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Life aboard the U.S.S Carl Vinson is fairly routine. The ship and it's inhabitants have seen their fair share of battle over the last few months but with a new peace treaty in effect there is now very little to be done than fly test missions. Navigator Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) and pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are two of the Navy's best but their boredom is beginning to get the better of them. Burnett is ready to end this tour of duty and his Navy career as the lack of activity is really getting to him. He attempts to hand in his letter of resignation to Captain Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman) but the seasoned veteran orders him to carry out the remainder of this tour of duty before he's allowed to walk away. Burnett is obviously discouraged by this latest turn of events but moves forward serving his country.  He then finds out that he has been assigned the lone holiday mission which means he'll have to miss the one semi-decent meal of the year and the holiday festivities.

The mission is to take pictures of the ground over Serbia with the newly installed high resolution digital camera.  During the mission Burnett and Stackhouse discover a blip on the radar screen and before you know it are venturing into a no-fly zone to investigate. No sooner do they stray from the scheduled flight plan than they are fired on by a group of Serbian militia. After an aerial pursuit where Burnett and Stackhouse dodge airborne missiles they eventually have to eject from the plane. They both land safely but Stackhouse suffers some minor injuries. Determined to get him help Burnett plans to take the radio to a higher elevation. Before he can do this and just mere minutes after he leaves the injured Stackhouse he watches his friend get interrogated by a group of Serbs. Unsatisfied with his responses they kill him in cold blood and Burnett, who had been quitely hiding in the nearby trees, is discovered.

This begins a long chase as the Serbians want to kill Burnett so that their is no record of their illegal military installations. Burnett eventually gets a signal through to the ship and Reigart promises to rescue him. However, this doesn't prove easy as Reigart is overruled by the head of UN's operations Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida) who says such an operation would destroy the peace treaty they had worked so hard to achieve.  Back on land Burnett goes through a number of close calls as he outwits his pursuers time and time again in the hope that he will soon be rescued..

Behind Enemy Lines

Behind Enemy Lines is a motion picture that had the distinction of being the first real action film dealing with war after the tragic events of September 11th. Its late-November theatrical run was enormously successful as it brought hope and joy to Americans who love nothing more than a film with an heroic American.  Despite a number of negative reviews the film went on to gross a cool $18 million on opening weekend alone. The film isn't really all that ground breaking and is more or less a combination of bits and pieces of all the war films that have gone before it. So then why was I grinning throughout the entire film? It's simply pure entertainment.  There isn't really a whole lot to the story plot wise and normally this would cause considerable worrying on my part but since the film never slows down long enough to become boring or to make my mind wander on to other things this isn't as big of a problem as it could be.  The film, which according to some sources is loosely based on the real life of pilot Lt. Scott O'Grady, seems to be highly fictionalized and doesn't really come across as more than entertainment. I'm sure the situation faced by Lt. O'Grady was much more difficult than the one faced by the fictional Lt. Burnett since things are always going in his favor. The plot advances in the way you expect it to as our hero escapes time and time again only to find himself in a situation a tad more difficult then the last.

Director John Moore makes his debut with this motion picture and is an unusual choice for the job. In Behind Enemy Lines Moore makes the jump from directing television commercials to directing a $40 million dollar major motion picture. I've heard of music video directors making a leap into feature films but this surely has to be the first time a commercial director made such a leap. Luckily for Moore his decision is vindicated as he knows to put the emphasis on the look of the film as opposed to the rather routine story. Moore is definitely from the MTV school of film making as he takes the fast cutting approach to directing. The action scenes play out more like a video game with all sorts of jump cuts, angle changes and computer-aided editing wizardry. Pacing is tight as the film's action sequences come in rapid succession and the non-action scenes are kept as brief as possible so that they don't slow down the film to allow the viewers to uncover any of the plot holes. While this film won't earn Moore a best director Oscar it's a promising start in the right direction for a career as an action film director.

One of the things that makes "Behind Enemy Lines" work as well as it does is it's casting of Owen Wilson in the lead role of Chris Burnett. Up until this point Wilson has focused his career on comedy both as an actor (Meet the Parents, Zoolander)  and as a writer (Bottle Rocket, Royal Tenenbaums) and though he appeared in the action/comedy hybrid Shanghai Noon opposite Jackie Chan this is the first pure action role from the actor. Wilson, not unlike Ben Affleck in Armageddon and the upcoming Sum Of All Fears, doesn't seem like the action hero type and that works in his favor with this part. Wilson's Burnett is more reminiscent of an everyday person who does extraordinary things under pressure than a Bruce Willis or Sly Stallone action hero type.  The movie wouldn't have been nearly as convincing with a run-of-the- mill action star in the role. Thankfully 20th Century Fox and director John Moore took a chance and that chance paid off big time. In the other major role we have veteran Gene Hackman who puts in his trademark performance as the Captain of the U.S.S Carl Vinson. Hackman is always a surefire bet to turn into an excellent performance and there's no questioning that he's done that here. He has a small but important role that would be utterly forgettable if given to just about any other actor. Also putting in strong performances are Joaquim de Almeida as Piquet and Vladmir Mashkov and Olek Krupa as the Serbian villains.

I admit the trailer for Behind Enemy Lines didn't really excite me or make me want to see the film. It just seemed like something that had be done many times before and lacked originality. After seeing the film theatrically for the first time I was still very much on the fence about my feelings about the film. I guess after reading a couple of positive reviews in the local paper I was expecting more. My second viewing of the film was much more enjoyable than the first and now that I've seen the film in the comfort of my own home I can safely say that it's not that bad. Ultimately it's more exciting and fun than it should be considering the unbelievable series of events our hero goes through. Still, it's fast paced and the action scenes are exciting and strong performances to cap it all off. It's clear that one could do much worse than Behind Enemy Lines. It'll never become my favorite action movie but it still does a good job of being a popcorn flick and for that I'm giving it a moderate recommendation

Behind Enemy Lines

Video

Behind Enemy Lines is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer by 20th Century Fox. Director John Moore has pumped lots of visual style into this film and thankfully none of it is overshadowed by any problem that may be enhanced on the DVD format.  The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is as sharp as a razor blade and contains a fine amount of detail. Color use is minimal focusing mostly on greys and greens but these colors never come across as lifeless or dull. Occasionally the film will use more color but these scenes are limited mostly to the on-ship sequences and more specifically the command center. The command center shots have a bluish tint to them which never seems overdone.

Flesh tones appear accurate with the exception of one or two instances which occur in the aforementioned command center scenes. In terms of problems they are few and far between as the print used is free of any defects which is to be expected when the film is only half a year old. Edge enhancement rears it's ugly head from time to time but unless your searching out flaws in the transfer it's not really a big concern. There is no visible pixelation and the film has a nice and sharp black level. Another excellent transfer from Fox.

Audio

If I could use only two words to describe the audio mix on Behind Enemy Lines they would be all-out assault. Ok that's three words. 20th Century Fox continues their fine tradition of providing a number of their higher profile releases with 5.1 audio tracks in both Dolby Digital and DTS with this disc. The film wastes no time before kicking things into high gear as the film opens up with a bang.  Where the soundtrack shines the most is during the film's show stopping action scenes including a high speed air chase involving an F-18 fighter jet and not one but two cruise missiles destined to blow the plane out of the sky. The soundtrack is so intense that it feels as if you are sitting in the cockpit. This intensity is felt throughout the film during any number of high paced action sequences including the shoot-out in Hac and while our hero is on the run.

Surround speaker usage is aggressive and almost non-stop with constant gunfire coming from behind. Sound effects have a very realistic effect to them as the film really puts you in the middle of the action. Things lighten up from time to time but the soundtrack continues to provide excellent ambience which never collapses into the front speakers.  The musical score by Don Davis is nicely mixed and really adds to the experience. Directional effects are well used as one can feel the bullets whip by their heads. Bass use is very strong especially during the films many explosions.

Dialogue is never overshadowed by it's surroundings and is easily heard though in some places this may be considered a bad thing.  As for the inevitable DTS vs Dolby Digital match up once again DTS comes out the winner providing a fuller, richer audio experience. For this comparison I used a couple of different scenes from the film and once again DTS wins hands down.  Regardless of which track you choose I doubt there is anyone who will be disappointed with the sound mix on Behind Enemy Lines as it's one of the better action movie soundtracks I've heard of late.

Extras

Although not officially labelled as such 20th Century Fox has seen fit to create a very special edition consisting of high quality added value materials.

The first of two audio commentaries is provided by the film's director John Moore and editor Martin Smith. According to some comments made during the track it appears to have been recorded just before or after the film's release in November of 2001. One thing that's immediately noticeable and is actually mentioned by the participants is that they are both suffering from head colds which at times causes their energy levels to be a bit lower then normal. However this doesn't really plague them in terms of their ability to provide an engaging if not always interesting or informative commentary for the film. I've listened to a lot of commentaries tracks since becoming a DVD reviewer and after a while they all begin to sound the same. At times it becomes hard to really focus on the information given. Luckily that never really happens with this track as Moore and Smith talk almost nonstop about various aspects of the film's production. Most of this discussion is of a technical nature discussing how the film was put together in the editing room, how things were accomplished and the motivations of the production.

They detail some of the problems the production faced and how shooting on the deck of an Aircraft carrier is anything but easy.  Other topics include how the studio was worried about having a first time director in charge of a fairly costly (40 million) dollar project that was doing a great detail of it's principal photography overseas, the casting of international actors and how the crew was assembled. On occasion the track does slip into congratulatory mode with constant praise being lavished on actors Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman as well the crew from both participants. In addition editor Smith often thanks Moore for allowing him to have a great amount of freedom in the editing room.  All in all this is a track that has a few rough spots but is still worth listening to.

The second audio commentary is with the films producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey who sit down to discuss their involvement with the project.  Their discussion takes a look at the film-making process from the producer's perspective. Outside of Hollywood it's safe to say many don't really know what the role of the producer is. They make sure everything goes as planned and to keep the director, cast and crew all in line in hopes of turning out a hit picture. John Davis has produced well over 50 projects while this was Godfrey's first producing assignment. Their commentary details almost every aspect imaginable that went on behind the scenes from the studio's reluctance to agree to director John Moore, to the casting of Gene Hackman and the international appeal of an action film. There is talk of how they had to convince Moore to shoot in Slovakia as opposed to Bosnia.

They also detail some behind the scenes stories about how Gene Hackman is a very private person who likes to arrive on set just before his scene, do his work and then retire to his trailer whereas Owen Wilson likes to come early and make suggestions on how to change the dialogue around so that it's a better fit for the character. One of my favorite stories from the tracks details a phone call made by director Moore to producer Davis while he was scouting locations for the film. While the two were on the phone a number of armed border guards approached Moore.

The track also details the advantages and disadvantages of producing a film in a third world country where everything was very cheap to put together but the support system you'd have in Hollywood or North America wasn't there.  Davis and Godfrey repeat some of the information given in the other track but that's to be expected and luckily the duplicated information is kept to a minimum.  This isn't one of the best commentaries I've ever listened to but it provides a unique and rarely heard view of the film making process. There was one thing that got on my nerves with the track and that's the speaking voice of John Davis which was very high pitched and occasionally hard on the ears. I almost wish he had a cold like Moore did in the earlier track.

Behind the Scenes of Behind Enemy Lines is a little more interesting than the standard issue promotional featurettes that studios slap on DVD's to make them seem more packed than they really are.  This uncreatively titled featurette focuses on two important aspects of the production of Behind Enemy Lines. It starts off with interview footage of various personnel from the film and the US Navy discussing how they collaborated on the project and the steps a film has to go to get co-operation from the Department of Defense. It touches briefly on the production challenges of shooting an intensive series of takeoffs from an aircraft carrier deck and how an accurate recreation of a ship's control room was recreated on a Hollywood sound stage. The latter half of the featurette details how star Owen Wilson prepared for his role as Lt. Chris Burnett and includes footage of the star being measured for his military uniform as well as being put through the motions in a real F-18 fighter jet. All in all the title is a bit of a misnomer as this featurette doesn't go behind the scenes as much as it focuses on the involvement of the Department of Defense in the making of the film. Keen movie fans will recognize the voice of the narrator as none other than Mr Voice himself, Don Lafontaine, who is one of the predominant voice over actors working in film today.

Behind Enemy Lines

Up next is a collection of 5 extended and two deleted scenes all of which have optional commentary from director John Moore and editor Martin Smith. The first five scenes are simply extensions of scenes already in the film and are often more violent or graphic versions than those in the final cut. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the film's "Mass Grave" scene where Owen Wilson's Burnett dives into a pool of bodies. The extended scenes included are "Main Title Sequence", "Take Off", "Mass Grave", "Hac" and "Killing the Tracker". The deleted scenes are nowhere near as good as the extended ones and are really little more than dialogue-based scenes that slowed the pacing of the film. There's the original "End Credit Sequence" which changes the impact of the ending and "Reigart is relieved of his duties" which shows the events immediately preceding his retirement. All the scenes are individually listed on the menu though there is no option to play all these scenes at one time.

One of the cooler extras on the disc is the Pre-Visualization Ejection sequence which is presented with optional audio commentary from director John Moore and editor Martin Smith. This is a look at the very cool ejection scene from the film and is presented as a mixture of rough computer test shots, model shots and still story boards. It's remarkable how close these this test footage came to the final product although there are certainly small differences.

As well as the film's theatrical trailer Fox has decided to include a trailer for Minority Report (Version A)  which is presented in 1.85:1 non anamorphic widescreen and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Overall

Behind Enemy Lines won't go down as one of the best action movies in history but it does more right than wrong and comes across as a fun diversion in the process. It's far from perfect but the action scenes and the performances do make the film worth seeing. It's a popcorn movie, plain and simple. 20th Century Fox has once again done a stellar job on the DVD edition of the film with its amazing video transfer and intense soundtrack in both digital formats. Add into the mix not one but two audio commentaries, a collection of deleted scenes and a better than average featurette and fans of the film and action fans alike will be more than pleased with this DVD. Recommended.


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