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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

One breath of oxygen and it explodes in a deadly rage.

Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard's heroic action-thriller about the adventurous lives of professional firefighters is now available in an all new 2-disc Anniversary Edition. Kurt Russell and William Baldwin star as two feuding firefighter brothers who must set aside their personal differences in order to survive the burning, churning infernos set by a maniacal arsonist. Co-starring Robert DeNiro, Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca DeMornay, this collectible, digitally remastered edition includes hours of bonus features that take you behind the heart-pounding pyrotechnics and Academy Award-nominated special effects!

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

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0

Runtime: 137 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 9/19/2006

Disc One
• Ron Howard Introduction
• 39 Deleted Scenes
Disc Two
• “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


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Backdraft: Anniversary Edition (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 29, 2006)

“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’s 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 Brian (William Baldwin) as a newly-minted firefighter. He’s bopped around from job to job, so Brian doesn’t get respect from Stephen (Russell as his own son!), a career fireman. They end up in the same company, a result not embraced by Brian. Both have been estranged for some time, and tensions continue between them.

A mix of romantic tensions emerges as well. Stephen is separated from wife Helen (Rebecca DeMornay), while tries to reconnect with old love Jennifer Vaitkus (Jennifer Jason Leigh). We see how these relationships evolve.

In the midst of this family 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 his 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 fails to bring anything unique or exciting to his movies. 99 times out of 100, a Howard movie will be professional, reasonably entertaining, and totally 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 can’t say I really expect much from a western or an adaptation of a holiday classic. Few directors would make those terribly interesting to me, so there was only so far that Howard could fall.

A big action flick, on the other hand, held much more room to pique my interest. I admit a fondness for the genre, and since The Towering Inferno maintains a warm spot in my heart, another action movie 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 a thrilling view of the dangers they face.

The end result, however, fell short of those goals. To be sure, Backdraft includes some scenes that form very 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 elements develop along very 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 very pedestrian sibling drama packed with predictable elements. We also get too many silly bits. I don’t like the goofy way that Howard tries very hard 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 bad.

In its entirety, 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 not enough spark to this flat piece.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B-

Backdraft appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only a smattering of problems emerge in this generally strong transfer.

Sharpness was always good. Only the slightest hint of softness crept into the image at times. Otherwise, the movie looked concise and well-defined. I did notice mild jaggies and shimmering, though, and a little edge enhancement was apparent. As for source flaws, a few specks and marks emerged, but the vast majority of the flick looked clean.

Colors remained natural through the movie. The flick exhibited nicely dynamic and bold tones at all times. I thought the hues were quite strong, as were blacks. Dark sequences seemed firm and rich, while low-light shots appeared smooth and clear. Ultimately, there was a lot to like about this fine transfer.

Even more pleasing material emerged with the engrossing Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Backdraft. My only minor complaint stemmed from the use of the LFE channel. Despite a broad range of information on display, the subwoofer received surprisingly infrequent use. This meant bass response came from the main speakers most of the time. Those elements still sounded good, but I thought greater utilization of the sub would have added needed depth to the program.

Otherwise, audio quality was aces. Speech sounded natural and concise, as I noticed no edginess or other issues. Music seemed full and rich, while effects were good despite the less than stellar bass. Those elements came across as dynamic and accurate throughout the movie.

The breadth of the soundfield took Backdraft to “A” territory. This was an extremely accurate and very 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.

This two-disc set includes a bunch of extras, most of which reside on the second platter. As for DVD One, we get 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. I’m sure we’ll learn more about these issues elsewhere, but Howard’s opening creates a nice lead-in for the flick.

39 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 43 minutes and eight seconds. No, those aren’t typos; we really get a ton of extra material here. Much of it adds up to little. The majority of the bits 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 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.

DVD One opens with some previews. We get ads for Waist Deep, Inside Man, Conviction, and The Blues Brothers.

Now we shift to DVD Two and its 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 it 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 and nine-second Bringing the Team Together. 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 and 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.

Finally, we conclude with the eight-minute and 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. They provide pretty good insights connected to the job and offer a nice little recap of the various challenges they face.

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 DVD offers very good picture and audio along with some decent extras highlighted by an extensive set of deleted scenes. Fans should enjoy this nice DVD release, but I can’t recommend this disappointing film to others.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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