There's nothing like a direct-to-home-video monster movie. There's just a certain charm in how absolutely ridiculous and nonsensical they always seem to be. This time an octopus terrorizes a group of teenagers flying in their rented private plane. No, "plane" and "octopus" aren't typos. I'm being completely serious, but as I write this review I still really can't believe what I just witnessed. A freaking floating cloud octopus that hates small commuter planes.
Ok, sorry I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning. Sara (Jessica Lowndes) has finally received her pilot's license. Her mother was also a pilot, but she met her demise during a flashback at the beginning of the film where two planes collided. Sara figures that getting her pilot's license and learning to tame the skies will help her get past her mother's death. Sara and her band of teenage clichés, I mean friends, are heading to a concert. Sara has offered to fly them. Sal (Jake Weary) is the requisite moronic jock who wears his letterman jacket, swigs beer, and treats his hot girlfriend like crap. Mel (Julianna Guill) has the unfortunate fate of being Sal's girlfriend. She's obsessed with filming, which is convenient because she captures everything on film. Too bad they spend much of the film showing Mel whipping her camera around capturing the horror only to never talk about it again. Cory (Ryan Donowho) is the member of the group who randomly carries around an acoustic guitar. Finally, there's Sara's boyfriend Bruce (Landon Liboiron) who acts shady from the beginning. He's hiding something, but just wait until you find out what it is (Note: a heavy palm to the forehead will be required upon discovery).
Shortly after our gang of unlovable, prettified teenagers takes off things go awry. We see ominous shots of a tiny bolt somewhere in the bowels of the plane wriggling its way loose. Oh man! Something bad is going to happen! That wiggling bolt is so menacing. When it does come loose it becomes lodged in the planes directional rudders, which cause it the aircraft to uncontrollably gain altitude. Sara is dumbfounded as she spouts off dialogue that makes me feel like the writer was copying an airplane manual word for word. Everyone starts going crazy. Then, as if things couldn't get any worse, gigantic, black clouds are forming in the distance and they're headed right for them!
It isn't long until our intrepid youngsters figure out something must be done. Naturally going outside, tied to a rope, is probably the best bet to fix everything. So that's just what Cory does. Then it appears. Only a flash in the distance. Long, dark tentacles dangling in the black sky. The Skytopus! Sorry, that's just the name I gave it while I chuckled along with the movie's preposterous storyline.
Did the Skytopus have anything to do with the bolt coming loose? Was it fate that they, of all the airplanes out there, ran into the Skytopus on a bad day? Or was it something much more inexplicable? The answer is the last one. When the "secret" is revealed you'll groan louder than you have been groaning all movie. Seriously? They're going to throw that in there? I guess if there's absolutely no way to explain anything that happened in your movie you can always make it so the rest of the movie never really mattered (see, 'Prince of Persia ').
Sometimes direct-to-video releases offer a little nugget of gold that you would have missed since it never got a wide release, but 'Altitude' isn't one of those films. With characters that seem like they were extracted from Stereotype High School, acting that feels horrendously overdone (yet simultaneously half-baked), and a plot that is too utterly silly to even think about, 'Altitude' will only be fun to watch if a group of people get together and mock it while inebriated.
'Altitude' starts out promisingly enough with a high-gloss HD look. The sun-drenched visuals look a lot like 'Transformers ' in style. There's some decent facial detail as the camera covers every inch of Jessica Lownde's tanned Megan-Fox-lookalike body. It's as if they're trying to say, see, she's hot too! As the movie moves into the hangar and we get a glimpse of the airplane sitting on a freshly watered down ground giving that great reflective look (another one of those indoor rainstorms), I'm sure we're actually in for a visual treat. It's not too often you find a straight to home-video Blu-ray and discover a great 1080p presentation. They take off and everything is fine. The blue of the sky shines, the detail inside the cabin is fairly well done. Storm clouds appear in the distance, and now the fun visual ride has come to an end. As the plane flies around inside the computer generated storm clouds for the rest of the movie banding is a horrible, rampant problem that distracts every time the camera pans outside in order for us to see the whole plane. The banding pulsates nauseatingly until it's downright unbearable. There are also quite a few shots, inside the cabin during low-light situations that are overrun with wild grain storms that distract and wipe out detail. We suddenly went from a four star visual treat, to a two star mess. Banding is the only artifact that appears, along with a little bit of aliasing here and there, but it's so bad at times it makes the movie downright unwatchable. Since it's already unwatchable due to its script this is two strikes against it so far.
Surprisingly 'Altitude' delivers a compelling audio experience with its Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. Surround sound is put to good use, with noises and sounds popping up all around the soundfield. When the Skytopus groans, the LFE kicks in and it can be felt throughout your body. Panning effects, as the plane flies from one side of the screen to the other, are well done. Everything here points to a nice, enveloping audio experience. The only gripe I really have with the movie is with its dialogue prioritization. At times dialogue is lost in the screaming and screeching. Dialogue is muffled in a few spots as Skytopus attacks the plane with its long floating tentacles of death. Not that the dialogue is worth hearing in the first place, but if we're talking strictly about how it's prioritized in the mix it's definitely given a back seat to the rock'em sock'em sound effects.
'Altitude' is just silly, and it may actually be one of those movies that's so bad it's good. Get a bunch of friends together and riff on it. That seems like it would be the best way to view a movie like this. It's just so scatterbrained, with so many plots going on that the writers seem to have lost themselves and then towards the end said "Hey, remember 'Donnie Darko '? Let's do something like that." The video is filled with atrocious banding once the plane becomes engulfed in the storm. The audio sounds great, except for the dialogue problem. The special features are surprisingly lengthy, but they lack substance to make them a true treat. You should probably rent this one, because you're never going to want to watch it again.