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Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: DROP ZONE

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, Feb 5, 2010.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

    Feb 12, 1998
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    Drop Zone (Blu-ray)

    Studio: Lionsgate
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 101 min.
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: AVC
    Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1; French DD 2.0
    Subtitles: English; English SDH; Spanish
    MSRP: $19.99
    Disc Format: 1 25 GB
    Package: Keepcase
    Theatrical Release Date: Dec. 9, 1994
    Blu-ray Release Date: Feb. 9, 2010


    Drop Zone was supposed to be a Steven Seagal vehicle, but when Seagal dropped out, the project became the next step in Wesley Snipes’s march from actor to action star – and the film got a whole new layer of kookiness. With Gary Busey as the villain and Yancy Butler (fresh off her feature-film debut opposite Jean-Claude van Damme in John Woo’s Hard Target) in a role originally written for a man as a hot-shot skydiver – a skydiver? – the film became the kind of cinematic junk food on which there should probably be a health advisory. Such is the stuff of which guilty pleasures are made.

    The Feature:

    U.S. Marshall Pete Nessip (Snipes; the name is an anagram) is assigned to escort a federal prisoner, Earl Leedy (the late and always memorable Michael Jeter), to a secure facility. Leedy is a computer wizard who knows interesting secrets about drug cartels and is crucial to various prosecutions. But the flight carrying Leedy and Nessip is hijacked in mid-air by what appears to be a group of domestic terrorists, and a number of people are killed, including, apparently, Leedy. Nessip is convinced that the hijack was a setup, but the authorities are too busy blaming him for losing Leedy to listen to his theories, and Nessip is suspended.

    Investigating on his own, Nessip tries to learn how the hijackers could have escaped from a 747 flying at an altitude of 38,000 feet. His inquiry leads him into the skydiving community, a tribal world unto itself where he is utterly out of place (much like Special Agent Utah in the surfing world of 1991's Point Break). Nessip’s guide is Jess Crossman (Butler), a world-class skydiver currently on parole from a drug conviction, and with attitude to spare. On their first encounter, Crossman ejects Nessip from her plane without a parachute, then jumps afterward to save him. It’s that kind of relationship.

    Meanwhile, the film keeps checking in on the dastardly former DEA agent who masterminded the attack on the 747, Ty Moncrief (Gary Busey, in the chortling evil mode he perfected for Lethal Weapon and Under Siege). Moncrief is plotting to use Leedy to hack into law enforcement computers, then sell the information to drug dealers. All of his plans involve parachutes because, well – it’s a film about parachutes. Moncrief’s master plan leads to the film’s elaborate finale: a huge exhibition jump over Washington, D.C. on the Fourth of July, providing cover for a daring raid on an otherwise secure government building. But of course Moncrief runs into unexpected obstacles in the form of Nessip and Crossman (and some additional outlandish characters they’ve picked up along the way).

    If Drop Zone looks dated after only fifteen years, it isn’t so much the computer technology or the effects, but the antique security measures that casually open air corridors over D.C. to any joker with a parachute or allow hijackers to get a cache of weapons on a commercial airliner. 9/11 makes you look at these things differently, but that sense of distance actually helps the film. Like many action movies of the Eighties and Nineties, Drop Zone is set in an alternate universe known as Improbable Land, and watching it today, these remnants of a different era are a cheerful reminder that no one should take a frame of this seriously. The director is John Badham, who will always be best known for Saturday Night Fever, but, after Blue Thunder, certainly knew his way around an aerial sequence. Badham also appears to have studied Kathryn Bigelow’s energetically choreographed skydiving scenes in Point Break. The jumps in Drop Zone have the same kinetic appeal, and they’re beautifully shot. (Badham steals from the best; he even throws in a John Woo quotation near the end.)

    Snipes had not yet acquired the gravitas that he would bring to the Blade films, but he’s loose and funny and, unlike Seagal at this stage in his career, he could still make martial arts scenes look convincing. Butler is no more believable here than she was in Hard Target, but she’s beautiful and spirited. Kyle Secor, then known primarily as the earnest Det. Tim Bayliss on TV’s Homicide, gets the opportunity to camp it up as “Swoop”, a crazy jumper who’s a legend in the skydiving community but little more than a street person in the “real” world. Guess who saves the day? Only in the movies.


    Lionsgate has provided a sharp, detailed and colorful transfer of Drop Zone. Given the studio’s history with catalogue titles, I was on the alert for signs of aggressive noise reduction or other digital “polishing”, and I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any. There is one early scene, when Nessip consults the commander of a Navy SEAL team on a beach, where the sky in the background appears to freeze in place while everything else moves. Robert Harris has sometimes described this phenomenon as “hanging grain”. However, since the problem is limited to this one scene, I suspect it to be a source issue, possibly an instance of poorly composited rear projection. (I checked the previous DVD, and the same scene looks odd there too, although the issue is largely camouflaged by the lower resolution.)

    Black levels are solid, and shadow detail is good in night scenes and darkened interiors. I saw Drop Zone in the theater, on laserdisc and on DVD. It has never looked better.


    Drop Zone has an active mix full of planes, engines, gunfire, rushing air, shattering glass and any number of ambient noises. The DTS lossless mix handles all of these smoothly and effectively. The bass extension is particularly effective during the night drop over D.C., when fireworks are bursting everywhere.

    Special Features:

    Trailer (2.35:1; HD, but SD resolution). It’s a lively trailer. Also available both at startup and from the special features menu is a general trailer for Lionsgate Blu-ray, which can be skipped at startup with the chapter button.

    In Conclusion:

    Drop Zone was released at the end of a year that had already seen Speed and True Lies. Compared to those two, each of which broke new ground for action films, Drop Zone was a throwback, and audiences reacted accordingly. Its life has been on video, where it’s ideal for an afternoon’s popcorn self-indulgence.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    SVS SB12-Plus sub
  2. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer

    Nov 15, 2001
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    Neil Middlemiss
    Thanks for the review, Michael. This is one that I never did catch, so I might pick it up to watch one Saturday afternoon. I now eagerly await another review I know you have in the pipeline involving Christian Slater and one heck of a rain storm!
  3. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

    Apr 25, 2000
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    Manchester, England
    Real Name:
    Steve Christou
    Good review Michael. I'll probably pick this up eventually.

    There was another skydiving action film in 1994, out just a couple of months before Drop Zone - Terminal Velocity, starring Charlie Sheen. I remember renting both films on video probably in the same week. Drop Zone was better but Velocity did have a memorable bit with a car falling out of a plane and I think the leading lady, Nastassia Kinski, trapped in the boot. And 007, sorry Sheen, trying to save her, best scene in the film.
  4. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    Thanks for the review Michael. I still remember seeing the trailer for this movie when I saw Star Trek Generations in the movie theater back in the day.

    When this hit HBO, I was struck by how far over the top the whole movie was - all the way into the land of complete unintentional hilarity. I mean, how can you take seriously a movie where a guy (This isn't a key character at all, so this doesn't spoil the movie) has his parachute not open, and yet he still somehow is alive upon hitting the water?!!! This, while the movie's score by Hans Zimmer goes sailing over the moon. (Zimmer has admitted that he fell into this while scoring the movie, and that he probably wasn't scoring with the movie so much as laughing at it in his own way...) Then you have how the bad guy deals with someone he doesn't like in the middle of a jump...

    And when you get to the final confrontation between hero and villain, I admit bursting into uncontrollable, loud laughter. I mean, really!!!!

    Still, it's a really fun movie. I'll probably rent the Blu-ray when I catch up on my queue. And I think it's the last major Gary Busey role to speak of. I could be wrong about this, but this was the last big bang remember of his, up to today...
  5. Yumbo

    Yumbo Cinematographer

    Sep 13, 1999
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    Watched it because of Hans Zimmer.
    Great year for cinema watching.

    James Gandolfini in Terminal Velocity (pre Sopranos).

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