Altitude – Blu-ray Review

My obsession with the horror genre started the same as a lot of others: with Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone series. Though too young to have enjoyed these when they first aired, I have spent many a New Years Eve watching the SyFy channel marathons, not to mention the countless episodes on my DVR. Altitude is reminiscent of some of the old Twilight Zone episodes, but gets lost somewhere along the way.

Altitude follows a group of teens on a trip to their favorite destination for one last hoorah before they head off to college. Sara (Jessica Lowndes – 90210) is a rookie pilot, and is taking her four friends – Julianna Guill (Friday the 13th, 90210), Ryan Donowho (Bandslam, The O.C.), Landon Liboiron (Degrassi: The Next Generation), and Jake Weary (As the World Turns) – on a plane ride for the first time. Her mother, who was also a pilot, died in a freak plane-to-plane collision when Sara was young, but Sara insists on being a pilot. As the group is in he air, a sudden storm appears, and the plane malfunctions. Scared, the group tries to fix the plane mid-flight, which is when they realize they are not only fighting Mother Nature, but also supernatural forces.

Altitude suffers from an identity crisis: is it a survival film, a horror movie, a supernatural thriller, or something else entirely? It also has an overly ambitious script, and the point of the film gets muddy. For example, the supernatural elements do not kick in until the final third of the movie; the first third is setting up the characters, and the second third is dealing with a realistic plane malfunction. Had writer Paul A. Birkett (Ice Twisters, Hellhounds) stuck to one thorough action, Altitude could have been a success for rookie director Kaare Andrews. As is, though, the movie falters.

The script ends up being the worst part of the movie: it is cliché and scattered, and the acting suffers as a result. None of these characters are likable, save Sara, and the performances are lackluster. Each actor has his or her moments where some talent shines through, but when the next forced line of dialogue leaves his or her mouth, those earlier moments are forgotten. The characters become stereotypes immediately after they are introduced: there is the obnoxious jock (Jake Weary), the rock and roll badass (Ryan Donowho), the artsy chick (Juilianna Guill), and the dork/weird guy (Landon Liboiron). None of these characters are memorable in the least, and so many of their actions are unjustified which makes the actors look bad, and the movie forgettable as a whole.

Kaare Andrews, who usually works as a successful comic book artist, has made the movie look gorgeous, and has potential as a director if he finds a better script to work with. Altitude is filled with great ideas. Too many great ideas in fact, which causes them to fight against each other. In this fight, no one is a winner. A cliché script, below average acting, and a scattered plot make Altitude a direct-to-video (DTV) release that is only worth checking out to see some excellent green screen effect work.

The best part of the film is how pretty it looks, from the actors to the green screen effects. Altitude is presented in 1080p, with a Widescreen, 2.40:1 presentation, and looks excellent. It is amazing how great films can look nowadays, even DTV releases like Altitude and Frozen.

Altitude is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound. There is nothing that stands out in the sound department, positively or negatively.

Altitude: Behind the Scenes (49:02): A four-part look behind the scenes of Altitude. The four parts are a short introduction, pre-production, production, and post-production. This is a fun look at the life of a movie, from start to release. The director is likable, and so is the cast. There is nothing out of the ordinary here, but is an in-depth look behind-the-scenes.

Green Storm (10:06): Standard definition. A look at how reliant this film was on the green screen (1 out of every 3 shots were a green screen shot). This covers the editing process more than anything. It is amazing to know that even the plane itself had CG effects to make it look cleaner. Brings up some interesting challenges that green screen usage brings into films that some may not have considered. The narrator – director Kaare Andrews – mentions how difficult a process the editing was quite a few times, and it can help to give a deeper appreciation for the work of green screen editors.

Original Concepts Gallery: Forty-seven different slides filled with concept art of the film. There are storyboarding slides, comic book slides, art posters, and a couple paint over art slides (filling in the green screen with rain). These are great drawings because they are from the veteran comic book artist Andrews.

Audio Commentary with Director Kaare Andrews: Kaare Andrews repeats a lot of what is said in the other special features of the movie.

Altitude Trailer (2:02)

Altitude’s green screen work is cutting-edge, but the rest of the movie does not measure up. With over an hour of special features, and beautiful shots, there are redeeming qualities about this Blu-Ray release. Altitude is a good example of the rising quality of DTV releases, but when this movie is in the same category as Frozen (another low-budget, direct-to-video release on Blu-ray), it comes off as a disappointment. With the lowering costs of technology, more filmmakers are finding a home on Blu-ray, and delivering beautiful films. Hopefully Kaare Andrews sticks with directing, but picks a better script in the future.

Anchor Bay Entertainment presents Altitude. Directed by: Kaare Andrews. Starring: Jessica Lowndes, Juilianna Guill, Ryan Donowho, Landon Liboiron, Jake Weary. Written by: Paul A. Birkett. Running time: 90 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-Ray and DVD: October 26, 2010.