|Written by Bill Warren|
|Sunday, 01 October 2006|
Columbia was certain they had one of the biggest hits of last summer in the aerial action movie “Stealth.” It had attractive leads, one of whom—Jamie Foxx—had just won a Best Actor Oscar. It was full of special effects and explosions, the ideal summer movie.
But hardly anybody went to see it.
Now it’s available on DVD in the Blu-Ray process Sony Home Video is pushing so hard. But if all they have to push is the likes of “Stealth,” the format will never take off with the public. Perhaps Sony’s approach is exemplified by the sole extra on the “Stealth” disc: we see director Rob Cohen. Then we see lots of quick clips from “Stealth” and other sources, accompanied by noise, hammering music. Nothing is pointed out, nothing is demonstrated, nothing is explained. The most obvious and easiest form of demonstration would have been to show the same scenes in standard definition and Blu-Ray’s high definition—but instead we get shots of airplanes, surfers and ships in San Diego harbor. As a demonstration of Blu-Ray, this waste of time is a complete failure.
The movie borders on one, too. The credits for special effects are as long as the Mississippi, but all too often, the effects in the movie are only adequate. And when they’re top-notch, the cuts are so quick that the effects hardly have time to register. Blu-Ray’s high definition works best here in a couple of nighttime shots of the aircraft carrier Harry S Truman, and a few landscape scenes.
We’re quickly introduced to our hotshot pilot heroes, the current top guns: Lt. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Lt. Kara Wade (Jessica Biel) and Lt. Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx). They’re the top of the top, the cream of the crop, and have been chosen by Capt. George Cummings (Sam Shepard) for a hush-hush project. The three pilots are surprised when told that a fourth plane, a new model, will be joining their group. And stunned when they learn the plane doesn’t have a pilot. Instead, it’s directed by a “brain like a quantum sponge,” which has its own voice and personality.
They first meet the plane, variously called UCAV, Tin Man and EDI (Eddie) aboard the Truman, captained by Dick Marshfield (Joe Morton). The plane, Cummings concedes, “looks and sounds like science fiction.” Damned right; it looks and sounds like 2001’s HAL 9000. There are, in fact, several scenes that are so imitative of some of the most famous scenes in Kubrick’s movie that it becomes embarrassing to watch. There’s even a scene in which two people withdraw to talk about EDI—but their shadows on a curtain allow him to, I guess, read their lips, as HAL did.
Almost as soon as the trio is introduced to EDI, they’re launched on a mission with EDI flying along. The robot plane comes up with the best way of launching an attack on a building suspected to contain anti-US terrorists, but Ben insists on carrying it out himself, despite the strain of the flight trajectory. Mission accomplished. More Muslims dead. As the four planes head back to the carrier, lightning strikes EDI, which frizzles his circuits, or something. Never mind that planes in flight are often struck by lightning, so often that surely the designers of such a robot plane would have taken that contingency into consideration. But no. This is a truly dumb movie.
The three dash off to Thailand for recreation. We quickly learn that Ben and Kara are falling in love, against regulations. And that Henry is a horndog. When the four, um, pilots are ordered to attack a site in Tajikistan, Ben tries to abort the mission because of the certainty of thousands of civilian deaths. But EDI launches the attack anyway, sending a cloud of radioactive dust across fertile fields, over crowded villages. When Henry tries to take out EDI, the robot plane tricks him (I couldn’t see how), and Henry’s plane—and Henry—are smashed to pieces on a rock cliff.
Ben and Kara are horrified, of course, and Ben refuses to allow EDI to refuel at this amazing dirigible-like craft that is up there for just this purpose. But EDI figures out a way to do it anyway, leaving a hose from that big craft spouting fuel into the air. It is apparently as light as air itself, because when EDI tries to trap Ben by igniting the airborne fuel, it burns swiftly in a big ring that’s absolutely level in the sky, like it was on a tabletop.
Meanwhile, back on the carrier, we learn that Cummings is, for completely unclear reasons, up to no good. Toward the end, we learn further that he’s evidently part of a vast criminal conspiracy that has taken over an entire airbase in Alaska. Doctors, crew, everyone, is working for whoever it is that Cummings is working for. Just what all—or any—of these people expect to gain from their nefarious activities is never explained. They’re just bad guys.
Credited screenwriter W.D. Richter has a variable career, the high point being probably the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” But in the last 20 years, he’s had only three films produced, none of them outstanding or even very good. However, it’s hard to imagine a seasoned pro like Richter resorting to the cheap, obvious, hackneyed plotting that infests “Stealth.” There are three leads, two white, one black. Guess which one is killed. The male and female lead declare their love for one another. Guess what? They live through the movie.
Which is also too damned long at 121 minutes. At roughly the 90 minute point, things seem to be wrapped up, except that Kara’s trying to escape on foot from North Korea. Then the movie goes in a whole new direction, extending and expanding itself beyond all reason. It finally becomes silly just as it seems as though it will never end. What made the execs at Columbia think that audiences really wanted to see such a cornball, hackneyed mess as “Stealth”?
However, and that’s a big however, if you really feel you must see “Stealth,” perhaps just to keep up with movies that waste Jamie Foxx, this Blu-Ray disc is the way to go. In Thailand, our heroes visit a temple overgrown with vividly green moss; the rock and moss both seem almost tangible. Raindrops are individualized, so are the leaves and fronds in the jungle. There’s a beautiful scene in a smoky city on a canal; Ben’s red-patterned shirt is a visual poem; a skiff bears fruits and vegetables that seem almost lit from within; fire balloons launched at night beside a still pond are exquisite in detail and beauty. There’s a continuous shot that moves from satellite height to eye level that can take your breath away.
The surround sound too is used very well, though not as directionally as realism suggested. In the North Korean scenes, a helicopter lands in front of us, but when the camera looks exactly the opposite direction, the helicopter sounds still come from the front speakers. The movie’s cornball effect-for-effect’s sake applies to the sound as well.
But if you’re looking for a movie that you can run on your Blu-Ray machine, one that does not require you to pay much—or any—attention, “Stealth” is ideal. Completely brainless visual fodder.