In the great tradition of Hollywood rehashes, The Guardian applies a new coat of paint to a tried-and-true formula. In this case, we’re talking about the story of Top Gun with Coast Guard rescue swimmers in place of Air Force fighter pilots. Oh, and maybe throw in a little Officer and a Gentleman for good measure.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. They’re the elite, the best of the best. Their training program is the most difficult in the world, and it will weed out anyone who can’t cut it in their dangerous profession. One man is a legend in the profession, now the lead instructor at the school. The other is a cocky young recruit, with tons of raw talent but always “this close” to throwing it all away. The instructor recognizes the recruit’s ability, but questions whether he can be trusted in a real life or death situation. Their relationship starts out antagonistic, but before the tale is finished, they’ll find a common ground and shared respect, and the teacher will pass his torch on to the student.
Surely I don’t need to say any more. If you don’t know this story, you’ve been living under a rock, and frankly, I’m not sure The Guardian should be at the top of your “Films I Missed While Living Beneath a Rock” list. Maybe start with the AFI Top 100 list, and work your way down.
Now, for us above-rock dwellers, The Guardian has its place. Complaints about formula aside, the film presents some incredible rescue sequences in the wild waters of the Bering Sea. I learned watching the DVD’s special features that the filmmakers had a whole slew of Coast Guard advisors helping them create accurate, realistic portrayals of the rescue swimmers and their dangerous missions. Man, do these people have risky jobs! Regardless of your opinion of the rest of the movie, the action scenes will surely have you caught up in the danger and heroics.
Add to that another fine performance from Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves), who just gets better with age. Costner has the blend of athleticism and leading-man sensitivity down to a science, and he anchors the film. On the flipside, Ashton Kutcher (The Butterfly Effect) flits around from scene to scene, seeming like a different person in each moment. There’s a real lack of continuity his character, and it’s only exaggerated by proximity to Costner’s rock-solid presence. However, Kutcher is at times very good, and with more experience I can see him coming into his own as a leading man.
Perhaps my biggest grip with The Guardian, beyond its formulaic nature, is its length. What is it with Kevin Costner and starring in long movies? This one clocks in at 2:20, which is about 30 minutes too long. Given that audiences already know the drill with many of the film’s parts, from training sequences to any number of its military movie clichÃ©s, the filmmakers could have done a lot of trimming and still have told the same story. After all, the biggest – and most unique – draw here is the harrowing rescue scenes, so shifting the balance in that direction would have strengthened the film’s impact.
As it stands, The Guardian is an entertaining film that could have been better, but could also have been a lot worse. Sometimes, I guess that’ll have to do.
So, how’s the DVD?
The Guardian is presented on a single disc, in 1.85:1 widescreen format. High marks are due for this transfer, as it’s consistently sharp, with good contrast levels and accurate colours. From the often dark and always stormy rescue scenes to the indoor pool training sessions, this video presentation does not disappoint; it’s never beautiful, but it’s always realistic.
Menus are animated, scored and laid out in an easy-to-use manner.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation holds its own as well. The Guardian mixes up raging ocean rescues, sinking ships and hovering helicopters with quiet scenes of quiet conversation, and it all sounds great. The surround channels come alive when appropriate, and dialogue is always clear through the centre channel. I would have liked more use of the surrounds for ambient effect, but that’s a fairly minor gripe.
Audio is also available in French and Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0, with subtitles offered in the same languages.
The Guardian offers up a decent collection of bonus material, and while it’s much less than some DVD releases, it felt like enough for this one. Here’s the rundown:
- Audio commentary: by director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive) and writer Ron L. Brinkerhoff (Eye See You). Very technical, but worth skimming your way through. Definitely check out the actions sequences for good commentary.
- Deleted Scenes: four scenes and seven minutes, with optional commentary by Davis and Brinkerhoff. I like that they took the time to include commentary for these scenes, and I also like that they made the decision to cut them.
- Alternate ending: with an introduction from Davis, who explains why they shot it and why – thankfully – it didn’t have to be used. As long as this film is, it would have been a shame to have it go out on this note.
- The Guardian: Making Waves: about 11 minutes of behind-the-scenes stuff. Includes a lot of rah-rah about the grueling training the actors endured to prepare, interviews with some of the real Coast Guard guys who advised the filmmakers and actually appeared in the film, and shows the way-cool wave tank used for the incredible rescue sequences.
- Unsung Heroes: So Others May Live: this one’s short at about five minutes, but it features interviews with real-life Coast Guard rescue swimmers and footage of them in action, which makes it pretty cool to watch.
Finally, bonus material wraps up with a couple of film trailers.
Although The Guardian treads old ground, runs too long and does all of the thinking for you, it’s overall pretty entertaining. The DVD presentation is mostly excellent, so don’t let that hold back your purchasing decision.