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A childhood incident has left brothers Stephen and Brian McCaffret mentally scarred, but that doesn't stop them following in their father's footsteps by becoming firefighters. Brian, the more wary of the two, teams up with dogged arson investigator Donald Rimgale after a series of blazes, and finds himself at loggerheads with the more gung-ho Stephen when he is led to suspect someone in his former unit.
For more about Backdraft and the Backdraft Blu-ray release, see Backdraft Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 26, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay, Donald Sutherland
Director: Ron Howard
» See full cast & crew
Backdraft Blu-ray Review
Fire (movie) bad.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 26, 2010
Films by Ron Howard have often thrived on artifice and improbability. Daryl Hannah was a modern day mermaid in Splash. The heroes of Night Shift open a bordello in a morgue. Cocoon finds a group of senior citizens reinvigorated by a close encounter of some unnumbered kind. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play a happily married couple in Far and Away. Okay, that last one is gratuitous, but you get the idea. Howard has amassed a rather impressive filmography, despite critical brickbats being regularly thrown at him for his perceived mawkishness and tendency toward "Spielberg lite" fare. But there has probably not been a more improbable film in Howard's oeuvre than his ostensibly stirring filmic ode to the heroism of firefighters, Backdraft. Now, don't get me wrong. Firefighters are indubitably heroic, regularly save lives and walk bravely into the gaping maws of danger and often death, as they've proven repeatedly in traumas both small and, as in the devastation of September 11, large. And from that standpoint, Backdraft is certainly to be appreciated, insofar as it brings attention to a class of working heroes who help to keep ordinary citizens safe and sound. But even Howard's professional craft can't overcome the absolute lunacy of Backdraft's screenplay, written by Gregory Widen, whose biggest pre-Backdraft credit was the similarly lamentable Highlander. Highlander at least had the plus of a relatively innovative concept, but in Backdraft Widen takes so many film clichés, stuffs them into a Screenwriting 101 blender, presses "purée" and then leaves the audience to consume a really mind bogglingly bad assortment of poorly drawn characters, predictable plot points and by the numbers bad dialogue. Backdraft does offer some literally explosive special effects, and those at least provide the film with some real, albeit passing, interest.
How many clichés can we count in Backdraft? Is infinity a number? First, we have the sibling rivalry between two firefighting brothers, Stephen (Kurt Russell) and Brian (William Baldwin) McCaffery. We meet the brothers as kids during the credits prologue, when their arguing is a brief prelude to Brian seeing his father (also Russell in a brief cameo) getting torched to death in an apartment fire. Fast forward 20 years to Stephen as an established Lieutenant in a firehouse and Brian, after several stalled career attempts, finally making the grade as a new firefighting recruit. Of course Brian's first day on the job is fraught with unexpected trials, like his car not starting, and, later, a conflagration that involves the titular backdraft, an explosion of apocalyptic force that occurs when oxygen is reintroduced into a starving fire. Soon famed arson investigator Donald Rimgale (Robert De Niro) is on the job, following up on connections between this blaze and several others. Donald Sutherland is on hand in a nice cameo as an arsonist whom Rimgale put away several years ago and who is called upon to give some "expert" advice, a la Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon.
Playing out against the supposed drama between Stephen and Brian, and the continuing series of arson fires, some of which end in deaths of some of the firefighters, are two interlinked subplots, one involving a crooked mayoral candidate (J.T. Walsh), who is rampantly cutting funding to the fire department, and the other involving the relationship between the McCaffery brothers and the firefighter (Scott Glenn) who helped to be a surrogate father to them after their actual Dad was killed in the long ago inferno. And of course we have the conflicted love interests, including Stephen's estranged wife (Rebecca De Mornay) and Brian's ex-girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who now works for the crooked politician. So many improbably linked storylines, so little time, or, rather, too much, as Backdraft labors under the weight of these absurdities for well over two hours' running time.
What keeps Backdraft's head above the flames—if just barely at times—are good performances, despite the ludicrious dialogue and general ambience of the screenplay, and especially some of the most bombastic fire special effects ever caught on film. Howard stages the big fire scenes with some thrilling panache, and as ridiculous as some of the heroes' antics are, things that seem more appropriate to a Hong Kong action martial arts epic with lots of wire work, there's no denying the adrenaline pumping nature of several of these segments. Howard's camera darts to and fro, wending its way through several horrifyingly real seeming blazes, and very little if any of this film seems to have been green screened. The camaraderie between the fire house guys is also excellent, and Chicago is shown off nicely in several establishing and neighborhood shots.
But ultimately any film rises or falls on its story, and Backdraft is simply too cliché ridden for its own good. There's no momentum here, despite the plethora of opportunities presented by the many stereotypical plot situations which Widen throws at the screen, hoping something will stick. The sibling rivalry plays to its expected conclusion, the starcrossed love angle does exactly the same, and anyone who doesn't see who the arsonist culprit is pretty much right off the bat evidently hasn't been attending too many hackneyed films over the past several years. Firefighters certainly deserve all the kudos that come their way, and until a better film about these heroes comes along, Backdraft will probably be the go-to cinema experience for those wanting to spend a little time with guys who deal with death and danger, fire-wise, on a daily basis. Unfortunately, the oxygen starvation alluded to in the title of the film might also apply to screenwriter Widen's lame-brained writing, which undermines an important premise and some very impressive special effects.
Backdraft Blu-ray, Video Quality
I didn't own the previous HD-DVD release of Backdraft, and so can't definitively state whether or not this is the same port utilized for that release, but the slipcover of this BD states "remastered in high definition," for whatever that's worth. One way or the other, Backdraft's VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1 looks very good, with only very minor softness in a few shots hampering an overall nice looking picture. There are actually pluses and minuses to the sharpness and detail in Backdraft. While fine detail in non SFX shots looks great, with nicely saturated colors and excellent sharpness, in some of the SFX shots, the matte shots become slightly more apparent. For the first time in watching Backdraft, I became marginally aware of how some of the fire shots might have been composited, simply due to the Blu-ray's superior resolution in showing some of the "seams". The best news, for those fearful of yet another Universal catalog release, is that there's no horrible looking edge enhancement or egregious DNR here. It does look like there are minimal amounts of DNR processing, but they don't rise to the levels of some of the other, more problematic, Universal catalog Blu-rays, and grain structure here looks natural without being overwhelming.
Backdraft Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Backdraft's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is one of the best things about this new Blu-ray. This is a bombastic and at times overwhelmingly immersive track that bombards the listener with huge waves of sound which ricochet through the soundfield. LFE is absolutely gut wrenching at times, with wall shaking amplitude. When the backdrafts occur, huge whooshes of sound clearly pan from the front to the rear channels, creating a deafening roar that will leave some listeners with heart palpitations. The quieter scenes also have great surround activity, with everything from the boisterous dialogue in the firehouse to ambient environmental sounds well placed in the side and rear channels. The only issue in this sound mix for me personally was Hans Zimmer's overly cloying score, one which tries to work the John Williams heroic mode, but which doesn't just tug at the heartstrings, it virtually rips at them until they're a bleeding mass of pulp. Aside from that personal qualm, this is a wonderful sounding track that sports spot-on fidelity and is a lot of fun to listen to.
Backdraft Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the special features from the previously released Special Edition SD-DVD are included on this Blu-ray:
Backdraft Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Firefighters are perfect subjects for a movie, but Backdraft simply works too many hoary clichés into the mix to ever feel like anything more than a programmer. What works here are some appealing performances and most especially that outrageously effective special effects, which still look state of the art two decades after the film's release. Fans of this movie will most likely love this Blu-ray, which sports excellent image and especially audio. Other, more jaded, audiences may want to rent this first to see if they can withstand the onslaught of trite conventions this film basks in. For the special effects sequences alone, though, Backdraft is Recommended.
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Backdraft Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Backdraft, Lost in Translation Blu-ray Announced - September 29, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced two movies from its catalog for Blu-ray release on January 4, 2011: Backdraft: Anniversary Edition and Lost in Translation. The latter had been previously slated for December 7 by some retailers and is probably ...
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