Towards the end of last year I completed a short mini-review season of discs that had been on the shelves for some considerable time. I found it quite enlightening to go back and look at these older discs and see how they compared to the latest releases. Well, I've found another disc that fits nicely into this slot, Rob Cohen's 2005 release Stealth; one of the first Blu-rays to hit the market, showcasing this new format and the rival to HD DVD. A bold choice since it was a monumental flop upon its theatrical release, however, as we shall see, when presented as well as it can be for home theatre it might just find a home.
On paper, Stealth must have seemed a safe bet; with a wealth of talent behind it including the likes of W.D. Richter (writer of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986)), Neal H. Moritz (producer of a mass of action, adventure films), Laura Ziskin (producer of the Spider-man movies), Stephen E. Rivkin (editor of, amongst others, Pirate of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)), Dean Semler (whose cinematographer credits go off the page) and director Rob Cohen whose early output (Daylight (1996) and Dragonheart (1996) ) might have been overshadowed by his youth orientated later films (xXx (2002) and The Fast and the Furious (2001)) but was nevertheless a good choice for this type of film. However, the script, nifty and up-to-date as it is with its high tech weaponry, jet fighters and hip young actors was pretty much a re-hash of old ideas; a robot going off the rails is hardly an original idea and unfortunately there is hardly anything new brought to the mix here.
In the navy of the near future, three pilots, Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx), and Kara Wade (Jessica Biel), are hand picked to fly the most advanced fighter jets ever invented, the Talons. Their commander, however, railroads a design prototype through congress, an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) piloted by an artificial intelligent learning computer called E.D.I. and integrates it into the tight nit group as the forth wingman. Touted as the future E.D.I. is able to fly into situations that the human body cannot withstand, it is able to make decisions and calculates with maximum efficiency. When, on a routine mission, E.D.I. observes Ben disobeying an order and taking on a risky objective the computer learns from this experience. On the return trip both aircraft are suddenly struck by lightning, this causes E.D.I.'s neural net reorders itself and it becomes self aware. Despite reservations E.D.I. is again sent on a mission and when Ben correctly assesses that the casualty rate is too high orders a stand own, but E.D.I. disobeys and takes out the intended target, sighting Ben's earlier disregard as precedent. This forces the team to try and bring the craft back as, armed with high tech weaponry, it continues on its rampage selecting a Russian target. It does not bode will for the humans, especially since behind the scenes there is a political agenda to hold onto careers and keep mistakes hidden, even to the point of assassination. In the end, who is the more corrupt? The defective UCAV or the minds that drive it?
Ok, let's make no bones about it, Stealth is rubbish. It takes a rubbish idea, an idea that has been tried and tested many, many times before, updates the concept with modern technology and holds onto the simplistic ideals it sets out in the first few minutes. However, it knows it. And because it know it, the film plays to this strength and like a phoenix raising from the fire, from the ashes of a dire film Stealth peeps its head over flames, waves, nods and winks at the camera; for you see Stealth is no where near as bad as everyone makes out. In large part this is due to the script taking itself seriously, but not so serious as to cover itself in cheese. Oh it's not without its problems, but the sum of its parts make up an enjoyable run time.
Cohen holds the directing reigns tight, knowing full well that the success of the film will be in the air, the action scenes are out of this world; the various missions that are undertaken, the flight of the Talons, their shape and look, the dog fights, the ground attacks; these are some spectacular adrenalin filled moments. I also liked that there were few liberties taken with the science, fighter pilots suffer incredible g-force when performing some of these complex manoeuvres, so much so that it can cause them to pass out; in one scene this actually happens to Ben. There was also an air of authenticity to the invented aircraft, the reverse wings for example folding in once the craft fly supersonic, else they would be ripped from the body of the craft. Some of the more fantastical idea though did have me smiling, satellites being able to read fingerprints for example. Though for the most part there was a strong sense of authenticity to the proceedings, helped amiably by the use of actual aircraft carriers.
But knowing that action will not hold the entire film together, the pace of the film zips between action pieces alright but Cohen also engineers some character time; we get to know the pilots and their immediate superiors. Ok, so they are rather stereotypical, I mean just look at the pilots, it's like checking a tick box, African American, Woman and All American Hero. And don't expect any amazing acting either, this isn't a film to show off depth, but there is enough exploration to give some empathy. We do care about the pilots, we do dislike they way they are treated and, amazingly, we do come to respect E.D.I. and his own ethics. The simple idea of compassion needed for warfare is sown throughout and is mirrored nicely between the two leads of Ben and E.D.I. and their buddy-ing up. The blossoming relationship between Ben and Kara is also examined well, taking into account the Navy's stance on the same; and whilst the chemistry between Lucas and Biel lacks that spark (it relies mostly on puppy dog eyes) there is just enough to lend credence to Ben's near suicidal rescue over North Korea. There are plenty of other recognisable faces, all acquit themselves without having to stretch there talents too far, again playing it straight helps.
A huge plus point is that the film looks great. A deal of time has been spent with the lighting and design to get the best from the frame, this is ably enhanced by the digital sheen given to every frame. It's cut together in slightly longer frame times that the MTV generation might be used to, though it does get a bit choppy during some of the flight scenes. But on the whole it was not a strain on the eyes. The score incorporates various bass heavy songs that, whilst some might dislike, do fit quite well with the visuals, there is a 'rock video' vibe running throughout, and this, along with the PG-13 rating, gives you a clear indication of who the film is aimed at. It succeeds in that goal, there is very little, for want of a better word, adult involvement, and yet..... I really enjoyed it.
Despite any and all reservations above I found the film a fun, action paced, popcorn munching, grin inducing good time. With no pretence or cheese and a presentation on this Blu-ray that blows your socks off, I can't think of a better way to while a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon when there is nothing but footie on the telly. Close the curtains, crank up the volume, switch off your brain and loose yourself. You never know, you might rekindle that boyhood dream of becoming an airline pilot. Neeeeoowwwwwww.