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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ALTITUDE -- DVD review by porfle

Reminiscent of TV shows such as "The Twilight Zone" and Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories", ALTITUDE (2010) traps a group of semi-normal people together in an inescapable predicament and then starts to ratchet up the supernatural.  The result is a story that works somewhat better on a realistic suspense level than it does after our credulity starts to get stretched way out of shape. 

Sara (Jessica Lowndes, "90210") and her friends are on their way to a Coldplay concert, but instead of driving there as she's led her dad, the Colonel (Mike Dopud) to believe, she's going to pilot them there herself in a rented plane.  Naturally, they run into a terrible storm during which the tail flaps malfunction, sending them into a deadly climb.  And as if that weren't bad enough, they discover that something else is up there with them, and whatever it is, it has a loud, shrieking roar and tentacles.

Yes, tentacles.  Obviously, this isn't your usual peril-in-the-air story, at least after the halfway point or so.  Until then, director Kaare Andrews establishes a pretty effective atmosphere of dread as the small plane hurtles through the dark, lightning-streaked storm clouds and tensions between the largely unlikable passengers become more volatile.  Even during this segment, though, much suspension of disbelief is required as one passenger exits the plane to try and fix the flaps and ends up being pulled along behind it at the end of his safety rope (the effect is a tad comical).

Once things edge over all the way into the fantasy realm, all bets are off and we're asked to swallow quite a bit without choking.  One major element turns out to be a rare "Weird Stories" comic book that Sara has given her mysterious, lovestruck boyfriend Bruce (Landon Liboiron, "Degrassi: The Next Generation"), whom she's rather callously planning to dump when she moves to another town.  At one point, Bruce (who has an intense fear of flying) discovers that much of the misfortune befalling them, including their own dialogue exchanges, has been predicted in advance in the pages of the comic.  What the--?

And then, of course, there's those damn tentacles and the enormous goober we eventually discover is wielding them.  It's difficult to accept even on a fantasy level, especially after the best part of the story so far has been the suspenseful, and more or less believable, predicament the characters are in.  When it becomes clear that pretty much anything can happen no matter how inexplicable or silly, the movie undergoes a catastrophic depressurization of suspense.  It's kind of like what happens when Stephen King creates a compelling premise and then tosses in a giant turtle or a bunch of matter-eating ping pong balls.

Performances are fairly good, with "As the World Turns" alum Jake Weary's insufferable fratboy-jock Sal standing out as the character we most want to see sucked through a small aperture.  Lowndes does her best with some unwieldy dialogue, especially when she has to break down while reminiscing about her mother, a pilot killed in a midair collision featured in the film's prologue.  Julianna Guill (FRIDAY THE 13TH) plays Sal's ditzy girlfriend Mel and Ryan Donowho ("The O.C.") is Sara's cousin, Cory, who performs the impromptu wingwalk.

Director Andrews, who's also an artist and writer for Marvel Comics, does a terrific job of staging and shooting all the frantic action within the cramped confines of the plane.  Special effects are good on the whole, despite some iffy moments here and there.  The giant green whatzit with the tentacles is hard to assess SPFX-wise--I don't know if the damn thing looks realistic or not, but it is pretty freaky.  If you want to know what it looks like, just watch the trailer, which pretty much gives everything away except for the final head-scratching revelation.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director's commentary, a 49-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, a ten-minute featurette focusing on the green-screen effects, a storyboard gallery, and the trailer. 

With the forward momentum of the plane keeping the pace moving along at a steady clip and the director constantly finding ways of making it all visually interesting, ALTITUDE manages to maintain a certain level of involvement for much of its running time.  But the fantasy elements are so extreme that much of what happens, like the giant green whatzit itself, just seems to come from out of nowhere.

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