Image Entertainment // 2004 // 48 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 22nd, 2008
Highway...to...the danger zone!
Originally screened in IMAX, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag, now available on Blu-Ray, is a 48-minute documentary about a high-stakes training exercise held in Las Vegas. Red Flag attracts the best of the best fighter jocks from all around the world -- Canada, Germany, Britain, and, of course, U.S.A.!!! In an effort to prep the pilots and their flight crews for real-life, large-scale combat, the Red Flag leaders subject the participants to days of intense combat simulation, rescue ops, multi-squadron attacks, and lots and lots of opportunities to explode fake tanks.
Granted unprecedented access to the festivities, filmmaker Stephen Low gets up close and personal with the midair mayhem, his cameras capturing the action from all conceivable angles -- from the landing gear, the cockpit, just above the heat-seeking missiles, mounted on the back of the jets. The result: an engrossing, exhilarating, teeth-vibrating excursion into the wild blue yonder.
The human center of the film is John Stratton, a young U.S. fighter pilot whose grandfather was a legend in World War II. Seeking to following in his father's boot-steps he earned his wings and landed an invite to Red Flag. Now, while I'll yield to no one my admiration for the guy's commitment to smiting our enemies from the clouds, Stratton is, alas, lifeless as a narrator. His words are endearing enough, especially the stuff about his grandfather, but the guy delivers his lines with the charisma of a parking meter. And most of the video footage with him -- save for the in-the-cockpit shots -- seems canned, as when he's approached with the news that he'll be the one dropped in the Nevada desert and he tries his absolute hardest to feign surprise. Yeah, I'm not buying the authenticity of that reaction.
But Fighter Pilot isn't about Golden Globes for acting -- it's about unbelievable shots of aerial hijinks, and on that level, the film brings it. Though the life-and-death tension is somewhat diluted because this is all a training exercise, the jet-to-jet engagements are still a thing to behold. With turbines roaring and camera lenses absorbing fantastic angles, the Red Flag war games leap to life, aggressively pushing your sound and video system. Check out that finale, when the jets go on their bombing strafing runs and blow tanks and anti-aircraft to kingdom come.
In between these action scenes are closer looks at the flight crews, the strategy in the AWAC, the tactics, and the debriefing, and it's all awesome. This is where the access pays off. It's just heaven for aficionados of the aircraft or the military in general.
Blu-ray is definitely the format to soak all this in. The 1.78:1 widescreen is beautiful and crystal-clear, making those wartorn landscapes and explosions and cockpits pop. Just watch when Stratton takes off and you see the vanishing Earth through his cockpit glass -- jaw-dropping. But it's likely the sound (DTS HD Master Audio 5.1) that you will likely remember more than anything. Booming, active, enveloping -- those adjectives don't do this mix justice. A powerful surround-sound experience.
Extras are low-key: a brief making-of documentary, a trivia quiz, and some text-only facts.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 48 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Trivia Game