If you're ever stuck in a war you don't understand and you're struggling to get over your wingman's death, this is what you must do: fall in love with a single mom and plot an illegal revenge mission. At least that's what I've learned from John 'Red Dawn' Milius' 'Flight of the Intruder.'
The film is about Naval pilot Jake Grafton (Brad Johnson, 'Always'), the squadron leader of an aircraft carrier during Vietnam. After Jake's wingman is killed in a freak accident, he teams up with Cole (Willem Dafoe, 'Spider-Man'), a bombardier on his third tour of duty, for an unauthorized mission behind enemy lines to bomb a missile depot in downtown Hanoi. On their asses, with the threat of court-martial (and prison), is a less-than-believable Danny Glover as Commander Bob Camparelli.
The movie shines brightest during the aerial combat sequences (footage of takeoffs and landings are also stunning). These segments are tense, well-paced, and because this era of filmmaking lacked CGI, the use of models and optical film compositing make everything seem just a bit more real. Particularly fun is the model work done in Hanoi. It's not always realistic, but like all the classic 'Godzilla' movies, at least these models are themselves real. Their weight. The way real light reacts with their surfaces. It's nostalgia-inducing for any fan of '80s films, and the tangible nature of these sets make it easier to buy into the world and feel the suspense. And Hanoi isn't even the best sequence in the film. Despite some cheesy dialogue ("You told me it takes more to live… Well you're gonna live!"), the film's climax, which I won't reveal here, is a stunner, featuring real actors, tanks, explosions, and actual planes circling overhead. The shear spectacle of it all is something I haven't seen since 'Lawrence of Arabia' or 'Patton.' And all because it was, save for the lethal nature of the weapons depicted, actually happening. Somewhere, twenty years ago, a crew dug in and captured aerial mayhem. What a treat.
So that sounds awesome, right? Then, why is this movie worth only a 3-star review? Actually, there's a lot in this movie that does work, but for me, it just feels like a 'Top Gun'/'Platoon' knock off. And because the portrayals of military personal seemed a little fake (mostly Johnson and Glover), I didn't necessarily believe this film world as a whole. Furthermore, despite the fun the boys have when they go on their weekend R&R, the love story and off carrier scenes feels tacked on to the narrative. Ultimately, the biggest detraction is that it felt like 1980s characters talking about a 1970s world, in that the movie's anti-war messages (or anti follow the rules messages) makes it feel like the movie tried to tell too many stories.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 25GB single layer, Blu-ray disc is Region A locked. Popping it in brings up a Lionsgate on Blu-ray catalogue title advertisement (click next chapter to avoid), and then a main menu.
This AVC 1080p transfer (aspect ratio 2.35:1) is in really good condition for its age. Visible grain is both filmic and normal for the era, but there is some dirt, hair, occasional softness, and one place (approx 1h, 20 mins in) where the image breaks completely. Despite these blemishes, for a catalogue title, there are a lot of positives here. Skin tones are natural to whatever environment they are currently in, and there's plenty of detail on faces, props, and planes (I noted a missile named "Mach 1 Enema"). Unfortunately, Blu-ray's added resolution does enhance a couple flaws, such as at 1hr, 49mins where a few shots seemed to have been filmed behind plate glass on which reflections are noticeable. Daytime and nighttime footage is equally crisp, save for some lowlight carrier and jungle scenes where grain spikes. Black levels, and detail in shadows are strong as well. Overall, this is a very accurate presentation of the movie.
While nothing in the soundtrack can compete with the fidelity of the quick DTS-MA logo that starts before the movie, for a 1991 film, this is pretty powerful stuff. Action scenes are bombastic (so much so, if you don't have Dolby Volume, you'll probably be reaching for the remote a few times), with missiles striking, planes screaming, and machine guns blasting. Surrounds are in use for music and a handful of effects, but for the most part this is a very strong stereo (or more accurately, DTS NEO or Dolby ProLogic enhanced) presentation. Dialogue is even, though quieter that the action. Your subwoofer will get a good, but not too demanding, work out. The real flaw with this track is in the evenness of the levels. In some of the carrier scenes, it almost sounds like there was a problem in the sound mix (a scratching hum), but when cranked up to reference levels, it's clear these effects are part of the sound design (engine noise etc.). The score is a fun patriotic symphony when it's not overloaded by comedy honky-tonk elements, but it too suffers from level issues, seeming to break up and scratch a few times. A few problems aside, this nearly 20-year-old mix is a winner, and a testament to the craftsman who created it. Well done.
Lionsgate offers no additional soundtracks, but includes English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles.
The only extra feature is the Lionsgate Blu-ray advertisement that plays when the disc starts.
'Flight of the Intruder' is an all around mixed bag. There's fun, exhilarating action offset by stilted melodrama and less than believable military performance. It's also an odd mix of American culture, as it is both a clear product of the late 1980s/early 1990s, and a film set in 1972. Meaning, period characters seem to have a modern (almost revisionist ) view of their present. Visually, this movie looks great for its age, save for some minor blemishes. On the audio front, it's fantastically loud, though that does mean for some level adjustments during quieter moments. Definitely worth a watch at least once (for the aerial combat alone – lookin' at you, climax), but for my hard-earned cash, this is a rental because it's not as cool as 'Top Gun', nor do its dramatics and emotions work as well as 'Platoon.' As for 'Flight of the Intruder' lovers, this Blu-ray is clearly a must own. You won't regret it.