Ron Howard’s Backdraft tells the story of two brothers, Brian and Steve McCaffrey (William Baldwin and Kurt Russell), who are part of Engine Company No. 17 in Chicago. The two brothers always seem to have a sense of rivalry in their blood. Ever since their father passed away, Steve has always tried to prove to Brian that he is the true firefighter in the family. Well, despite all their problems, Steve and Brian soon find out that they will have to put aside their differences rather quickly since there is an ar…onist going around setting fires that are meant to kill off selected firefighters.
Having never seen this film before, I had only read numerous praise for this film. Critics loved the acting and, most importantly, the drama presented. Possibly because I saw the film Ladder 49 first, I couldn’t really get into Backdraft all too much. Granted I did enjoy the acting by Kurt Russell and Robert De Niro, but I couldn’t ever find myself feeling a connection to these characters. All I felt like I was watching a scene after scene of a huge fire explosion followed by Brian and Steve arguing. Speaking of the characters, I felt the role played by De Niro, albeit kind of useless in terms of using his acting abilities, was one of the only positives here.
While the fire sequences were quite impressive, the biggest let down here is that the stories surrounding these fire sequences felt so melodramatic and forced that I was becoming quite uninterested several times throughout. Why were little things like the introductions of girlfriends, problems with wives, etc all introduced only to forget about them? The idea that every fire sequence was done only with a lone fire extinguisher standing by made many of the scenes scary and frightening, but the fact that they were followed by another forced brought the film and my enjoyment down to a low level.
If Backdraft was made to show the horror of fires, the film succeeded on a degree. However, it felt like Ron Howard made a film that truly wanted to show what firefighters go through; instead he wrapped the importance of them fighting the fires in with senseless arguing and stories that never did anything to improve on the story. In these days where more and more films are being made that show true-life experiences, it was a shame that a film of this nature was so disappointing. For a real look at the life of a firefighter, watch Ladder 49 instead.
Backdraft arrives from Universal in a 1080p 2:35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. For a fifteen year old film, Backdraft looks mighty impressive. After doing a bit of investigating, I discovered that the reason for the sharp transfer is that it was taken from its D-VHS release a few years back.
A film of this nature with big, bright, burning fires sounds like it would look colorful right? Well, colors are nearly perfect here as numerous scenes of various colors are shown in a terrific manner. Speaking of the darker scenes, I did notice a tad bit of grain here and there but nothing to really hamper the image. The biggest positive here is that the brighter scenery (try 14:10 in the film) looks fabulous. Edge enhancement is absent, resulting in that Chicago locale coming alive beautifully.
Detail is another huge positive here. Little things like hairs blowing in the wind, water ripples, and beads of little sweat running down the firefighters’ faces bring that HD picture to a new level of realism. As Director Ron Howard informed us in the introduction to this HD-DVD, the film was made before CGI became huge. This resulted in many of the fire sequences having to be really shot. All this did was make a film like this, a film of everyday nature, look even more natural. Chalk up another victory for Universal here.
Presented in the standard Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, Backdraft sounds equally as impressive as it looks. With numerous explosions and booming surrounds, this audio track really delivered on quite another level.
For a film with as many explosions, I feared that the common problem of muted dialogue would cause my fingers to consistently have to raise the volume up and down. Fortunately for us, the volume was never touched as the mix presented here adapts itself seemingly raising itself in a few of the explosions scenes (try 24-25 minutes in) and then calming itself down in the quieter scenes.
Speaking of the booming explosions, surrounds were quite active during this film. Little things like people yelling in the left soundstage while glass breaks in the right certainly created the perfect experience. Dynamic range is also quite enveloping. As the fire engulfs the room in the film, the experience that you hear (I usually like to re-watch certain scenes with my eyes closed to create a new feeling) is almost realistic. Little swooshing type sounds are created resulting in quite the auditory experience.
While a Dolby TrueHD track would have made this experience even more impressive than it already was, I didn’t really find any problem with the presented Plus 5.1 track here. Universal continues to knock ball out of the park and Backdraft sounds and looks fantastic.
- Deleted Scenes: Here we get a whopping 44 minutes of deleted scenes. Despite all the character development, my overall disgust of the film’s characters couldn’t do much for me here.
- Igniting The Story: Here Director Ron Howard and Producer Brian Grazer discuss how they brought the film from script to screen. Honestly, this features was quite dull and boring.
- Bringing Together the Film: Here Director Ron Howard tells us how he brought in real-life firefighters to help train his actors. Your standard ‘my actors are so great’ feature.
- The Explosive Stunts: Here we get to learn how the various stunts and explosions were created for the film. Very interesting to watch solely because a majority of the stunts were done without mats underneath adding a higher sense of realism to the picture.
- Creating the Villain: The Fire: Here we get to learn how the actual fires were created in the film. In a pre-CGI world, this feature was quite interesting to see how the fires were actually made.
- Real-Life Firemen, Real-Life Stories: Here information is passed to us on what it takes to become a firefighter via the crew of Station 73, Santa Clarita.
Backdraft is not necessarily a great film, in fact it isn’t even a very good film. Had it not been for the rather impressive fire sequences, this film would have probably faded into nothingness. However, with quite an impressive A/V presentation and interesting features, Backdraft earns a recommendation for those who want to see and hear a truly impressive HD-DVD. If a 15 year old film looks and sounds this good, imagine how King Kong or The Hulk will sounds. I can’t personally wait!
Special Features List
- Deleted Scenes
- Igniting The Story
- Bringing Together the Film
- The Explosive Stunts
- Creating the Villain: The Fire
- Real-Life Firemen, Real-Life Stories