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Airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington) miraculously lands his plane after a mid-air catasrophe. But even as he's being hailed for his heroic efforts, questions arise as to who or what was really at fault. (From the Paramount synopsis)

 Flight
It's great to see Robert Zemeckis working outside of the motion capture room again. Flight is his first live action film since 2000's Cast Away. Due to the poor box office performance of Mars Needs Moms, Disney decided to pass on Zemeckis's Yellow Submarine remake. As a fan of the original, and someone who really wasn't crazy about his motion capture output, I wasn't saddened by the news. While I like a good portion of Zemeckis's directorial efforts, aside from Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I've mostly enjoyed his movies for the lead performances. I prefer Cast Away to the overpraised Forrest Gump, but its hard not to like Tom Hanks in both movies. Jodie Foster sells Contact. Now with Flight he makes his first film with Denzel Washington, and again he owes the success of the film to his lead.

We're introduced to pilot Whip Whitaker in a hotel room. He wakes up with one of his flight attendants, gets into an argument with his ex-wife over the phone while drinking beer, then promptly snorts a line of cocaine before getting dressed and heading out for his morning flight. There's nothing subtle about it. This guy doesn't have it together. After doing a routine check up on the plane and helping himself to more alcohol from the beverage cart, he takes to the air piloting a airplane with a bunch of souls on board. I'm probably going to have The Grey and Flight replaying in my head next time I have to get on an airplane. Both have the most intense movie plane crashes in recent memory. The plane crash sequence in Flight is where the movie shines most. There is a good fifteen minutes or so of sustained tension and pure dread. The only times it lets up is when the movie decides to cut to the character of Nicole (Kelly Reilly) as she goes through a heroine overdose. I suppose it was necessary to cut between these scenes so Whip and Nicole would meet each other in the hospital, and sure you could draw some uninspired parallels between a crashing plane and an overdose, but when the movie shifts to her scenes during the plane sequence it sucks all of the tension out of the movie.

 Flight
After the plane crash, the movie settles into talky drama territory. The run time gets split between Whip trying to overcome his alcohol addiction and the impending trial his character faces regarding his state when piloting the plane that day. The whole middle portion of the movie is nothing particularly special on paper, but Denzel completely owns this movie.  With all due respect to Malcolm X and Training Day, this could be my favorite performance from him. He brings a lot of depth and nuance to what could've easily been just another drunk character. Even when the movie spirals into some tiresome addiction movie material, Denzel makes every scene that he is in worthwhile. I can't say the same for the character of Nicole. Kelly Reilly isn't bad, but there's not enough happening with Nicole to bring any dimension to her heroine addict with a heart of gold character. While the movie never quite gets as good as the plane sequence again, the scenes building up to the climactic trial and the trial itself are flawlessly executed. I won't spoil the fun, but the scenes leading up to the trial took some really unexpected turns with both dramatic and humorous results. At the very end the movie falls right back into the lame formula, but Denzel's performance and a few great moments in the screen play make Flight well worth a viewing.

 Flight

Video


Flight comes with one of the better 1080p transfers I've seen in some time. It probably helps that the film was shot on the Red Epic digital camera. Like other films show on this system, detail is very realistic and the blacks are deep. There is practically no digital noise throughout, giving the image an incredibly clean look. Detail is astounding. Check out the texture on Denzel's face in the last screen cap, or the cloudy red in the close-up of his eye following the crash. The digitally shot movie has made the transition to Blu-ray with a healthy bit rate and no compression artefacts to be found. The only flaws I could find with the image are some very minor halos; which I've consistently noticed with movies shot on the Red camera, so I wouldn't attribute these tiny instances to Blu-ray transfer process. Long time Zemeckis collaborator Don Burgess was the cinematographer on the film, and his visual style is very fitting for the movie. Color and lighting are usually darker than is natural. Browns and yellows dominate the palette, and the overall image color has a warmth to it. Outdoor scenes have a very overcast look to them while indoor scenes look under lit, sometimes like you'd expect from a David Fincher film.

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that comes with Flight is very impressive. As you can imagine, you get the most out of the track during the plane sequence. Loud engine noises, the worried chatter and eventual screams of the passengers, as well as that very distinct sound of descent fill the entire sound space with horrifying realism. The LFE channel brings some low end terror into the mix as well. Following the plane crash, this becomes a much more typical 5.1 mix with the rear channels often being used for ambient noises. It works really well though. I felt constantly immersed even in the most mundane interiors, like a restaurant. Dialogue is absolutely clear, even during the perilous plane descending with all the surrounding noise. Zemeckis gets Scorsese on us and puts a couple Rolling Stones songs (including "Gimme Shelter") on the soundtrack, and they sound loud and great in this mix. I particularly loved a short elevator music rendition of The Beatles "With a Little Help From My Friends". This is a great audio track that serves the film wonderfully.

 Flight

Extras


First up is Origins of Flight (HD, 10:30). This is a short look at how the film came about. It is comprised of interview footage of writer John Gatins, Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington. Gatins talks about how he got the idea for the film after a pilot sat next to him on a plane and started talking to him about his life. He realized he didn't want to know about a pilot's personal life. He wanted to think of his pilots as infallible and clear-headed. Zemeckis doesn't give much valuable input. He talks about putting comedic elements in a dramatic film as if he is going against the grain. Denzel talks about his character a bit and comes across as an incredibly humble guy. Next up is The Making of Flight (HD, 11:32). This is another short segment that doesn't feel much different than the Origins featurette. There is more of the same interview footage, but with more actors from the film. They cover what it was like to work with one another. A highlight is seeing is Brian Geraghty learning how to be a pilot in a simulator.

Anatomy of a Plane Crash (HD, 07:46) is a look at the film's best sequence. It's short and not as extensive as I would like, but its neat to see some footage of the rotating set and the animatics they prepared. They actually had part of a real airplane hooked up to a giant rotisserie, and turned a bunch of extras upside down in it. I was impressed to see that Denzel Washington was actually hanging upside down in a model cockpit during filming. A short but sweet featurette, and definitely the highlight of this disc's extras. Last of all is Q&A Highlights (HD, 14:19). This is a post-screening Q&A with most of the cast and creators present, but Denzel Washington was sick and not present. Gatins shares the origin of the screenplay again. Zemeckis talks about how he got on board again. The actors share some anecdotes from the set. Halfway through it turns to questions from the audience, which are substantially more interesting.

 Flight

Overall


Flight is saved from being a boring drama about substance addiction by a gripping performance from the always reliable Denzel Washington. If it weren't for Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix, I'd believe he could pull off a hat trick at this year's Oscars. It also features one of the best plane crash sequences in recent memory, and the build up to the story's climax is great. This Blu-ray doesn't come with much in the way of extras, but the audio and video quality are top notch.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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