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Feature


When the White House (Secret Service Code: ‘Olympus’) is captured and the President (Aaron Eckhart) is kidnapped by a terrorist mastermind disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) moves to action. As the national security team scrambles to respond, the secret service ground team is wiped out and it’s up to Banning to retake the White House, save the President, and avert an even bigger crisis. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

Olympus Has Fallen
Hollywood has never been opposed to repeating a popular idea, but, every once and a while, two or more big-budget blockbusters based on the same premise will go head-to-head in a single year, often within the same summer period. In 1989 three undersea thrillers fought for box office cash ( Leviathan, The Abyss, and DeepStar Six). In 1998 we had a A Bug’s Life vs. Ants and Armageddon vs. Deep Impact. This year saw a dueling pair of ‘terrorists in the White House’ movies – Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen and Roland Emmerich’s much more expensive White House Down. What’s especially unique about the Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down situation, besides the fact that they may share the most specific similarities of any of these films (aside from maybe Bug’s Life and Antz), is that both are being distributed on home video via the same studio – Sony. That has to be a first, right? I haven’t actually seen White House Down, so my curiosity here is merely academic. Until I end up with a review copy of Emmerich’s film, I’m not going to bother comparing them. Besides, there are plenty of other movies that Olympus Has Fallen begs comparison to.

Fuqua, who started his career with music videos, STV thrillers, and medium-budget vehicles for Chow Yu-Fat and Jamie Foxx, has settled nicely into a position as one of the most trustworthy directors-for-hire working in gritty crime and action features. He never quite delivered on the promise of Training Day and didn’t manage to cross-over with King Arthur, but even his worst movies have never been badly made. It’d be nice to see a studio hand him something with substance (he’ll probably won’t be ascending to ‘great filmmaker’ status), but if someone has to make the lowest common denominator B-action, better him than the vast majority of his contemporaries. His name on the marquee cries out for endorsements, like, ‘hey, this crappy movie might at least well-made, I guess.’ Olympus Has Fallen is a typically decent Fuquaian production. His workmanlike refusal to show-off serves the material perfectly with crisp, serviceable storytelling and action. The opening act’s terrorist attack shows budget limitations in terms of CG quality, but is a vigorous and somewhat unique take on the all-too-familiar, stake-setting destruction trope. This sequence is brutal in a more personal manner than most modern, PG-13-friendly action films and the brutality carries through the entire film, which doesn’t shy away from its R-rating. The squibs are juicy and plentiful, the wounds are gaping, and the innocent bystander body count is shockingly high. Fuqua flops a bit in terms of acting too maudlin when dealing with the aftereffects of the destruction, but his action direction is, for the most part, right on the money. He uses handheld camera styles without shaking the images into chaos, effectively conveys sequence geography, and doesn’t over-edit the carefully choreographed violence. His one major technical shortcoming is his sometimes overwhelmingly under-lit sets (more on that in the Video section).

Olympus Has Fallen
The script, by first time screenwriters Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, recalls a number of ‘80s genre offerings and does it much better than most recent period throwbacks, such as Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head and the Expendables films (which were also produced by Olympus Has Fallen producer Boaz Davidson). Instead of grouping classic genre actors and throwing them into an utterly generic story situation, Rothenberger and Benedikt recall the period’s high concept roots and pay homage to an era when every other action movie was jokingly re-titled by critics ‘ Die Hard on a/in the (fill in the blank).’ Olympus Has Fallen is very much Die Hard in the White House, not Crusty Old Actors Reenacting Movies You Wish You Were Watching Instead. It also captures the idiotic, but loveable jingoism of the Reagan-era, rah-rah America prime without any noticeable irony. The lack of irony is surprisingly potent the whole way around, actually. It’s not an entirely humourless film, but the jokes are clearly jokes and rarely made at the expensive of the melodrama or super-serious action/violence. It would be easy to quibble about story oversimplifications and cliché character types, but the scripts one major problem is that it’s just too long. Fuqua shoulders some of this burden, because he could’ve easily cut down the sluggish second act to match the breathlessly-paced first and third acts, but it would be difficult to overcome the repetition and inactivity of the middle section without a pretty big rewrite (apparently, the big Blackhawk helicopter action sequence was added after the fact to give the audience another large-scale action sequence).

Like Fuqua, the cast also works where the screenplay fails. Gerard Butler (who acted as co-producer) settles well into his role of Bruce Willis surrogate (Bruce Willis doesn’t seem interested in maintaining that title lately) and is easy to root for as he takes care of business. Aaron Eckhart seems hell-bent on portraying a Commander in Chief that is more furious and cranky than Harrison Ford in Air Force One and he succeeds in spite of some inadvertent silliness. Olympus Has Fallen has a surprisingly strong supporting cast, despite its comparatively modest budget. Morgan Freeman sleepwalks through his role as an apparent Colin Powell stand-in, but still manages to exude plenty of his typical charm.  Rick Yune and Dylan McDermott appear to be having a great deal of fun as the cool-headed number one and hot-headed number two villains (respectfully). Angela Bassett and Robert Forster, on the other hand, are generally wasted as reactive order-barkers. Other cast members seem to be on their way off of the A-list, like Ashley Judd, (an almost unrecognizable) Melissa Leo, and Cole Hauser, and barely have any real screen time, but still offer some recognizability and character texture to the film.

Olympus Has Fallen

Video


This 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray transfer is true to the film’s 35mm source format. There has been some digital grading applied and natural film grain is relatively thin, but the dynamic ranges and detail levels are quite filmic. Fuqua and cinematographer Conrad W. Hall’s (son of Conrad Regular Hall) opt for a mostly natural palette, but seem to be placing the entire film around magic hour, leading to some harsh artificial backlight during outdoor scenes with a sort of yellowish tint and an overall dimness. As I mentioned in the feature section of my review, that dimness does become a bit of a problem at times, especially during the opening sequence, where a wintery night makes it almost impossible to tell what’s going on. Details are sharp in close-up (Butler’s craggy face is one of the film’s favourite landscapes to explore), but do suffer minor smudging in wide-angle shots, along with hints of edge enhancement. The bigger issue, however, continues to be the darkness, which wastes some of the crisp embellishments and turns them into crushed mush. Still, when the palette isn’t entirely overwhelmed with black the hues are relatively vivid. Natural greens are lush and poppy highlights, mostly reds and blues, are strong without bleeding or cross-colouration issues. At worst, I noticed some blocking effects on the darker reds/oranges and some random, inconsistent flecks of digital noise, most of which are clearly augmented by digital effects.

Olympus Has Fallen

Audio


As you may have expected, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is pretty darn aggressive. The bulk of the attention goes toward scenes of epic destruction, beginning with the explosive terrorist attack that kicks the plot into gear. These relentless sequences include the sounds of revving airbus engines, large calibre machinegun fire rattling through the channels, screaming masses, crunchy vehicular mayhem, and, of course, huge, LFE-rattling explosions. The more intricate and dynamically-ranged action scenes are equally impressive on a subtler, more punchy level. The quieter moments aren’t nearly as expertly tweaked, but do feature plenty of ambient crowd and street noise, a lot of which is given an effective amount of directional enhancement. I suppose that a couple of dialogue-based interactions are too quiet. Trevor Morris’ score is sweeping and sappy, just like the late ‘80s/early ‘90s Americana action flicks he’s emulating. The subtler, driving action cues are sometimes cued low enough that you wonder why they were included at al, but, for the most part, the music offers an additional depth to the track and is quite vibrant.

Olympus Has Fallen

Extras


The extras begin with Under Surveillance: The Making of Olympus Has Fallen (11:40, HD), a quick and fluffy EPK that doesn’t deeply explore the behind-the-scenes process, but does feature a reasonable amount of technical and research-related information. Things get a little more technical with Deconstructing the Black Hawk Sequence (3:30, HD), Ground Combat: Fighting the Terrorists (3:00, HD), and Creating the Action: VFX and Design (7:00, HD), all of which speak for themselves in terms of content. The featurettes are wrapped-up with The Epic Ensemble (7:00, HD), which covers the casting process. Interview subjects throughout the featurettes include Fuqua, writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, technical consultant Ricky Jones, FX supervisor Evan Jacobs, effects coordinator Jack Lynch, production designer Derek R. Hill, producers Danny Lerner and Alan Seigel, editor John Refoua, stunt coordinator Keith Woulard, and cast members Butler (also producer), Eckhart, Freeman, Bassett. McDermott, and Leo. The extras come to an end with a blooper reel and trailers for other Sony releases.

Olympus Has Fallen

Overall


Olympus Has Fallen isn’t going to win any awards (unless there’s one for the most authentic ‘80s/’90s era action callback) but it’s certainly an entertaining and thoroughly R-rated movie. It is, however, going to be very difficult to remember anything specific about it in a week and it is certainly too dark (photographically, not tonal) for its own good. That darkness doesn’t do the 1080p transfer any favours, but, otherwise, the A/V quality is strong. The extras include only brief and basic behind-the-scenes featurettes and a blooper reel.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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