Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Backdraft Anniversary Edition

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Jan 23, 2011.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    Studio: Universal

    Year: 1991

    Length:  2 hrs 17 mins

    Genre: Thriller/Firefighter Drama

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

    BD Resolution: 1080p

    BD Video Codec: VC-1 (@ an average 30 mbps, up higher in the big fire sequences)

    Color/B&W: Color


    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 4.0 mbps – up to 5.0 mbps during the big scenes)

    French  DTS 5.1

    Spanish DTS-HD 2.0

    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

    Film Rating:  R (Language and a scene of “Sensuality”)

    Release Date: January 4, 2011

    Starring:  Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca DeMornay, Robert DeNiro and Donald Sutherland

    Written by:  Gregory Widen

    Directed by: Ron Howard

    Film Rating:    2 ½/5

    Backdraft is another good example of the strengths and weaknesses that can be found in the ongoing filmography of Ron Howard as a director.  On the strong side, Howard has always been a fine craftsman and a clear storyteller.  His shot selection always makes clear where we are and what is happening at any given time.  He always gets the most out of his locations and his production values, and he always has an appealing cast for the viewer to follow through the story.  And when these strengths are applied to simpler fare, such as the Dan Brown books, or comedies like Night Shift, he’s one of the most reliable feature directors we have working today.  But when the intention is to make something more serious or complicated, Howard’s films regularly fall short of the mark, because he invariably chooses the most obvious path or tells the story in the most rudimentary and marketable way he can.   Viewers have seen this happen time and again, with films like Parenthood, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, and more recently, Frost/Nixon.  With Backdraft, we have a movie that is trying to both be a thrilling, firefighter action movie and a serious drama about the people in it.  The action sequences themselves are a marvel to watch, with much of the cast performing their own stunts in and around real fire.  The on-set effects and the composited visual effects are quite well done, and Howard’s staging is always clear and effective.  But the movie is not satisfied to just be about some big set pieces – there’s an obvious intention to flesh out the stories of the two brothers (Kurt Russell and William Baldwin) whose rivalry drives a good part of this story.  And that’s where the movie falls far short.  It’s not that the cast isn’t doing what they can with the material – it’s that there isn’t enough material for them to make much.  The story of the movie is a house of cards that falls away the moment you put more than a moment’s thought into it, the dialogue given to the characters is sometimes so on-the-nose that it borders on absurdity, and the attempts to provide some depth to the characters read as exactly what they are.  In fairness, I’m not sure that a different director could have done better here – it’s clear in watching the film today that a total rewrite would be needed to clean up the problems.  The biggest giveaway of the problem is the sight of Robert DeNiro gamely trying to create something out of a paper-thin character – if even DeNiro couldn’t do much with this (and this was made within a year of Goodfellas), you know something has gone wrong.  Again, on a technical and logistical standpoint, the movie works very well.  The problems happen when the characters open their mouths or the overly lush score kicks in during a looming close-up.

    Backdraft has previously been released on standard definition DVD and HD-DVD. The Blu-ray release, timed to coincide with Ron Howard’s new Universal comedy The Dilemma, carries over most of the extras from the last special edition DVD, which also appeared on the HD-DVD, and adds a U-Control feature to go along with the high definition picture and sound.  If you already have the last 2-disc DVD (from 2006), a purchase here will simply be a matter of whether you want the high definition transfer.   I believe the transfer itself is ported over from the HD-DVD release, but I have not been able to confirm this.  Fans of Ron Howard’s movies will certainly want to pick this up, as will fans of Kurt Russell.  For more casual viewers, I recommend a rental first.

    VIDEO QUALITY   4 ½ /5

    Backdraft is presented in a 1080p VC-1 2.35:1 transfer that looks terrific, particularly in the large-scale firefighting sequences.  I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.

    AUDIO QUALITY   4 ½/5

    Backdraft is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along a standard DTS 5.1 mix in French and a DTS-HD 2.0 mix in Spanish.  This is an aggressive and active mix, with sounds coming from all the channels along with Hans Zimmer’s score.  The sound is what really brings the fire to life, and it’s quite effective.  (Although to be fair, the “voice” of the fire is really an idea lifted from Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.)


    The Blu-Ray presentation of Backdraft comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, as well as pocket BLU and D-Box functionality.  The disc also carries over the extras from the prior DVD and HD-DVD releases, including various featurettes and deleted scenes.  New to the Blu-ray is a single U-Control feature.

    Ron Howard Introduction – (2:52, 480p)   Ron Howard’s introduction to the 2006 DVD is included here, in which he mentions the new interviews conducted for the then-current video release.

    Deleted Scenes – (43:10, 480p, Full Frame, DTS-HD MA Sound)  Nearly 45 minutes of additional scenes and extensions are included here, as they were on the 2006 DVD.  Much of this material would have spoiled what little mystery the movie has going as it is.  As a surprising touch, there’s a DTS-HD MA soundtrack running under the scenes.  The scenes are chaptered, but there is no overlying menu.

    Igniting The Story – (15:00, 480p, Anamorphic, DTS Sound)  Ported from the 2006 DVD, this featurette focuses on the initial conception of the project from Gregory Widen’s script, and on how Ron Howard and Brian Grazer wound up making a movie out of it.

    Bringing Together The Team – (19:09, 480p, Anamorphic, DTS-HD MA Sound)   Ported from the 2006 DVD, this featurette discusses the casting of the various actors.  THERE ARE MAJOR SPOILERS HERE, SO DO NOT WATCH THIS FEATURETTE BEFORE WATCHING THE MOVIE!  This is another featurette that has a DTS-HD MA soundtrack.

    The Explosive Stunts – (14:41, 480p, Anamorphic, DTS Sound) Ported from the 2006 DVD, this featurette addresses the stuntwork done by the stunt team on the set, and the participation of the cast in the various fire stunts.  The crash of a fire truck is addressed in detail here.

    Creating the Villain:  The Fire – (12:51, 480p, Anamorphic, DTS Sound)  Ported from the 2006 DVD, this featurette deals with the on-set fire effects done for the film, as well as some difficult rigging problems posed by the movie’s climax.

    Real Life Firemen, Real Life Stories – (8:58, 480p, Anamorphic, DTS Sound)  Ported from the 2006 DVD, this is a quick group discussion with several firefighters from Santa Clarita’s Fire Station 73,  just north of Los Angeles.  The guys discuss their appreciation for the movie, and a few things about the reality of firefighting and their lives.

    Trailers – (5:55 Total, 480p, Non-Anamorphic, DTS Sound)  Ported from the 2006 DVD, two trailers for the movie are presented in non-anamorphic format.  The trailers are chaptered without a menu, so you can jump ahead to the second one, if you wish.

    U-Control –   NEW FEATURE – Here we have the only truly new material on the Blu-ray.  This is a PIP function, billed as a “Scene Companion”, which pops at various points throughout the film.  There are three components here.  One component is a biographical/informational pop-up that will provide a brief filmography for Donald Sutherland, for example.   A second component is a series of quotations by various members of the cast and creative staff, read by an offscreen voice as the text of the quotes appears in the PIP box.  The third component is a few bits of unused footage from the other featurettes on the disc, where comments by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer can now be seen onscreen rather than just being used as voiceover.

    BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events.  At the same time, the Blu-ray also allows for pocket BLU iPhone connectivity.

    My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.

    D-Box - The sensation functionality is present here for those viewers who have this technology in their homes. 

    The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film, and the special features are subtitled in English, French and Spanish.  The usual thorough chapter menu is present.  When you first put the Blu-ray in the player, you’ll initially see the usual Blu-ray trailers from Universal, piped in via BD-Live.

    IN THE END...

    Backdraft is a film that works quite well on a technical level, but not in any other way.  The Blu-ray release presents the film as handsomely as possible, including all of the special features previously available 4 years back.  If you already own this title, the only question will be if the HD picture and sound are worth the upgrade.  In my opinion, they certainly are – if the movie is to your liking.   I have a feeling that Ron Howard fans and Kurt Russell fans will likely have already grabbed this one, since it hit the shelves more than two weeks ago.

    Kevin Koster

    January 23, 2011. 

  2. Bryan^H

    Bryan^H Producer

    Jul 3, 2005
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    This was a long overdue blind buy for me. Although I have always wanted to see this film, but somehow I passed on it in the theater, VHS, and dvd.

    I was very pleased with the overall movie, and I liked the story more than Kevin did(I'd give it 4/5 stars). I agree the audio, and video are fantastic. Very happy to own this title on Blu-Ray.

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