Tuskegee Airmen, The (US - BD RA)
Jonathan takes a technical look at the 1995 HBO film in high definition...
It is 1943 and the Germans are winning the Second World War as the U.S. suffers huge losses on the ground and in the air. Four newly recruited pilots are united by a desire to serve their country, at a time when black flyers are not welcomed in the Air Force. Now, through the brutal demands of their training, to the perils of flying over nations at war, the men they call "The Tuskegee Airmen" must undertake the riskiest mission of their lives - to prove to America that courage knows no color. Their success could earn them respect, save lives and help win a terrible war. Their failure could destroy more hopes and dreams than their own. (From the HBO synopsis)
This was my first time seeing The Tuskegee Airmen, and I'm honestly uncertain of how the film was meant to be framed. In 1995 when it aired on HBO, it was presented in a fullscreen 1.33:1 format, which was the norm for televisions at the time. On this Blu-ray release, the film is shown in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I don't have definitive proof that the top and bottom portions of the picture were chopped off, but judging solely on the framing I'm willing to bet that is the case. The top of the picture often cuts off at actor's foreheads and the overall composition feels cramped.
As for the quality of the image itself, I'm sure this is about as good as the film can look given its age and low production budget. Still, it is not an attractive transfer. Aside from the aforementioned cropping which was a constant distraction, the image feels flat and anything but vibrant. Colours are mostly browns and greys, and every outdoor scene looks overcast. There is more colour on the Blu-ray packaging than you'll ever see in the movie. It appears as though some DNR may have been applied to the image, as characters in certain shots look waxy and the detail in clothing is smeared out. It could just be the quality of film stock used, and not digital tinkering, but the effect is similar. Other close-ups actually look quite good and show a great amount of detail and depth. The quality is all over the place, but for the most part the presentation doesn't look much better than you'd expect from an upscaled DVD.
HBO has given this release a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I'm glad they took the time to make a lossless encode for the disc, but I'm not sure it did the audio presentation any good. From what I can gather online, the film was originally mixed as a standard Dolby Digital track, and it's been remixed for this release to accommodate the 5.1 setup. The use of the extra channels is evident, but only during the flying scenes. Plane noises and gunfire are present in the rear channels, but rarely travel from one speaker to the next in any noticeable fashion. Planes are loud, as they should be, and make use of the LFE channel to give the flying scenes more impact. When they aren't in the sky, nearly all of the the audio is kept front and center, and lacks any sort of dynamic effect. The soundtrack is also lacking in this mix. It feels trapped in the stereo channels and gets lost with the other noise occurring in scenes. Dialogue is easy enough to make out, even if its nowhere near as crisp and clear as modern sound mixes. I'm willing to give the sound team some benefit of the doubt, given the film's modest source, and I appreciate that an effort was made to create a lossless surround mix, but this is far from reference quality material.
While the disc has no extras on it, there is a digibook packaging that includes a nice introduction and some photos from the set of the film. There's also a few pictures of the real historical events depicted in the movie.
I have yet to see Red Tails, but I would be surprised if the quality of storytelling surpasses The Tuskegee Airmen. It's a well made television film that features fine performances and tells an underdog story that is gripping and involving, regardless of your race or historical knowledge of the period. The Blu-ray features no extras aside from the digibook packaging, and the presentation doesn't take much advantage of high definition, but most of the issues are relative to the source and are not a fault of the transfer.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release 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.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 17th January 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 2.0 French, DTS 1.0 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Digibook Packaging
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Markowitz
Cast: Laurnce Fishburne, Allen Payne, Malcolm-Jamal Warner
Genre: Drama and War
Length: 106 minutes
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