There was a time, even as late as the 90’s, when making an anti-American film was still taboo in Hollywood. Of course today, movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 are big money makers, but for many years, such films were discouraged. Air America is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. This may be due to the fact that it was disguised as a comedy about the Vietnam conflict, but no matter how you look at it, the film is quite critical of the US government, and it makes some pretty scathing accusations about our…involvement there. Only in a comedy would audiences openly accept the accusation that the US government ran drugs for rebels in Laos during Vietnam.
These accusations would have been taken much more seriously had the film actually have been any good. See, that’s the problem… if you are going to use a film to make a serious statement, it better be a darn good film. Otherwise, your statement will be lost in the mire of mediocrity. Such is the case with Air America. Films like Platoon and Good Morning Vietnam were able to make effective statements about the government’s actions in the 60’s because they were great films first. What we have here is a film that is average at best, which makes the political statements look average at well.
The film centers around a group of pilots that “unofficially” work for the US government in Laos. The pilots’ job is to drop cargo consisting of food and medical supplies into villages in the Laotian countryside. Included in the drops, however, is heroin, which is used to help fund the local militias who are fighting the North Vietnamese soldiers that travel along the Ho Chi Minh trail.
While the concept is a good one, the execution falls flat. The jokes are stale, and the dramatic sequences lack the impact that they should have. Also, the acting is surprisingly questionable, with Gibson turning in the only moderately respectable performance. The majority of the other actors are more like extras from Stripes, which is surprising, given the high quality of the actors in this film.
All told, the film made few waves at the box office, and even less on DVD. Now, with the release of this new Special Edition, a whole new generation is poised to be under-whelmed by one of Gibson’s earlier film efforts. Director Roger Spottiswoode obviously didn’t learn his lesson on this film, either, since his very next feature was Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Lucky for him, he eventually rebounded with the help of James Bond, in Tomorrow Never Dies.
It is clear that this film has been re-mastered, but the new audio track just doesn’t do much for me. It’s good, and it is clearly an improvement over the previous incarnation, but it’s certainly nothing spectacular. A film with this many airplanes deserves a ton of low end and good use of sonic placement, and this track has neither.
This should be a film that is filled with moments of airplane noise traveling across the front of the room, and from the front to the back. Instead, sound comes solely from the front. There might be a few rare instances when the surrounds are utilized, but it is not anywhere near enough. Put simply, sounds don’t move in this film. No matter where the source is, the audio comes from the front. That’s a real shame.
Low-end is also disappointing. The roar of the engine of a cargo plane should shake the room, but instead, it is tinny, and it resides at a moderate volume level. To be fair, the helicopters do sound much better than the airplanes. Maybe they used a different recording technique, but low end is much more prevalent when these birds are on the screen.
I will also say that, with the two exceptions just discussed, this soundtrack is really not all that bad. The quality of the audio is good, and dialog is mostly clear. In fact, the dialog is crystal clear when the action is on the ground. However, it is sometimes a bit muddy when the actors are in the air (as would be expected). This is certainly an acceptable soundtrack, but it is nothing exceptional.
The video quality, however, is the very definition of exceptional. It is odd that films from the 90’s are beginning to look dated, but that is exactly the case here. This re-mastered transfer, however, makes the film look brand new, with nary a blemish to be found. There is no grain present on this disc, and every scene is sharp and clear. Bright colors pop off the screen, yet there is no bleed over. Black levels look good, and nighttime scenes transfer accurately. I have seen new films that didn’t look as good as this one. There is no criticism that I can offer for this reference-quality picture. It is flawless.
For a Special Edition, this disc is pretty short on the special features. The requisite trailer and TV spots are here, as well as a commentary by co-writer/producer John Eskow. Unfortunately, this is one of those commentary tracks that is filled with long segments of silence, leaving the viewer in the dark as to if the commentator is wrapped up in the greatness of his own film, or if he has actually dozed off. Either way, the chances of the viewer dozing off themselves are quite great.
The disc wraps up with three featurettes. The first, “Flight Log”, is a four-minute documentary originally shot to help promote the film. It is filled with the usual footage of everybody saying what a great film it is, and how lucky they are to have gotten to work on it. “Pre-Flight” is a split-screen storyboard comparison that is actually fairly interesting, as the viewer is able to compare the original drawings to the final product, and see how close the director came to fulfilling the original vision of the film. This runs five minutes in length.
Finally, the most substantial extra is a segment called “Return Flight”, which is a newly-created documentary about the production. I actually enjoyed this featurette quite a bit, as the returning cast and crew was open and candid about the film’s disappointing showing at the box office, negative reviews and controversial politics. Maybe this is a sign that the studios are finally starting to realize that the more open and honest they are about what goes wrong on a bad movie, the more interested the public becomes in that property.
This is a mediocre film that didn’t need to be released again in a Special Edition format. Furthermore, this Special Edition is not really all that special. If you are a fan of this film, you will not be disappointed by the superb picture quality and the one truly informative extra feature. If you already have this, though, there really isn’t enough here to warrant an upgrade to this new edition.
Special Features List
- Fight Log
- Return Flight
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV Spots