Judge Clark Douglas has become an expert in the art of making ketchup sandwiches.
Life is waiting.
"Amelia, would you like an eat to bite?"
Facts of the Case
Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks, The Green Mile) is an immigrant from Krakozhia (a fictional European country) who is traveling to the United States to spend some time touring New York City. Unfortunately, once his plane lands in New York, a military crisis breaks out in his home country which causes all sorts of international complications. Long story short: Viktor isn't permitted to fly back to his home country, but he also isn't permitted to enter the United States. As such, he's forced to remain within the confines of the airport until the situation is resolved. Viktor is a good-natured, well-meaning man, but his very presence quickly becomes a complicated headache for airport security official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games), who is determined to get the immigrant off his hands as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Viktor makes a variety of new friends and even strikes up an unlikely romance with a jet-setting businesswoman (Catherine Zeta-Jones, The Mask of Zorro). Will Viktor ever achieve his dream of wandering through New York City?
Throughout his career, Steven Spielberg has taken a lot of flack for indulging sentimentality in his films. I've never really understood it, honestly. Sure, Spielberg loves a warm n' fuzzy ending, but there's a tremendous sincerity to his work which contrasts so sharply to the manipulative heartstring-tugging of so many "feel-good" flicks. You get the sense that Spielberg's sentimentality comes from an honest place; it's a genuine reflection of the way he sees the world. When The Terminal was released in 2004, it received a particularly large amount of criticism in this regard—as far as many critics were concerned, it was clearly an example of Spielberg being completely unable to restrain his soppy, sappy instincts. I don't think that's true. Yes, The Terminal is one of Spielberg's weaker films (arguably his weakest of the 21st Century to date), but it's conventionality rather than sentimentality which ultimately damages the film.
For most of its running time, The Terminal feels like an expensive sitcom. The premise is so contrived that several of the characters are required to comment on how ridiculous it is, but at least Spielberg doesn't spend too much time dwelling on it. The point is, we're being handed a fish-out-of-water comedy with a very specific set of rules, and once the framework is in place we're permitted to sit back and watch the fun that ensues. The only problem? The goofy subplots the film offers are pretty flimsy and corny. Viktor has to find creative ways to pay for his airport Burger King meals (a pretty blatant bit of shameless product placement). Viktor has to serve as a messenger for a shy janitorial worker (Diego Luna, Casa De Mi Padre) who's nursing a crush on a customs official (Zoe Saldana, Avatar). Viktor nervously negotiates his way through conversations with a woman (Zeta-Jones) who has a crush on him. These cutesy little storylines might have worked fairly well over the course of a 22-episode television season, where the plotting could take a back seat to good jokes and character development, but the two-hour film ends up delivering too much plotting and too little substance.
Even so, the flick is worth seeing for Hanks, who is simply a delight as Viktor. Sporting an appropriately non-specific European accent (the man is from a fictional country, after all), Hanks disappears into the role very quickly and brings a great deal of subtle dimension to the part. At a glance, Viktor seems like a cheerful, bumbling fool, but he's craftier and more soulful than his outward appearance suggests. Hanks also gets to remind everyone of what top-notch comic timing he has; a skill he's been asked to use less and less frequently over the years as his star has risen. The only other member of the cast who really rises above the material is Tucci, who's handed a one-dimensional villain and handily turns him into a two-dimensional one. The verbal sparring scenes he shares with Hanks are a pleasure to behold, particularly a sequence in which Hanks is called in as a translator when a crisis involving a troubled immigrant arises.
Plus, after ninety minutes or so of ho-hum comic hijinks, Spielberg's voice finally starts shining through again during the film's closing stretch. Yes, it's also pretty contrived and it absolutely wears its heart on its sleeve, but I kind of adore the subplot which ultimately comes to dominate the film's closing section (it's centered on the contents of a mysterious tin can Viktor carries around). It's not quite enough to transform a middling film into an exceptional one, but it's enough to prevent the movie from being regarded as one of the director's worst. Even the John Williams score reaches new heights during this portion of the film, largely setting aside the playful, likable main theme and delivering some gorgeous, Gerswhin-esque magic. It's a terrific effort from the composer, and I suspect the only reason it isn't discussed more is that it accompanies such a slight film.
The Terminal (Blu-ray) offers a strong 1080p/1.85:1 transfer which highlights the film's perpetually busy production design. Detail is strong throughout, and colors have a great deal of vibrancy and pop. The film's natural grain structure has been left intact, and darker scenes never slip into murkiness. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is strong too, really capturing the hustle and bustle of the airport setting and allowing Williams' light, cheerful score to blend naturally with the dialogue and sound design. It's certainly much more immersive than the average comedy. Supplements are ported over from the DVD release: six standard (but well-produced) making featurettes ("Booking the Flight: The Script, The Story," "Waiting for the Flight: Building The Terminal," "Boarding: The People of The Terminal," "Take Off: Making The Terminal," "In Flight Service: The Music of The Terminal" and "Landing: Airport Stories"), a photo gallery and a couple of trailers.
The Terminal is certainly one of Spielberg's minor efforts, but it offers just enough charm to merit another look. The Blu-ray release is solid.
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