Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
"I don't think war should be turned into some videogame." Yes, a character in 'Stealth' actually utters those ten words -- and wholly without irony. Here's a movie that is exactly what it purports to not be about, a noisy, witless, glossy ode to rah-rah jingoism that reduces the life-and-death realities of war into a soulless videogame action movie. And it is just as terrible of a film as you've likely heard. A major box office flop last summer, 'Stealth' earned a paltry $76 million worldwide (against a budget of $125 million) and didn't do much better on home video. If this isn't the 'Showgirls' of Navy pilot movies, you can't say it was for a lack of trying.
In a half-baked plot that cribs liberally from 'Top Gun,' 'Iron Eagle' 'Firefox' and (I kid you not) Stanley Kubrick's '2001,' the fate of the free world rests on the shoulders of three of the Navy's most elite pilots. Josh Lucas stars as Lt. Ben Gannon, who despite his Maverick-like rebellious attitude and womanizing ways takes war, like, really seriously -- and has the serious hots for fellow pilot Lt. Kara Wade (Jessica Biel). She yearns to return his affection, but goshdarnit, he just can't commit. Meanwhile, third wheel Lt. Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx) resents the military's plan to add a fourth member (Ian Bliss) to their invincible three-person squadron. But when a new form of military on-board artificial intelligence system suddenly develops a mind of its own, the team will have to work out its reality-show issues and dismantle the HAL-like computer or witness the start of WWIII.
'Stealth' is indeed dismal in all the usual ways that mark a Truly Bad Movie. All style with little substance, it is mindless, insipid, poorly written and only moderately well-acted. Really, what can one make of lines like, "You know you love me, you pussy!" or "War's terrible. It's meant to be terrible, and if it stops being terrible, what's going to stop us?" (What!?) Not helping matters is director Rob ('xXx,' 'Fast and the Furious') Cohen, he the uber-master of action that's all sound and fury, signifying nothing. He seems to care not one iota about his plot or his characters, just that they look good half-naked or while flying computer-generated jets in action scenes that felt tired even back in the 'Top Gun' days. And honestly, I don't think I've ever seen so many montages in a single movie -- does this guy want to direct music videos when he grows up?
I'd be lying, however, if I said I wasn't secretly entertained by 'Stealth.' I'm not sure what it is that elevates a merely bad movie into a true camp extravaganza. Maybe it is the complete lack of self-awareness or humor on behalf of the screenplay, Cohen and even the cast. Certainly, Lucas, Foxx and Biel are three actors I have admired before and I'm sure I will admire again. Maybe 'Stealth' is their 'Ishtar,' a movie that sounded good on paper but soon snowballed into such a disaster that the best anyone could do was give it their all and just hope to save face. Whatever the case, for 121 (very long) minutes of unintentional hilarity, 'Stealth' never fails to deliver.
By now, the common consensus among videophiles has been that the Blu-ray launch is a disappointment. The transfers released so far by Blu-ray supporting studios Sony and, to a lesser extent, Lionsgate have been spotty at best. Though it will take more than one title to turn the tide around for Blu-ray, I can say that 'Stealth' is certainly the most consistently strong transfer I've yet seen from Sony, and though it is not absolutely perfect, it is the first time I wasn't really disappointed with the video quality of a Blu-ray disc.
'Stealth' is certainly indicative of today's trend in modern filmmaking to make film not look like film. Meaning, this is another of those polished, computer-enhanced transfers with glossy colors and such a silky-smooth sheen that it would have been impossible to achieve without the aid of digital technology. Certainly, the source material here is absolutely pristine -- I did not spot so much as a speckle of dirt or a single blemish. Grain is also absent, likely airbrushed out of oblivion by a team of computer graphics artists. Blacks are also spot on, and contrast very good -- 'Stealth' has a very eye-popping look, with a nice sense of depth and detail throughout. I was also pleased that unlike some past Sony titles, this transfer doesn't suffer edge from enhancement and appears free of any noise or pixelization artifacts.
Unfortunately, I was still somewhat disappointed with the colors, which appear rather artificial. Fleshtones are also a bit off -- though perfect in tone, sometimes faces looked a bit too dark to me, though that is also a drawback to the transfer as a whole. Even outdoor scenes sometimes appear as if they were shot on an overcast day. Now, I am nitpicking here, because if you just pop 'Stealth' into your Blu-ray player and plop down on the couch your likely to be impressed. So despite any minor faults, on the whole this is probably the best Blu-ray video presentation I've yet seen on the format.
Wowsa. 'Stealth' on Blu-ray sounds fantastic. Truly, I can't recall many home theater soundtracks that have been as consistently and relentlessly engaging and active as this one, at least that I've heard. This movie may be stupid, but its sound designers were far from it. As presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround (a Dolby Digital 5.1 option is also included), if you want to experience two hours of sound constantly whooshing around your head, then 'Stealth' won't let you down.
I can't really find any fault with the PCM track. Dynamic range is excellent, with the kind of ultra-real presence that never sounds anything less than totally authentic. Frequency response is superlative across the entire range -- low bass is reference quality, and mid- and high-range crystal clear. Surround use is also almost constant -- sounds emanate from the rears at full throttle right from the opening Sony logo. And for once atmosphere doesn't get the short-thrift, with even dialogue scenes boasting subtle directionality in the rear channels. Transparency and imaging is up there with the best home theater soundtracks I've heard -- as sounds move from one channel to the next it feels completely seamless. I was also impressed with how well-balanced the dialogue is with the effects and score (though the latter is certainly de-emphasized to give maximum power to all the bombast). I never had to adjust my volume levels at all, which a rarity with big-budget action spectacles. I can't really give 'Stealth' higher marks for audio.
Though Sony released 'Stealth' last year as a feature-loaded two-disc special edition DVD, they have ported over approximately zero of those supplements to this Blu-ray disc. That's right, absolutely none.
Yes, 'Stealth' is as bad a film as you've heard. But I have to admit I kinda sorta enjoyed it, though I have absolutely no explanation for my lapse in taste. As for the quality of this Blu-ray release, the transfer is one of the best yet from Sony and the soundtrack is absolutely first-rate. Unfortunately, there are really no extras to speak of on the disc, so aside from being great demo material, there is likely little use for 'Stealth' on Blu-ray other than as a nice coaster for your home theater.
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