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Ron Howard
Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Glenn, Rebecca De Mornay, Jason Gedrick, J.T. Walsh
Writing Credits:
Gregory Widen

> Synopsis:
Two Chicago firefighter brothers who don't get along have to work together while a dangerous arsonist is on the loose.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$15.723 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$77.868 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 2.0
French DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 137 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 1/4/2011

• Ron Howard Introduction
• U-Control Scene Companion
• 39 Deleted Scenes
• “Igniting the Story” Featurette
• “Bringing the Team Together” Featurette
• “The Explosive Stunts” Featurette
• “Creating the Villain: The Fire” Featurette
• “Real-Life Firemen, Real-Life Stories” Featurette
• Trailers


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Backdraft [Blu-Ray] (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 19, 2016)

“Jack of all trades” director Ron Howard went for an action flick vibe with 1991’s Backdraft. A prologue in Chicago circa 1971 introduces us to firefighter Dennis McCaffrey (Kurt Russell) and his kids Brian (Ryan Todd) and Stephen (John Duda). They look up to their dad, and Brian feels excited when he gets to accompany his old man on a call. However, this goes bad, and an explosion kills Dennis.

Fast-forward 20 years and we meet adult Brian (William Baldwin) as a newly-minted firefighter. He bopped around from job to job, so Brian doesn’t get respect from Stephen (Russell as his own son!), a career fireman.

The brothers end up in the same company, a result not embraced by Brian. Estranged for some time, tensions continue between them.

A mix of romantic snarls emerge as well. Separated from wife Helen (Rebecca DeMornay), Brian tries to reconnect with old love Jennifer Vaitkus (Jennifer Jason Leigh). We see how these relationships evolve.

In the midst of this family/romantic drama, an apparent arsonist stalks Chicago. We get our first glimpse of this when an explosion blasts Al Seagrave (Ron West) into the windshield of his own car. Further fires ensue.

Don Rimgale (Robert De Niro) stages an investigation, and he gets involved with sleazy Alderman Martin Swayzak (JT Walsh). Swayzak’s not too popular with the firemen since the Alderman initiated service cutbacks among their ranks. The movie follows the adventures of the McCaffrey boys and the mystery of the arsonist.

I’ve begun to hate reviewing Ron Howard flicks because I feel like I consistently repeat myself. The common thesis: Howard is an extremely generic director.

While his presence behind the camera rarely harms the production, Howard also usually fails to bring anything unique or exciting to his movies. 99 times out of 100, a Howard movie will be professional, reasonably entertaining, and anonymous.

So it goes with Backdraft. Actually, this flick stands as one of Howard’s more disappointing since I think it boasts more potential than most.

I admit a fondness for the action genre, and since The Towering Inferno maintains a warm spot in my heart, another thriller with fire seemed likely to catch my attention. Backdraft sounded like it’d be a bracing look at the lives of firemen and it would give us an exciting view of the dangers they face.

The end result, however, falls short of those goals. To be sure, Backdraft includes some scenes that form convincing fire work. We get a real feel for the threat of the blazes and watch plenty of strong stunts and action material.

However, a certain element of drama remains absent because we never care about the characters. Each one comes across as a movie cliché, and none of them provoke an emotional interest.

Much of the story feels like an exercise in the inevitable. Characters and plot develop along expected paths and virtually no surprises or twists come along the way. Actually, I suppose the arson mystery has its moments, but since the movie emphasizes the interactions of the characters, this doesn’t become enough to pull the flick from its doldrums.

This leaves us with a pedestrian drama about siblings packed with predictable elements, and we also get too much silliness. I don’t like the goofy way that Howard tries to turn fire into a living being. The film gives the flames a sense of personality that feels like a stretch. It’s a growling beast here, a factor that comes across as funny but not effective.

Donald Sutherland’s obsessed arsonist Ronald is also an unintentionally amusing character. He presents a child-like psychopath who has to spout idiotic lines about “the animal”. Sutherland gets saddled with horrible bits like “did the fire look at you?” Add to that a scene too reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter and the Ronald segments periodically make an average movie worse.

Really, I wouldn’t call Backdraft a bad film, but it usually remains awfully mediocre. We get too much tedious, stale drama and not enough vivid action. There’s little spark to this flat piece.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B-

Backdraft appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image was good but unexceptional.

Sharpness was generally fine. Though I didn’t think the movie ever looked soft, it failed to demonstrate great definition, either. The flick was acceptably well-defined but never rock solid. I noticed no issues with jaggies or shimmering, though, and edge enhancement was absent. As for source flaws, occasional specks and marks emerged; these weren’t dominant, but they created sporadic distractions.

Colors remained natural through the movie. The flick exhibited decent tones, though they could look a little flat. Blacks were reasonably deep, and shadows showed good delineation. This was never a bad transfer, but it never did much to excel, either.

More pleasing material emerged with the engrossing DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Backdraft. Speech sounded natural and concise, as I noticed no edginess or other issues. Music seemed full and rich, while effects were good. Those elements came across as dynamic and accurate throughout the movie.

The breadth of the soundfield took Backdraft to “A-” territory. This was an accurate and well-developed mix. The many fire sequences used all five speakers quite well and opened up the scenes to a strong degree.

Each channel displayed unique material that helped make the scenes involving. Even quieter segments showed a good sense of place and developed matters well. This was a consistently terrific soundtrack.

How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the 2006 DVD? The audio was a bit stronger, as it showed better bass response. Visuals also demonstrated some improvements, though I didn’t think the Blu-ray blew away its predecessor. I found the Blu-ray to provide a bit better definition, but it wasn’t a major step up in quality.

Both sets include the same extras, and we open with a two-minute and 53-second Ron Howard Introduction. He tells us what made the shoot memorable and relates challenges creating fire for the movie. Howard’s opening creates a nice lead-in for the flick.

39 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 43 minutes, 10 seconds. Much of it adds up to little. The majority of the moments don’t last long, and they simply add general exposition. We get a fair amount of minor character bits. These add a little depth to the roles but not a lot.

The most significant scenes telegraph the identity of the arsonist, and there’s more connected to Swayzak as well. The Brian/Jen relationship receives the most expansion here.

One of the more interesting scenes shows how Brian got back into the academy, and we also find one in which the company helps out a fire widow. There’s more to Brian’s first fire and other expanded sequences. These are generally interesting but I’m glad they didn’t make the final flick. Backdraft is too long anyway, so we don’t need more footage integrated into it.

Now we shift to five featurettes. Igniting the Story comes first and runs for 15 minutes. It mixes movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from Howard, producers Richard B. Lewis, John Watson and Brian Grazer, screenwriter Gregory Widen, director of photography Mikael Salomon, production designer Albert Brenner, costume designer Jodie Tillen, and composer Hans Zimmer. We get notes about the origins of the story and the evolution of the script, the depiction of fire as a character, shooting in Chicago and use of various sets and locations, costumes and score, and responses to the flick.

“Igniting” casts a broad net. While the title might lead one to expect a concise dissection of the script, instead the featurette acts as a general look at a mix of filmmaking issues.

This means “Igniting” tends to be a bit general, but some good notes emerge. I like the story about De Niro’s approach to his clothes, and a few other strong stories pop up as well. This is a pretty interesting show.

After that we move to the 19-minute, nine-second Bringing Together the Team. It presents comments from Howard, casting director Jane Jenkins, and actors Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jason Gedrick, Clint Howard, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Cedric Young, Kevin M. Casey, and Jack McGee. The show looks at cast, characters, and performances. We also find some notes about real firemen used in the film, the actors’ training, and reflections about firefighters.

“Team” feels generic. It throws out a decent look at the actor-related subjects but never manages to become terribly interesting. Other than some nice info about “boot camp” and De Niro’s performance, this is a bland piece.

Action sequences come to the forefront during the 14-minute, 42-second The Explosive Stunts. It features Salomon, Russell, Baldwin, Glenn, stunt coordinator Walter Scott, special effects and pyrotechnics Allen Hall, and special effects foreman Clay Pinney. As indicated by the title, “Explosive” looks at the creation of the movie’s fire and action sequences. We find out technical issues related to exposing actors to fire and how they pulled off the shots. A lot of good behind the scenes material bolsters this show and helps make it interesting. Glenn also throws out a fascinating account of being set on fire for a big scene.

Creating the Villain: The Fire goes for 12 minutes, 51 seconds and presents Ron Howard, Hall, Pinney, Salomon, Gedrick, Russell, Glenn, and Brenner. “Villain” looks at the techniques used to create fire on the set and not kill anyone.

We see various methods and styles featured in the flick as well as smoke and debris and photographic challenges. This offers a good way to view the complicated work done to film fiery scenes without too much danger involved.

The featurettes conclude with the eight-minute, 58-second Real-Life Firemen, Real-Life Stories. It gives us comments from members of Station 73 in Santa Clarita CA. We hear from Fire Captain Gary Dellamalva, firefighters/paramedics Edward Glenn Johnson, Tom Federico and Randy Perry, firefighter Jason Swan and engineer Steve Toledo.

They give us their reactions to Backdraft and also discuss issues related to firefighting. “Stories” provides pretty good insights connected to the job and offer a nice little recap of the various challenges they face.

In addition to two trailers, the Blu-ray adds a U-Control “Scene Companion”. Occasionally, we see picture-in-picture moments that feature shots from the set, stills, and comments from cast and crew. A few decent insights emerge, but the “Companion” appears too sporadically to add much to the set.

With 1991’s Backdraft, we get yet another Ron Howard movie neutered by the director’s relentless mediocrity. Like most of his flicks, Backdraft maintains a stalwart sense of professionalism but it fails to ever become anything more involving. The Blu-ray presents acceptable picture along with excellent audio and a generally positive set of bonus materials. This becomes a mostly good release for an erratic film.

To rate this film visit the prior review of BACKDRAFT

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