Con Air: Special Edition (1997)

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Released 6-Nov-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Audio & Animation
Theatrical Trailer
Featurette-The Destruction Of Las Vegas
Featurette-View From Above
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 110:37 (Case: 115)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (59:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Simon West
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Nicolas Cage
John Cusack
John Malkovich
Steve Buscemi
Ving Rhames
Colm Meaney
Mykelti Williamson
Rachel Ticotin
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Mark Mancina
Trevor Rabin


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
German
Spanish
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Icelandic
Portuguese
Hebrew
Greek
Estonian
Smoking Yes, occasionally
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    It's funny how viewing habits tend to go in cycles. After bursting back onto the Region 4 review scene with reviews of discs bearing a fiendishly clever piece of political satire and an action slaughterfest with a deep-and-meaningful about identity, I thought it would be nice to sit down and look at a disc bearing a film that is well-noted for having no brains and little heart. That film, naturally, is Con Air, another fine example of Jerry Bruckheimer's noted penchant for creating films with more explosions and loud noises than the Gulf War, yet spending maybe one red cent on the screenplay.

    The film begins with Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) visiting his wife, Tricia (Monica Potter) at her place of work, which happens to be a crappy old diner in a rest stop for truck drivers and the like. After being set upon by three thugs who took offence to Cameron taking offence to them insulting his wife, he puts up such a fight that it ends with one dead thug and two who look a bit the worse for wear. In an astounding case of things not going the way they normally would in the American court system, Cameron is sentenced to a few years in prison, at which point we fast forward to his release date. In another contradiction of normal procedure, Cameron is put aboard Con Air, a military transport that is used by the prison system to transport its hardest convicts.

    Whilst there, we are introduced to such one-dimensional characters as Guard Sally Bishop (Rachel Ticotin), Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones (Ving Rhames), Johnny Baca (Danny Trejo), Garland "The Marietta Mangler" Greene (Steve Buscemi), and the toughest, most one-dimensional of all, Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich). When the convicts effect an outlandish plan to hijack the plane, everything turns into an action film mess with only the most cursory of rhyme or reason. Of course, on the ground we have U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack) fighting with his superiors about what the intentions of the convicts are and how best to deal with them. This is a useful diversion, as it gives us some background information on who the heavies that have taken over the zoo are, and what their intentions would be.

    If this sounds like the sort of big no-brainer action-fest that you'd enjoy for a night's viewing, then please, by all means indulge in this effort. I've even learned to tolerate the glaring factual errors that plague this film (how do you draw insulin out of a vial that is shaped like that?). Those who prefer a little brains or heart and soul in their action-fests are advised to have a look at Grosse Pointe Blank or Face/Off instead.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Once again, Buena Vista Home Entertainment have gone right back to scratch and remastered one of their earliest releases, presumably due to complaints about the cheap and dodgy look of the previous release, complete with that little slip of paper advising the consumer that the disc would work on Region 4 players in spite of being marked as Region 2.

    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with 16x9 Enhancement, essential features for anyone who wants to experience this film in its proper glory.

    The first thing that struck me about this transfer is how smooth and clear the resultant picture was, especially in comparison with the overcompressed haze of the original Region 4 release. I almost had to recheck the logos on the packaging, because this certainly reminded me of one of Columbia Tristar's sterling efforts, the compression was that transparent. The only trade-off of this increased sharpness is an increase in film-to-video artefacts, but I'll get to that in due course. The shadow detail of this film is very good, although not up to the sort of standards I would expect of such a recent film. Very little of this film takes place in darkness, so this is more of an observation than a complaint. There was no low-level noise.

    The colours in Con Air are somewhat contrary to the norm in action films of this kind. Rather than the usual dull, steel-toned look that most hardcore action films tend to emphasise, this film mostly takes place in the day, with the locations being either brightly lit or full of earthy, warm hues. This transfer captures that colour scheme without showing any composite artefacts or other such problems.

    MPEG artefacts were not present in this transfer, a nice change from the original release where compression-related grain was noticeable in any wide expanse of colour. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of numerous instances of aliasing, most of which were borderline acceptable. The two instances of aliasing I found most objectionable came at 67:45, on a barbed-wire fence, and at 76:11, on the side of a small plane. Thankfully, these were the exception rather than the norm, and I'd happily take a sharp-looking picture with a few artefacts of this nature over a blurry, overcompressed picture that has none. Film artefacts were mildly present in this transfer, mostly being small black and white marks on the picture that were not intrusive or distracting.

    The English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles on this disc are very faithful to the dialogue, although their placement is still a little objectionable in my view. Why not just place them within the borders of inactive pixels that are necessary to transfer the whole 2.35:1 film into a 1.78:1 frame? Speaking of subtitles, burned-in ones are present at 19:11 to translate John Malkovich's conversation with Danny Trejo, which is somewhat irritating if you understand enough Spanish to get the gist of what they are talking about.

    This version of Con Air is RSDL formatted, and a great number of the advantages it has over its predecessor can be associated with this fact. The layer change takes place in the middle of Chapter 9 at 59:44, just after Nicolas Cage asks why a certain character couldn't have just put the bunny back in the box.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Again, just as Buena Vista appear to have redone the video from the ground up, they also appear to have created a whole new audio transfer that shows off the film's aural design like it should have been.

    There are four soundtracks on this DVD, the first three all being Dolby Digital 5.1 efforts with a bitrate of 384 kilobits per second. In order, these are; the original English dialogue in 5.1, a German dub in 5.1, a Spanish dub in 5.1, and a Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded, 192 kilobit per second soundtrack rounding the list off. I listened exclusively to the English soundtrack, mostly due to not having time to compare the others.

    The dialogue is remarkably clear and easy to understand during this film. Several characters shout, scream, mumble, or mutter at many points in the film, and this transfer captures all those variations without a snag, although I may have missed one or two problem areas when I was distracted briefly by the rest of the audience. Suffice it to say that this is as good as it is likely to get for Con Air within the limits of today's technology. There are no discernable problems with audio sync, although I didn't test this disc on any player or device that is noted for accentuating such problems.

    The music in this film is credited to Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin. One recurring theme in this score is highly percussive and bass-heavy, giving it a sort of oomph that lets you know in no uncertain terms that this is an action film. My favourite pieces of music in this film come at 28:17 and 34:32, and, to be brutally honest, they are my favourites because they make uninteresting establishing shots seem exciting and dramatic. They almost sound like the sort of music that Sergio Leone would have had in his films if the styles and recording equipment had been invented at the time.

    So now, after a lot of waffling about video and other assorted features, I get into one of the most impressive features of this disc. The surround channels are used in an aggressive but inelegant fashion to support music, passing cars, passing planes, bullets, flying hunks of metal, and a squillion other sound effects that keep the Dolby Digital processor working overtime. You certainly wouldn't know that this was a lower bitrate soundtrack from just listening to it, that's for certain. My favourite surround channel uses came when a plane passed overhead at 31:14, and 42:13, as well as when John Cusack drives by in that crappy car at 58:17. By far my favourite example of the surround channel usage was at 39:28, when Cyrus' bomb explodes. The sound of the door flying over John Cusack's head really leaps out in this soundtrack, making this an excellent scene to demonstrate the full capabilities of the format.

    Speaking of that bomb explosion at 39:28, the subwoofer went wild supporting it, as it did at other times in the film when people are either shooting each other or crashing into things. The climactic landing in Las Vegas is a particular highlight of this disc where subwoofer usage is concerned, as is any moment when the previously mentioned pieces of music are present.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    None of these extras were encoded with timing information, so I had to use the stopwatch function of my Casio to ascertain their approximate running times.

Menu

    The main menu is mildly animated and accompanied by Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is 16x9 Enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer

    This two minute and twenty second theatrical trailer is presented in an approximate 1.66:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - The Destruction Of Las Vegas

   This is little more than an electronic press kit, prepared for a quick special on Entertainment Tonight or the like, judging by its running length of two minutes and thirty seconds. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - View From Above

    Again, one can picture this piece being used on Entertainment Tonight, although it does run slightly longer at four minutes and thirty seconds. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There still only appears to be one edition of Con Air available in Region 1, which is the same edition that I compared the previous release to.

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    An extra trailer is no substitute for 16x9 Enhancement and a second layer of space, regardless of what anyone says about the video quality. Make mine a Region 4 disc, please.

Summary

    Con Air is a popcorn film, pure and simple, with factual errors the size of a point-blank shotgun wound, as well as some truly insipid characters who deserve everything they get. The saving grace, of course, is some well-executed action sequences and a strident, punchy score, both of which will give your audio setup a good work-out.

    The video transfer is immaculate except for a minor problem with aliasing.

    The audio transfer adds excitement where there was none. It is of reference quality.

    The extras are disappointing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Friday, November 16, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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