This Mill Creek double-pack of 'Stealth' and 'Vertical Limit' is comprised of reviews of past editions. The disc itself was examined to make sure that the audio and video reviews given for the standalone releases accurately reflected the way they look and sound on this release. As you'll see there some changes in the audio department.
Portions of this review originally appeared in Peter Bracke's coverage of 'Stealth' and 'Vertical Limit.'
Portions of this review originally appeared in Peter Bracke's coverage of 'Stealth' and 'Vertical Limit.'
"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.
Rating: 1.5 Stars
No offense to any mountain climbers who may be reading this, but I just don't understand the sport. There is not enough money in the world that would make me climb up a jagged, deadly cliff and spend days (or even weeks) in the frigid cold, only to climb back down again. I certainly admire the courage of those who attempt such feats, but I'd much rather spend my vacation basking in the warm sun of the Bahamas, drinking margaritas.
So the very idea of watching 'Vertical Limit' did not sound like a particularly fun way to spend 119 minutes. A group of climbers, stranded in an avalanche, enduring vast hardships and much pain to save themselves from death? Woo-hoo -- get the popcorn ready!
Plotwise, 'Vertical Limit' is the kind of movie where you know exactly where it's headed from the opening scene. Peter Garrett (Chris O'Donnell) and his sister Annie (Robin Tunney) are lifelong climbers, trained by their father Royce (Stuart Wilson). But after an expedition goes horribly awry, Royce and two other climbers are killed, which creates a years-long rift between Peter and Annie. How much do you wanna bet that by the end of 'Vertical Limit,' brother and sister will once again scale the mountain, face their fears, and at last make peace with the death of dear old dad?
That's exactly what happens when two profiteers, Elliot Vaughn and Tom McLaren (Bill Paxton and Nicholas Lea) form a team to confront one of the world's tallest peaks, the K2. Another devastating accident occurs, leaving Peter and Annie to work together, alongside an eccentric, reclusive mountain man (Scott Glenn) to save the rest of the team before an avalanche wipes the entire expedition right off the mountain.
I will admit that 'Vertical Limit' is well made. Perhaps too much so. There is much discussion on this disc's included supplements about how the movie was the most realistic portrayal of mountain climbing ever seen on screen. And the extensive making-of footage certainly backs up that claim. The filmmakers spent many arduous months shooting in real locations, including what is dubbed as "one of the most dangerous mountains in the world." Such verisimilitude paid off. The film never looks anything but terrifying, and aside from only some lame green-screen work, the effect is seamless.
Yet as much as I admire the craft of the filmmakers, I simply did not "enjoy" the suspense. 'Vertical Limit' is relentless in subjecting its characters to one torturous scene after another. Though it is also an extremely silly film -- the familial melodrama is like something out of a Lifetime movie -- I still found it hard to be entertained watching nice people dangling over five hundred foot drops while screaming for their lives, or having their limbs bashed about on rocks and ice. I also wonder just how realistic some of the stunts in this film are. A quick perusal of the flick's IMDB page reveals comments made by real mountain climbers, most of whom laughed at the film's fictional excesses and outright impossibilities.
Still, I bet 'Vertical Limit' will thrill many action fans. I was certainly never bored. Director Martin Campbell ('Casino Royale,' the 'Zorro' films) wisely focuses on the imminent danger hovering over every scene like a dark cloud, and leaves no moment wanting for maximum effect. The acting is also appropriate to the material, even if none of the actors are able to truly create memorable, three-dimensional characters. But I suppose all of that is besides the point, anyway. If you have a taste for pure cinematic adrenaline (or are just a sadist), you'll find plenty to get your juices going in 'Vertical Limit.'
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Mill Creek Entertainment Double-Feature package that puts both movies on one 50GB Blu-ray Disc. The disc is packaged in a standard keepcase and is labeled as being a Region A release.
'Stealth' was originally given a fairly solid transfer from Sony, but it certainly wasn't perfect.
'Stealth' is 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 into 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.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Somewhat rare for a big action film, 'Vertical Limit' was shot at the Academy flat 1.85:1 aspect ratio, instead of the more expansive 2.35:1. However, that's a bit of a plus in one way, as it makes for a nice tall home theater image that really fills up the screen with a transfer that has moments that are truly breathtaking.
The pluses include a very fine source print. The material is free of any major blemishes, such as dirt and speckles. Grain is present, though really only noticeable on wide shots with lots of white -- not entirely uncommon in this movie. Colors are also excellent, with deep blues, reds and greens, which are pure and stable on both natural objects like skies, landscapes and foliage, and more the artificial hues of the bright outfits, tents, etc. But what's most glorious is how natural the image looks -- there is little in the way of overdone digital processing, so the transfer has a lush look that benefits detail and keeps fleshtones accurate.
The only problem area is consistency. There are moments of print wavering, when contrast appears to waver a bit within a shot. Detail is generally excellent, particularly on close-ups -- every whisker on Bill Paxton's beard is obvious, and at one boring moment I even started counting the freckles on Robin Tunney's face and neck. But 'Vertical Limit' suffers due to its dated rear-screen photography. The opening sequence is a good example. It has a weird, plastic look, with the actors obviously dangling on a man-made set in front of phony backgrounds. This results in different parts of a single shot looking either sharp, or slightly blurred. The lame computer-generated trickery (how laughable is the recurring motif of the flying CGI eagle that opens the movie?) doesn't help, either, adding further softness on some shots. But these imperfections aside, 'Vertical Limit' often presents terrific high-def images, so more often than not I was left impressed.
Rating: 4 Stars
While the video transfers may be pretty much the same as the standalone releases, the audio on both has been changed from uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes.
It's quite evident that both movies don't pack the same punch in the audio department that they have in the standalone releases. Our earlier review of 'Stealth' was given 5 stars for audio quality. Here, there's no such demo-quality going on. The mix is an uneven mess with volume spiking all over the place. Action scenes blare so loudly that it's almost unbearable. I don't know why or how the audio presentations got changed, but they did and it's a shame.
'Vertical Limit' suffers from the same discrepancies but not as bad. However, it wasn't considered demo-quality in its standalone release so it isn't that much of a disappointment this time around. LFE is nicer in 'Vertical Limit' as avalanches create strong rumbling as they careen down the mountainside. In 'Stealth' the audio more or less assaults your ears until you've had enough. Dialogue is clear in both mixes.
Despite having some special features on earlier releases neither 'Stealth' nor 'Vertical LImit' come with any sort of special features.
I guess, as a cost-saving measure, the Mill Creek double-features make sense. I have no idea why they'd put these two movies together since they don't seem to be remotely related, but if for some reason you find yourself browsing the aisles looking for these exact two films, well, this is the package for you!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.