter
Produced by Sandy King, Directed by John Carpenter.

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

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