After millions of people around the globe mysteriously disappear, veteran pilot Ray Steele must fight to protect the passengers that remain on his flight. Trapped at 30,000 feet, he must find a way to safely land the damaged plane, and comprehend the chaos that awaits as the most devastating event in history unfolds.
I know what you're thinking. The opportunity to review 'Left Behind' on Blu-ray gives this reviewer a chance not only to have some fun at actor Nicholas Cage's expense, but also take a few swipes at the genre of 'Christian-based cinema', which notoriously seems to keep releasing low budget bad movie after low budget bad movie to theater audiences. Make no mistake, 'Left Behind' is pretty low budget (reports are this one cost about $16 million, with probably a few of those millions going to Cage's salary), but it's not that bad…well, at least not as bad as all those other reviews would have you believe, and certainly not so bad that it doesn't have a few interesting moments worth checking out.
The movie, of course, it based on the series of best-selling books about 'The Rapture', taken from an interpretation of the Bible's final book, Revelation (that's without an 's', despite Hollywood almost always getting it wrong – it's one Revelation, not multiple ones, as my college religious studies professor always reminded me). For those of you who never went to Sunday School (or are perhaps of a different religious background), 'The Rapture' is when God calls all his believers up to heaven and leaves all the non-believers behind here on Earth to face seven years of 'Tribulation', during which the Anti-Christ will take over the planet. At the end of the seven years, Christ returns, overthrows the Anti-Christ, and everyone (at least those who have followed God, including ones that turned to Him during those seven years) lives happily ever after. Don't worry if I lost any of you, you only need to understand the first part to watch this movie, as that's the only part that gets covered.
Nic Cage stars as airline pilot Rayford Steele, who runs into his daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson), at the airport. She's come back home to help celebrate his birthday, but he's been assigned to a London flight and won't be able to stay. Both Ray and Chloe have somewhat of an estranged relationship with his wife/her mother, Irene (Lea Thompson), ever since she became a Christian. This leads to the best line of the movie, as Ray says his wife has left him for another man…and that man is Jesus Christ. Chloe has also caught her dad flirting with one of his flight attendants, Hattie (Nicky Whelan), whom Ray has been having an affair with, unbeknownst to anyone in his family. While Ray and Chloe have a short reunion at the airport, they both still go their separate ways. While in the terminal, though, Chloe also runs into news reporter Cameron 'Buck' Williams (Chad Michael Murray), whom we can also file in the 'non-believer' category. Buck is a passenger on Ray's flight, but spends enough time flirting with Chloe that the two are pretty much an item by the time Buck boards the plane. On a side note – in case you've already noticed – 'Cameron' has been added to Buck's name as a nod toward actor Kirk Cameron, who played the same role in the earlier direct-to-home video movies.
Unlike the original 'Left Behind' movie, which covered all of the events in the novel of the same name, this 'Left Behind' only deals with 'The Rapture' itself, a decision that is explained in the bonus material to this disc, but one that I found to be disappointing as a viewer. While covering just a short part of the novel does give viewers time to get to know each of the major characters a bit better than we might otherwise, it also has the frustrating aspect of ending the movie on a cliffhanger. Okay, all these people have vanished…now what happens? Sadly, we don't get the answers here – nor do we get any real redemption of the characters themselves. There's some hinting at the end that Ray, Chloe, and Buck (as well as a few others we meet along the way) are all going to re-examine their lives, but not giving viewers those moments makes one walk away from the movie feeling robbed of any closure. Of course, the filmmakers went into this thinking they were about to launch a whole series of theatrical releases – but the movie pretty much tanked at the box office (only $14 million domestically and a little short of $20 million worldwide in box office take), putting any future movies (especially one in which they hope to bring Nic Cage back as an actor) at grave risk.
As a movie, 'Left Behind' has a lot of problems, not the least of which is how low budget it looks. Despite the big-screen 2.39:1 framing, the film feels very 'small' and comes off very much like a made-for-TV movie…made for a second-tier network, at that. Most of the acting here isn't very good, either – although Nic Cage is fine in his part, and Chad Michael Murray isn't all that bad, either (the rest of the cast is pretty questionable though - including Lea Thompson in a limited role). Even with all those things working against it, I can't say the movie is completely unwatchable. A large part of that is due to Cage, who thankfully never goes over the top as he's often prone to do in his films. His character, sadly, isn't given a whole lot in terms of depth, but what he is given, Cage manages to convey nicely.
Even though I wouldn't rank 'Left Behind' as a 'bad movie', it's also not a very good one. The premise is interesting, to say the least, but the filmmakers are hindered by a number of factors, many of which I've already mentioned above. There probably is a really good movie to be made from this concept (in fact, although it doesn't take the Christian angle, HBO's 'The Leftovers' is tackling this premise quite nicely), but this isn't that film. However, it's also nowhere near as bad as you've been led to believe and worth taking a look at if you're a follower of Nic Cage, have a religious background or belief, or just want an interesting rental to check out some rainy evening.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Left Behind' appears on Blu-ray from Entertainment One in the same type of keepcases (I'm unaware of who makes them, as there is no company logo on the case) that Sony uses for most of their Blu-rays – the kind with a little flap on the side you must open before opening the actual case. The keepcase houses the single-layer 25GB disc, with no inserts. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase slick slides overtop.
The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for 'God Gave Me Wings', 'Little Red Wagon', and 'In the Name of God'. The main menu consists of a still of the box cover image, with menu selections running down the left side of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
Please Note: While 'Left Behind' played fine on my Oppo-103D, when it came time to capture some screenshots on my computer, my computer Blu-ray drive would not read the disc at all, let alone let me try to open it with any of my playback software (it literally just kept spitting the disc back out). Therefore, the 'screenshots' you see in this review are actually just promotional photos for the movie and are not a reflection of the actual transfer on this disc.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that the movie gets here isn't that bad at all, although thanks to the cinematography of the movie (which is largely a factor of its low budget), there's not very much in terms of visual appeal happening on screen. 'Left Behind' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa equipment, but suffers some of the problems I sometimes notice with movies filmed using Arri equipment. The scenes that take place on the ground look decent enough, but the transfer does seem a tad oversaturated and the actors' faces often tend to look a little more 'orangish' that I would prefer. The half of the movie that takes place aboard the airplane, however, is pretty flat looking, thanks in large part to the dimly lit cabin that star Nic Cage finds himself sitting in for the majority of the film. It's not that details are all that bad, it's more that there isn't all that much to look at in the first place.
In terms of other issues, like banding, aliasing or the like, I didn't notice any major issues. One problem though is that there's quite a bit of green screen work in the movie, and it's not all that great, so the lines you see around the edge of the actors at times aren't issues with this transfer, but rather shoddy special effects work on part of the creators of this film.
The primary track here is a lossy English 5.1 Dolby Digital one, which honestly probably wouldn't sound a whole lot better even if we'd gotten a DTS-HD or TrueHD track. The soundtrack to the film sounds like something that was taken from the public domain (it's not, but it rarely seems to have any connection with what's going on with the characters), there's no feeling of immersiveness to the track, and the actors' dialogue (confined to the front three speakers – often coming out of all three at the same time) comes across as flat, with no real distinctiveness or crispness.
While the audio is less than ideal, it doesn't suffer from any major glitches or problems either. No noticeable dropouts exist, and while the track is less than powerful, it is well balanced and never overbearing – just not very dynamic.
In addition to the English 5.1 Dolby Digital track, a 5.1 Dolby Digital track is also available in French. Subtitles are available in both English and Spanish.
'Left Behind' is not a very good movie, but it's far from deserving of the pans and dismissals it received from most critics. While both the budget and the production values are pretty low for a major motion picture, there's nothing embarrassing about Nic Cage's performance in this one, which – at the very least – is enough to give this one a viewing, whether you're a follower of the Christian faith or not. Rent it.