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Capitol Policeman John Cale (Channing Tatum) has just been denied his dream job with the Secret Service of protecting President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Not wanting to let down his little girl with the news, he takes her on a tour of the White House – on the same day that the complex is overtaken by a heavily armed paramilitary group. Now, with the nation's government falling into chaos and time running out, it's up to Cale to save the president, his daughter, and the country. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

 White House Down
2013 will forever be remembered as the year two White House invasion movies out- Die-Harded an official Die Hard sequel. Well, it’ll probably be remembered as the year the royal baby was born, the American government shut down for 16 days, and Francis CCLXVI became Pope – but some film textbook will surely mention that A Good Day to Die Hard was bloody awful and outdone by both Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen and Roland Emmerich’s White House Down; at least in a footnote. I’m sure of it. Olympus Has Fallen (review here) was sometimes a little unattractive (including murky photography and chintzy special effects), but it was also delightfully vicious and effortlessly entertaining. On paper, White House Down (released only three months after Fuqua’s film, also through Sony Pictures), which also features a misfit Secret Service man saving the US President from the hands of ruthless terrorists, sounded utterly redundant. But there are enough differences between the two films to make them interesting as companion pieces. The key distinctions revolve around tone, budget, and Fuqua & Emmerich’s approaches to the concept. Fuqua’s film is a rugged, violent, proudly R-rated reinterpretation of the ‘80s action aesthetic. Emmerich’s film is far more light-hearted, shot on a massive budget, and aims for a family-friendly(er) PG-13 rating. It feels more like a throwback to ‘90s action blockbusters, the kind Renny Harlin, James Cameron, or, well, Roland Emmerich would make, had he not become the go-to guy for monumental destruction (pun intended).

Emmerich took a break from destroying the world with Anonymous, a strange ‘historical’ thriller built around the possibility that Shakespeare was a fraud. When the modestly-priced film still managed to take a hit at the box-office (not to mention a hit from the critics), Emmerich returned to semi-familiar territory. The world doesn’t come to an end this time, but most of the director’s trademarks are still here, including exploding landmarks, an everyman trapped in an explosive situation (in this case, the President), and a plucky kid. The smooth ‘90s-ness of Emmerich’s camera work ensures that his action remains crisp and discernible, giving it a leg up on Fuqua’s film even without the satisfaction of multiple head stabbings. The perfect Die Hard in the White House movie’s action style would probably land somewhere between the grit of Olympus Has Fallen and the slickness of White House Down. The bigger issue for Emmerich, however, is that so many of the set pieces have been either borrowed from other movies or just aren’t very imaginative. It takes a solid 90 minutes to amplified the action to a level that lives up to the expectations of a $150 million Roland Emmerich movie. From here, the film does accelerate into genuinely outrageous territory, but, at this point, it has already gone on about 20 minutes too long. Emmerich does score points over Fuqua for taking the time to visually impart the technical specifics of the terrorists’ plans and the logistics involved in protecting the government in the event of an attack. Too often, these intricacies are blurred into a first act slush that doesn’t make any sense until a character explains everything plainly to the audience after the fact.

 White House Down
James Vanderbilt’s screenplay fulfills the ‘90s action textbook by sticking to the book in terms of story development and installing all the usual character tropes. It’s not even close to challenging on a plot level and there aren’t any unforeseen twists as the story unravels. It’s usually pleasantly predictable, but the expositional dialogue, clichéd characters, and prototypical situations do become a bit maddening. And what it lacks in originality, it often makes up in charming performances. Vanderbilt’s glib humour and occasional stints of slapstick are welcome without ever being entirely well-executed. The jokes themselves just aren’t particularly funny – though, again, the actors sell them pretty effectively. Emmerich’s typically heavy-handed, idealistic, left-wing politics are well-established throughout (the President’s unpopular plan is to pull all American forces out of the Middle East, the right-wing television/radio personality is a sniveling coward, etc.), which I suppose makes White House Down a Democrat’s version of the concept and Olympus Has Fallen a Republican’s version. This makes sense, too, since Clinton was President during the era Emmerich is aping and Reagan was President during the era Fuqua is aping.

 White House Down

Video


Another aesthetic difference between Fuqua and Emmerich’s films is their formats – Olympus Has Fallen was shot 35mm, while White House Down was shot using Arri Alex Plus digital HD cameras. There’s no mistaking the digital source on this 1080p, 2.40:1 Blu-ray transfer. Emmerich and cinematographer Anna J. Foerster (a frequent collaborator in special effects and assistant directing capacities as well) create an unnatural, but not uncanny image that mixes hard-edged, heavy shadows with soft, warm colour blends. The darkness is a little jarring, because the simplest shadow becomes a crushed, blobby shape that depletes the more delicate gradient blends. However, the Blu-ray’s image is so sharp that the finer details aren’t entirely washed out and the harsh edges are crisp without halo effects. The colour palette leans orange & teal, but not in the usual manner – the warmer hues have a creamy quality that isn’t as stark as what you usually see in more unattractive digitally colour-timed features. The teals are also closer to real blue. This duo-chromatic, heavily-shadowed rendering is nicely flecked by lush greens, sunny yellows, and poppy reds, all of which are drawn tightly. These only bloom when the blurry backdrops dictate it. A handful of shots are a bit noisy (including some minimal macro-blocking on warmer backgrounds), but the clarity is mostly maintained throughout the slightly smudgy digital qualities.

 White House Down

Audio


White House Down comes fitted with an aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that recalls the early days of digital 5.1 with overstated ambience and punchy incidental effects in all but the most quiet, dialogue-heavy sequences. The highlights begin with the initial action sequence, where relative silence being shattered by a bomb that bursts the tower of the Capital Building. This is followed by dynamic bursts of precision gunfire, complete with directional enhancements, including bullets zipping through the channels and impacting behind the viewer. Because the characters are constantly sneaking around, hiding from the terrorists, the middle section isn’t particularly loud, but features its fair share of shooting, leading into a crunchy, large calibre machinegun addled car chase. I suppose the track’s liveliest moment is the failed helicopter assault that kicks off the thoroughly over-the-top final act. The dialogue track is normalized and consistent aside from a few clearly overdubbed moments towards the end of the film. One of these is an f-bomb, so I’m guessing the filmmakers were hedging their bets on how many curse words they could get away with before they were slapped with an R. Composers Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker, who also worked with Emmerich on 10,000 BC and 2012, do their best John Williams impersonation during the film’s happy moments and their best generic, driving strings and electronic drums during the action bits.

 White House Down

Extras


The special features include a series of featurettes, each with behind-the-scenes footage and cast & crew interviews:
  • A Dynamic Duo (4:10, HD) – On Foxx and Tatum’s performances and on-screen chemistry.
  • The Beast (5:20, HD) – On the design and construction of the film’s version of the Presidential limo.
  • Men of Action (3:40, HD) – On stunts, training, and fight coordination.
  • The Full Arsenal (4:50, HD) – On the film’s weaponry, including fabrication and explosives.
  • VFX Boundaries Down (3:30, HD) – Including a look at some of the in-camera compositing technology.
  • The Inside Story (2:50, HD) – On the script, casting, and the brief production schedule.
  • Presidential Treatment (4:30, HD) – On the re-creation of the White House location.
  • Lights, Camera, Heart-Pumping Action (3:20, HD) – Concerning the cinematography.
  • Roland Emmerich: Upping the Ante (5:10, HD) – On Emmerich’s direction and return to action cinema.
  • Crash the Oval Office (3:50, HD) – On crashing an SUV through the front window of the Oval Office.
  • Downing The Beast (3:30, HD) – On crashing the Presidential limo into a pool.
  • Re-creating the White House (9:20, HD) – The most substantial featurette, concerning the re-creating the White House location…again.
  • Meet the Insiders (5:30) – On the film’s cast.

The disc is finished out with a gag reel (6:00, HD) and trailers for other Sony releases. Interview subjects throughout the featurettes include Emmerich, writer/producer James Vanderbilt, producers Bradley J. Fischer and Larry Franco, producer/co-composer Harald Kloser, Reel Industries president Cyril O’Neil, action vehicle supervisor Graham Kelly, production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli, stunt coordinator John Stoneham Jr., co-producer/vfx supervisor Volker Engel, vfx supervisor/second unit director Marc Weigert, weapons trainer Paul Barrett, cinematographer Ana J. Foerster, and actors Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Joey King, and Nicolas Wright.

 White House Down

Overall


Neither Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down work well enough for me to entirely prefer one to the other, but Roland Emmerich had the budget and cast to do the definitive Die Hard in the White House movie, so I suppose his shortcomings are more damning than Antoine Fuqua’s. Still, White House Down is thoroughly entertaining romp in the ‘90s action blockbuster tradition. This Blu-ray features a strong, colourful 1080p transfer and a dynamic DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Unfortunately, the extras are made up mostly of fluffy, repetitive, and brief behind-the-scenes featurettes.

 White House Down

 White House Down

 White House Down

 White House Down

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


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