In the near future, breathable air is nonexistent. Virtually all of humanity has disappeared, and those chosen to reestablish society reside in a controlled state of suspended animation. Two engineers tasked with guarding the last hope for mankind struggle to preserve their own sanity and lives while administering to the vital task at hand.
The world that 'Air' creates is an interesting one. The Earth's atmosphere has become unbreathable, which caused a worldwide catastrophe killing most humans. Before the world became uninhabitable, however, a bunker – perhaps there were others, we don't know – was built, and people were stored inside. The people exist in constant cryogenic sleep, ready to awake when the air is once again suitable for life.
The bunker needs to be managed though, so two men, Bauer (Norman Reedus) and Cartwright (Djimon Hounsou) are tasked with the job. The mechanism that brings them into the picture adds a curious wrinkle to the sci-fi predicament.
We soon learn that every six months Bauer and Cartwright are awakened from their cryo-sleep in order to perform menial tasks and maintenance on the rest of the sleepers. They've been doing this for a while now, because they're familiar with each other. It's a peculiar dynamic, especially since they only have a little over an hour to complete all diagnostic work and get back to sleep. See, there's only a limited amount of stored oxygen to go around, once it runs out they better be in their sleep pods or they'll suffocate.
This creates a locked room mystery, which works so far as we buy into the premise. It's a high-concept idea – end of the Earth – told in low-budget style. It works, for the most part. The problem comes when the two actors don't exude the kind of chemistry one might expect from what is essentially a two-man show. When it's just them on screen for the majority of the movie you'd expect that their interactions would have to be the most engaging aspect of the movie. They're not.
As soon as the two men awake to start their rounds there's an air of intrigue surrounding them. They're both hiding secrets, but we're unsure what they are. The question is, are the secrets really worth it?
The setup is quite compelling. That much is true about 'Air.' However, it's in the details where the movie loses its footing and never quite regains it. While it does create a believable world it ultimately fails to populate it with charismatic or attention-grabbing characters.
Furthermore, the high-concept ideas don't seem to be backed up. As the movie races toward its conclusion it doesn't feel like it lives up to its premise's promise. What begins as a sci-fi tale with heavy potential to go all sorts of different ways, ends up being a tale of two men that never really materializes.
Instead it founders as it tries desperately to make sense of itself. It's a difficult plot to live up to especially given the restrictions of its low-budget production.
Perhaps the most egregious error the movie makes is moving away from its world-building and moving inexplicably toward the underdeveloped relationship between Cartwright and Bauer. It's understandable that two men locked in a room together, years on end, may end up getting on each other's nerves. Though, that must be balanced with the mystery and intrigue surrounding the movie's plot.
Ultimately, 'Air' feels unfinished and light on scientific exploration. It focuses on its two main characters out of necessity, but when they fail to provide the movie with engaging interaction we're left with a shell of a sci-fi film. One with promise that appears to go unfulfilled.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a barebones release. One 50GB Blu-ray contained in a standard keepcase. That's it.
The 1080p transfer provided by Sony demonstrates a clear, but unremarkable video presentation. It's noticeable right from the start that the movie has a cheaper look to it. That's understandable given what was probably a cash-strapped production (at least compared to bigger Hollywood productions). Said another way, 'Air' certainly has that digital sheen. There's never a moment that it looks cinematic. Instead it looks like a glossy digitally-filmed Syfy Channel Original.
That's not to say the transfer isn't as detailed as you might expect from a recent high-def transfer. There's some good detail here, especially in close ups. Though much of the photography has a hazy appearance to it, especially in mid-range shots. This can be chalked up to the confines of the dark, grimy set and no sunlight to take advantage of.
Dominating the color palette are various shades of grays and blacks. It's a very dark, grim movie given that it's filmed entirely in an underground bunker. Shadows and other dark areas aren't as inky as one might expect. There is some noise and slight banding in a few areas. Some VFX shots – which are few and far between – do harbor some slight banding and aliasing. It's not too big of a deal. This certainly isn't a video transfer you'll be excited to show your friends.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, however, does pick up some of the slack. There's some nicely realized surround sound provided here. The audio is definitely the high point for this release.
The bunker in which to two guys live is full of creaks, groans, clinks and echoes seemingly emanating from nowhere. The sounds make the place feel alive. They pop up in the rear speakers, providing the illusion that you're stuck in an echo chamber with these guys.
Voices have a nice, believable echo too. Surrounded by metal it's crucial that the dialogue interact with the echo-producing surroundings. Bass is alive and well as thumps, clanks, and other distant sounds bang around in the sound field. While the video presentation is forgettable, the nuance of the audio presentation might perk up some ears.
An Account of Confinement: Creating 'Air' (HD, 8 min.) – A brief, promo-style look into the movie's characters, ideas, set design, etc.
The Custodians (HD, 7 min.) – A short study of each main character. Again, feels more like an extended commercial rather than a worthwhile featurette.
The idea is thought-provoking at the very least. I'm a sucker for any sort of sci-fi dystopia not involving world-saving teenagers. However, 'Air' fails to explore its own mysteries and settles for a lukewarm character drama that doesn't excite or expound. It's got a ho-hum video presentation coupled with a strong audio mix. It may be worth a rent if you're a big Reedus fan and you want to see what he's like when he's not killing zombies. Other than that you really don't have to concern yourself with it.