Harrison Ford as the President we wish we had.
A typical Hollywood big-budget action blockbuster, it still delivers quite a punch with reference quality picture and sound.
This is the sort of movie that just begs to be seen in the theatres. Yes, it's a formula movie, but it does its job so well and the payoff is so great that you don't care! However, for those of you who missed it in the theatres, you will be treated to a very high-quality presentation on DVD.
This movie is centered on President James Marshall (Harrison Ford), whom we catch up with in Moscow for a celebration. Russian and American special forces have captured a rogue strongman, General Radek (Jurgen Prochnow, who never speaks a word!) who as leader of Kazakhstan had been threatening the world with nuclear blackmail. After making a strong moral stand against evil throughout the world, President Marshall flies off back home, or so he thinks. Shortly thereafter, the plane is hijacked by Egor Korshunov (Gary Oldman), who is a fanatic disciple of Radek and who will stop at nothing to free his hero.
In all the confusion of the takeover, President Marshall evades capture, a fact that initially remains unknown to Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) and her advisors, only adding to the general chaos. Meanwhile, Egor quickly establishes his cold-blooded credentials by executing the National Security Advisor when his demands aren't promptly met. President Marshall runs merrily amok in the lower regions of the plane, making contact with his cabinet, killing a bad guy, and dumping Air Force One's fuel in an attempt to force the plane to land, at the cost of having to listen mutely as his press secretary is executed.
However, by a neat stratagem, the President and an Air Force advisor, Major Caldwell (William H. Macy) arrange for the mid-air escape of nearly all of the hostages, only to be captured themselves. After some nice villain-hero interaction, we're back to action as Marshall breaks free and more mayhem ensues. President Marshall dispatches Egor in typical blockbuster fashion, only to be faced with six MiGs with Radek loyalist pilots. Charging to the rescue is a similar flight of USAF F-15s, who eliminate the MiGs in spectacular fashion, but not before Air Force One is badly damaged.
As if you didn't have enough action, we wind up the flick with a tense air-to-air rescue and a final bit of hand to hand combat for our Vietnam Congressional Medal of Honor President. (An ironic commentary on our present inhabitant of that office, I think.)
This disc is one of those few that will show off the true capabilities of your video and audio components. The video is reference quality, very sharp and well color-saturated at all times, with only very isolated and minor instances of video noise. In particular, the mid-air explosions in the latter part of the movie are truly beautiful to behold. Audio is stunning as well, with full use made of the Dolby Digital capabilities. You better have a good subwoofer, because Air Force One will use it often and loudly, a fact that may have annoyed my cats. The Jerry Goldsmith score is stirring and patriotic, and ranks among his best work.
If there is any way this disc falls short, it is in the extras department. The commentary by director Wolfgang Petersen is acceptable, partly due to the use of a "moderator" to keep him on track, but at times it suffers from the "describe what's on the screen" disease. The only other extra is a widescreen (2.35:1) trailer. The menus are static, and the scene selection is a bit cumbersome to skip around in. At least Columbia showed good sense in packaging this disc in the preferred Amaray keepcase, along with a nice multi-fold insert on the film.
As far as the acting goes, Wolfgang Petersen nails it on the head when he says that Harrison Ford knows what his audience wants and delivers exactly that. Harrison Ford's President Marshall is deeply moral, a devoted family man, a strong national leader, and personally courageous. I don't think it's an accident that President Clinton was a big fan of the movie; I bet he (and the rest of us) wish we had a President like that. I understand why people in Air Force One willingly die for their President Marshall, and doubt whether too many people would be so happy to do so for Clinton. As his nemesis, Gary Oldman (named Scary Gary by Wolfgang Petersen) is a creepy and totally believable iron-willed fanatic. He's by no means a cardboard character, as I was happy to see the writers take a few moments to explain his motivations.
On a personal note, I'm tickled that so much of the movie was filmed in various locations in Ohio (Mansfield, Columbus, and Cleveland), a fact that does lead to some mirth on the commentary track.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While this was a very entertaining movie in its own right, I was reminded of a similar but much less high profile movie, Executive Decision, which I tend to prefer. Air Force One has great performances from its central characters, but less so from its supporting cast. William H. Macy, who I just adore as an actor, is pretty much wasted here. Also, with Air Force One you have to suspend disbelief on occasion (as with most big blockbusters), particularly when you have to accept a Secret Service agent who turns traitor without explanation. I'm sorry, but that's a pretty monumental betrayal for a person whose career is to take a bullet for his boss, and I can't just accept that on faith. Among the White House advisors, maybe it's just me, but Dean Stockwell (as much as I like him) seems out of place as the Secretary of Defense.
One other failing of the movie is in the special effects of the airborne scenes. Particularly with the night flying shots, most of the aerial scenes looked fake to me, like the models that they often were. While matters improve when the sun comes up, the final scene of Air Force One crashing into the ocean looked exactly like a model (or computer generated plane) crashing into a simulated ocean. A pity.
A good time was had by all with this disc, which would be a fine addition to a DVD library. Stunning video and audio and a heroic Harrison Ford should excuse the flaws and minimal extras.
Acquitted of all technical charges, guilty only of misdemeanor plot and special effects offenses, and guilty of felonious omission of extras. Columbia is on probation, because if they can do such fine looking and sounding discs, some nice extras should not be too much to expect.
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• Theatrical Trailer
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