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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
"Let's get this damn thing over with."
DVD ReviewStealth Fighter is an action film concerning a Stealth plane stolen by renegade pilot Owen Turner (Ice T) on behalf of a Latin American arms dealer (Andrew Divoff). Costas Mandylor portrays Naval reserve officer Ryan Mitchell, sent to recover the plane at the direct behest of the President (Ernie Hudson) due to his previous experience with Turner, who faked his own death during a 1986 mission they shared.
This is a standard action film setup, and Stealth Fighter sets out to deliver a stirring tale of macho derring-do and courage under pressure. Unfortunately, it utterly fails to deliver. The film's budget is partly at fault—the special effects sequences appear to have been cobbled together from stock footage and the contributions of several small effects studios. Most of the sets look like sets, cuts between interior and exterior shots are often poorly matched, and the full-size mockup of a Stealth airplane (borrowed from the TV series JAG), intended to be impressive, often looks like it's made of cardboard. The final "battle" between Turner and Mitchell is really just a chase—Turner's Stealth plane zooms by followed by Mitchell's F-16 ad nauseam, while the President and his advisors carefully explain that the Stealth's nuclear weapons will not detonate if the plane is shot down and that the faster F-16 will overtake the Stealth...which it does.
The script and direction must bear the brunt of the blame here—not for one minute does this film feel "real". Stealth Fighter badly wants to be a Tom Clancy story, but the technical details aren't fleshed out enough to create that sense of reality-by-association. The plot is predictable and the characters so cardboard that absolutely no suspense or drama is generated. Turner is motivated strictly by money, making him the least interesting of screen villains, and Mitchell's motivation is unrealistic—a successful mission will supposedly return him to the arms of his estranged wife (Erika Eleniak-Goglia) and make him a hero in the eyes of his daughter. The President is never even given a name, he's just "The President." And when Turner's mole in the administration (William Sadler) is discovered, he panics, explaining that his family was threatened to secure his cooperation, then immediately commits suicide, leaving them in a bad situation anyway.
Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: D
Image Transfer Review: Stealth Fighter is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with an anamorphic transfer. Detail is lacking in several shots, partially due to the source, where poor lighting sometimes fails to adequately "sculpt" the image. There's quite a bit of softness in the image, and the color palette is a bit drab—but these issues also appear attributable to the film itself. The film was clearly produced on a low budget, with dirt and dust often visible in stock footage, and the DVD master is adequate given what it likely had to work with.
But a shot near the film's end tipped me off that something was very odd about this DVD—I compared the image to its counterpart in the full-frame trailer and concluded that this film was shot in 1.33:1 full-frame, then soft-matted to produce a widescreen version for DVD. This is an accepted practice, but the film doesn't appear to have been composed with both ratios in mind—the widescreen version is cropped at the top and bottom and occasionally cuts off actors' heads and objects that were meant to be in the shot. I never thought I'd say this, but I think a full-frame ratio would have been more appropriate for this release—as it is, the "widescreen" image seems like a marketing sop to DVD fans rather than a well-considered decision.
Image Transfer Grade: D+
Audio Transfer Review: The disc is presented in Dolby 2.0 surround—there is no 5.1 track. Some bass is present, though it never reaches very far down or sustains for any length of time, and rear speakers are fairly active. The limitations of the 2-channel encoded surround track are very noticeable—dialogue is occasionally muddy, and the sound effects in the aerial shots are only panned across the front of the soundstage. Five years ago this would have been acceptable, but modern technology often permits solid soundtracks even on a tight budget, and it's disappointing that this mix isn't up to modern action movie standards. Given the absence of a true six-channel source, even a discrete 4-channel digital transfer would have raised this grade.
Audio Transfer Grade: D
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: na
Not a theatrical trailer, but a direct-to-video promo—in 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio and 2.0 surround sound.
Cast and Crew Bios:
Well-written, fairly extensive bios of cast members Ice T, Costas Mandylor, Ernie Hudson, William Sadler, and Erika Eleniak-Goglia, as well as executive producer Paul Hertzberg, screenwriter Lenny Juliano and composer Joel Goldsmith. Comprehensive filmographies are also included.
Legend of the Stealth Fighter:
A brief series of informative text screens detailing the public history of the Stealth bomber (not really a fighter, as this section explains—the movie takes some liberties with the craft's characteristics).
Specifications of the Stealth Fighter:
A more speculative series of screens listing the known and generally believed "facts" about the Stealth's size, weight, and capabilities. Sure to provoke heated discussion among those who care about such details, but not of much interest otherwise.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsI expected a low-budget action-oriented effort going in, but this disc has no significant strengths. The film is weak artistically and technically, with cliched dialogue and inconsistent special effects, and the DVD extras aren't extensive enough to carry it. Not recommended.
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