Meet United States Air Force pilot Maj. Vic Deakins (John Travolta) -- his idea of fun is to test pilot an experimental stealth bomber equipped with nuclear weapons, crash-land it midway through the flight, eject his co-pilot, then sell the scattered cargo to foreign terrorists. Unfortunately for Deakins, said co-pilot, Captain Riley Hale (Christian Slater) doesn't just die hard, he dies hard with a vengeance. Stranded in the middle of Utah, Hale will eventually stumble upon the world's most unlikely park ranger Terry Carmichael (Samantha Mathis), and convince her that the end of the world is a certainty if they don't work together to stop Deakins. As Hale and Terry uncover the true machinations behind Deakins' plot, the clock perilously counts down to doomsday. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...
'Broken Arrow' is a strange movie. I'm honestly surprised it was greenlit, because it's really just a couple of guys walking around in the desert for two hours, plus explosions. Oh, and there's a chick thrown in (of course). Unlike Travolta's 'Face/Off,' where he switched bodies with Nicolas Cage, and we at least had the thrill of watching two slumming actors ape each others' goofy mannerisms and facial tics, there is no such unique byplay between Travolta and Slater here. Instead, all we get is a talky by-the-numbers good buy/bad guy threat-fest with some goo-goo eyes with the chick thrown in for good measure.
'Broken Arrow' was directed by John Woo, and to be fair, it was a much-needed change of pace for the action-meister. He's always been known more as a purveyor of beautiful carnage than a storyteller, and this one feels like a self-conscious effort to challenge that perception. I wouldn't call 'Broken Arrow' a character study, but at least an attempt has been made to entertain us as much with witty banter and complex inter-relationships. And the Travolta character does has a real motive and backstory, however wafer-thin it may be. He sort of feels like an extension of Michael Douglas in that Joel Schumacher flick 'Falling Down,' only with better artillery, or perhaps a corporate version of John Rambo. I would have loved to have seen the script by Graham Yost ('Speed,' 'Mission to Mars') explore these themes more deeply, but alas, the plot only treats the political discourse as a McGuffin. I guess there isn't a lot you can do with your villain in a genre that requires him to do little else but ride into Dodge wearing a black hat, firing a six-shooter in the air.
Ultimately, 'Broken Arrow' feels like all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Travolta's entertaining, embittered military-guy ramblings aside, Woo continues to rest on his laurels -- the movie is still all about the set-pieces. Admittedly, there are some great ones here, including the opening stealth bomber crash, the way-cool car chase sequence and the suspenseful climax with a rocketing diesel train. Perhaps most satifying, though, is the scene where Howie Long dies with perhaps the worst girly-scream ever uttered in the history of cinema. But is 'Broken Arrow' ever more than the sum of its parts? I'm afraid not.
'Broken Arrow' hits Blu-ray in Fox's usual 1080p/MPEG-2 configuration, confined to a BD-25 single-layer disc. Like the same studio's 'Entrapment' (which is streeting the same day as 'Broken Arrow'), I have mixed feelings. It's not the best high-def I've ever seen, but it's far from the worst.
Given that 'Broken Arrow' came out in 1996, and the last DVD release came out around 2000, it is probably safe to assume the master used here isn't minty fresh. Yet the source material holds up quite well, really. There are no major blemishes and the like, and grain is apparent but consistent. Colors do bear a considerable improvement over the standard-def DVD, particularly the improved primaries (reds now truly pop) and the wonderfully vivid blue skies. I was also pleased by the level of detail, which is most evident in the bright daylight exteriors. Fine texture is easily visible, and I didn't find edge enhancement to be an issue.
However, I found contrast and sharpness spotty. The odd shot or scene here and there can appear flat and dull. The image retains a natural appearance and does not look overly processed, but at the same time, it often lacks that HD three-dimensional pop. I also saw two instances of banding in during a dissolve about 45 minutes in, and a bit of noise on deep colors in dark scenes (of which there are few). However, my Sony 70" XBR is pretty unforgiving in these areas, so depending on the type of monitor you have, this may not be an issue at all. So while it may be inconsistent -- ranging from great to merely average -- 'Broken Arrow' does generally look good, and certainly offers a decent upgrade over the standard-def version.
'Broken Arrow' is presented in DTS HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 surround, and the audio holds up a bit better than the video -- I guess explosions never really grows old. (Note: Due to current limitations in Blu-ray hardware, this review pertains only to the "core" 1.5mbps DTS track extracted from the Lossless Master Audio encode.)
Action, of course, is where this film's sound design really shines. Gunshots, bombs, crashes, etc., sound just as loud and tight as on any blockbuster new release. Dynamics still retain a very nice edge, with strong deep low bass and excellent fidelity on the upper ranges. Dialogue comes through loud and clear, and surprisingly I didn't have to volume match all that much -- only the most action-filled scenes came off as too overpowering. Surround use is predictably limited to such sequences, but two are real corkers -- the stealth bombers and the zippy car chase.
The only bummer is that there could have been increased atmosphere in exterior scenes. I was hoping for more atmospheric effects to fill my surrounds to compliment the wide expanses and beautiful scenery. At least Hans Zimmer's score -- with its deep low bass, almost country-esque twang -- is nicely bled all around the soundfield.
Bottom line, at least in the moments when this soundtrack really comes alive, you won't be disappointed.
Only the Theatrical Trailer for 'Broken Arrow' is included, plus some spots for other Fox Blu-ray titles. Yawn.
I have mixed feelings for 'Broken Arrow' -- while I admire the attempt to make an action movie that is more character-driven, ultimately these characters just aren't that interesting. In what's becoming a pattern for these FoX catalogue releases, the transfer is fine, the soundtrack a little better, and the extras are piss-poor. Once again, I have to lament the $39.95 list price. This is the kind of thing you see hogging the DVD bargain bins for $9.95 -- are 1080 lines of resolution really worth the extra bucks?