PictureLadder 49 is presented with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer which is of a very good standard overall. The detail level is consistently high, with softness seldom rearing its ugly head and clarity throughout. Even the night-time scenes exhibited very little grain, and there was no sign of either edge enhancement or digital artefacting. The fires were bright and vivid, blazing right into your living room, and the colour palette was deep and realistic, never becoming too glossy. Overall this was a good, clean transfer free from dirt, dust or any other defects that might impinge your viewing pleasure. My only one observation would be that this kind of material lends itself towards a broader aspect ratio. Whilst the standard 1.85:1 format is perfectly acceptable and rightly suited to the more personal scenes, the infernos could have been given a broader perspective - and thus more impact - with a wider ratio of perhaps 2.35 or even 2.40:1. Still, that is a minor niggle with regards to a transfer that basically presents the main feature perfectly well.
SoundLadder 49 comes with a THX-Certified Enhanced Home Theater Mix - A 'Dynamic Audio-Sensory Experience Designed Specifically For Your Home Theater System'. Or at least that is what it says on the cover. Aside from spelling theatre wrong, what this basically means is an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, and on that count they are not wrong. Right from the outset, the fire scenes envelop you with explosions and flames howling all around you. One exceptional scene does a great job reflecting the sensory disorientation of being in a smoke-filled room with a fire erupting around you, muffling all of the main sounds and making the listener strain in the confusion. I would say that the treatment of the effects on the audio track for this movie makes it perfect for showing off a decent Dolby 5.1 system - with excellent directionality during the various fire confrontation sequences. The trouble is that in between the action we get a score that is nothing special playing to everything other than the montage scenes - and that, worse still, the montages are cursed with terrible rock ballads (kind of all reminiscent of the title theme to Star Trek Enterprise) that just make you ache inside. On the technical front, these all come across well, perhaps too well for your liking, but it is a welcome relief when the action kicks in. Dialogue is never less than clear and the LFE channel growls ominously at appropriate times, reminding you that this is a six-channel mix. Overall it is a very good track, tainted slightly by some of the more cheesy, clichéd music it has to sustain. There is also a French dubbed Dolby 5.1 track and subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
ExtrasFirst up there is an audio commentary with Director Jay Russell and Editor Bud Smith. This was quite an interesting affair, with the pair talking about the cast and locations chosen, why Baltimore was so good and how they did the magnificent fire sequences - some of which took an immense amount of planning and organisation. There is an interesting mention of their conversations with Ron Howard, the director of Backdraft, about how to create fire. Since CGI fire was still not good enough, they had to use real fire. It was also good to hear how hard the cast trained to be convincing as firefighters, especially Travolta and Phoenix. And they praise the whole cast's interest in stunts and realism during the many sequences that they say were all based on real life firefighter experiences. Occasionally the pair go silent, and the commentary could have done with a couple more anecdotes thrown into the mix, but it is still a nice effort.There are two featurettes: The Making of Ladder 49 and Everyday Heroes: Real Stories From Real Firefighters. The first of these runs at 21 minutes in length, but can be watched in three separate segments: On Location, Fire Academy: Training the Actors, and Anatomy of a Scene: The Warehouse Fire. They all have plenty of behind the scenes footage, interspliced with interview excerpts with the director, writer, producer and cast members. On Location obviously discusses Baltimore, and then the characters and cast chosen, discussed individually with chats with each respective member (including Travolta himself talking about getting burnt during the movie and the director mentioning how Phoenix overcame Vertigo to do one particularly risky abseiling stunt in the movie). Fire Academy sees the cast in training to do the scenes in the movie, with the help of several real life firefighters. Anatomy of a Scene looks at the main inferno scene in the movie and how they shot it, making note of the great recreation of fire in the movie as a whole.Everyday Heroes is a 14 minute featurette that does exactly what it says on the box: offers up real stories from real firefighters. Although this is quite a nice idea, in practice the presentation is a little too mundane to offer up anything revelatory about the real lives and experiences of firefighters but it is a great patriotic ad for firemen. And it is a nice addition to the extras.There are five Deleted Scenes, providing about fifteen minutes of extra footage, most of which warranted exclusion from the final cut. There's Lunch Room Conversations, Jack and Linda's First Date, Captain Tony Arrives(explaining the new face that appears halfway through the movie), Ray's Subplot and, most interestingly, a deleted scene simply entitled 9-11. None of them are particularly engaging, although it is intriguing to see how they dealt directly with the crisis in that final scene and how it was much more sensible to leave it out rather than cheesily crowbar it in unnecessarily. The deleted footage is presented in widescreen, but lacking in quality, having clearly not been polished off for the final version.There is also a music video for the awful Robbie Robertson track “Shine Your Light”, along with a bunch of trailers that play on disc start-up or on selection of the 'Sneak Peaks' option. These include the extended trailer for National Treasure, the preview for The Hitchhiker's Guide and a trailer for the Home Improvement TV series.
VerdictLadder 49 might grate a little with all its patriotic overtones, but good intention and good performances carry the film from one blazing inferno to the next, and sustain your attention for the duration. The DVD presentation is spectacular, and the extras are more than enough to please fans, making this one ideal to rent in order to see if you enjoy it and a must buy if you find that you do.
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