The senseless action stupidity of White House Down arrives on home video looking and sounding great.
In a year that saw two White House invasion flicks, Hollywood has demonstrated that it cannot stop sleeping with itself. The trend seemed to have started in 1993 with the very good Tombstone and the less-impressive Wyatt Earp, and continued with 1998’s Deep Impact and Armaggedon, neither of which was worth the time. Apparently, Hollywood didn’t think we had experienced enough White House invasion films in 2013 with the great Olympus Has Fallen, as another one in White House Down has now arrived onto home video. Unfortunately, one was definitely enough, even though the video and audio are excellent.
The story begins as low-man on Washington’s Capitol Police totem pole John Cale (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike) visits the White House to interview for a position with the Secret Service. He’s not your typical cop, and any chance of promotion within Capitol Police has been stunted. To his surprise, he’s immediately rebuffed by Agent Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Dark Knight) for lacking the polish of a typical candidate . With hat in hand, Cale is dragged through a dull White House tour by his daughter Emily (Joey King), who’s still suffering from her parents’ painful divorce. It’s here that John and Emily come face to face with President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx, Collateral), who’s just announced that he will pull all US troops out of the Middle East. Parallel to this plot is a plan hatched by the FBI’s Rogues Galley of home-grown terrorists, who have teamed up to both rob and burn their country to the ground. They’re lead by the former black ops solider Stenz (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty), who’s as unstable as a bag of cats.
Insert blazing guns, a POTUS rescue mission gone horribly wrong, and the last man standing in Cale, who must protect the President while rescuing his now-captive daughter. Unlike Gerard Butler’s Olympus which featured a somewhat realistic concept and effective interplay between the solid cast, White House Down is nearly a parody, existing as an unreliable and over-the-top action/dramedy that insensitively mocks a devastating attack on our nation’s capitol. From a quality standpoint, it doesn’t match 2012 or our favorite The Day After Tomorrow. There’s a tonal difference which gave credence to Olympus as a mostly plausible exercise and what kills WHD. Director Roland Emmerich – The King of Disaster Films – doesn’t fashion WHD around any sort of realism, including a highly dangerous flyby over the Lincoln Memorial which Foxx laughingly refers to as the ‘thing.’ This doesn’t happen during a tense action scene, but as a result of Sawyer flexing his presidential muscle before the shooting starts. Granted, it’s not like Emmerich has ever made a realistic movie about people in dangerous situations, but here he ignores basic human drama, sacrificing it for a cheap laugh or goofy dialogue, rather than granting his characters greater depth, which could have built up the disaster to epic proportions.
When Air Force One is knocked out of the sky, and dozens of White House personnel are needlessly offed by our home-grown terrorists, we don’t feel anything for the victims. In fact, we couldn’t care less about them, thanks to Writer James Vanderbilt (The Amazing Spider-man, Losers), who also seems to favor spectacle over substance. The usually enjoyable Foxx just never clicked for us as President Wagner, possibly due to his youthful appearance or Vanderbilt’s de-fanging of Wagner’s character into someone who’s never served in the military and somehow seems deserving of a good home invasion. Tatum, an action hero still in waiting, doesn’t yet have the gravitas of a Bruce Willis to react appropriately enough to his daughter’s capture, while Gyllenhaal is the only one awake enough to utter her lines with any level of interest. Emmerich has made better, and with arguably the best cast he’s ever had, the effect here is utterly lost.
White House Down arrives with a pitch-perfect MPEG4/AVC transfer, showing off exteriors of Washington and delivering the goods in almost every scene. Image clarity excels in both bright outdoor scenes and in darkened hallways; in fact, the clarity is so spot-on that we see evidence of the film’s less-than-stellar CGI at far too many points. Much of that occurs during the exterior attack, but the problems never make their way to human targets or manufactured sets. White House rooms are gorgeous, and outdoor scenes around the complex look life-like. Colors are rich but not cartoony, displayed in a wide variety of hues, from exterior greens on leaves and grass to the bright colors of The Oval Office. Hair and skin look impressive as well, showing off individual strands and pours in close up shots. Stitching on clothes – and their shredded Act 3 counterparts – almost jump off the screen, displaying pin stripes on suits and wrinkles in shirts. Finally, blacks and shadows play very well against each other, with the latter transitioning into the previous with ease. I can’t give the video any better of a score, because so much of the CGI looks so awful. That is the danger of high-definition, and it comes out often here to rear its ugly head. Still, Sony is well known for its transfer acumen, and we can at least give White House Down high marks here.
White House Down absolutely manhandles the experience with an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. We’re not prepared to give average marks to a track that delivers what it’s supposed to, and in this small way White House Down doesn’t disappoint. Left and right front speakers deliver a mix of dialogue, music, and sound effects, transitioning between speakers as F-22’s and Black Hawk helicopters move across the landscape. Although we expect this to be a loud and immersive experience, we also want to hear the dialogue (even if it’s choppy and poorly delivered), and WHD‘s center channel brings us crisp and clear audio. It almost feels as though the center has been purposely dialed up, which works for us. There’s never a need to play The Remote Game here, especially during those stunning action sequences. The surrounds only heighten the experience, interspersing office and Air Force One chatter, police radio, and other atmospherics. But you’re probably reading this and wondering how well the LFE is represented: in a phrase, stunningly so. It does nothing less than boom, thud, and pound its way through the film, making its presence known in each scene. Heavy chain guns, jet engines, explosions, and human impacts with walls and the floor are powerful, easily ascending this track to among the best of 2013. Emmerich’s long-time musical collaborator Harald Kloser weaves a powerful score, complete with a rousing march and other tracks which seem to jump out of the speakers. In every way, Sony’s audio transfer is an amazing success, further demonstrating that you might not need a 7.1 set up to experience reference-quality sound.
For a film so highly marketed during the Summer, it’s extremely frustrating to see White House Down offered without the most basic of home video features. There’s no commentary track, an extended cut of the film, or even deleted scenes. In exchange – mirroring the film’s idea of slathering on multiple inferior supplements instead of more high-quality ones – White House Down arrives with the following features, all presented in HD:
- Gag Reel (6:04): A selection of funny moments from the set.
- A Dynamic Duo (4:09): The cast and crew discuss Tatum and Foxx’s chemistry.
- The Beast (5:15): One of the only interesting aspects, this featurette gives great details about the Presidential limousine built for the movie.
- Men of Action (3:43): A return to the all-too-short discussion of Tatum’s stunt work and some of the film’s biggest action pieces. This needed to be at least 10 minutes longer.
- The Full Arsenal (4:47): Gun enthusiasts will enjoy this look at the various weapons used in the film.
- VFX Boundaries Breakdown (3:33): Again, another all-too-brief piece, this time focusing on the use of “in-cam” to create some of the film’s special effects.
- The Inside Story (2:53): Various aspects of the film’s pre-production are discussed, from the hiring of Director Roland Emmerich, to the film’s compact shooting schedule, perhaps the real problem behind things.
- Presidential Treatment (4:28): The White House takes center stage, showing us how the sets were created, along with the digital backdrops that would later house the post-production effects.
- Lights, Camera, Heart-Pumping Action (3:24): Cinematographer Anna J. Foerster is featured.
- Roland Emmerich – Upping the Ante (5:08): Although we totally disagree, the cast and crew yack up Roland Emmerich.
- Crashing the Oval Office (3:49): Crashing a car through the replica of the Oval Office.
- Drowning the Beast (3:25): Shooting one of the most challenging scenes of the film, the sinking of the presidential limo.
- Recreating the White House (9:23): Finally, a highly detailed presentation, this one focusing on the White House sets. This one should have been combined with others to make a truly memorable feature.
- Meet the Insiders (5:13): A nice discussion of the film’s secondary characters.
Our evaluation copy arrived as a Blu-ray Combo pack, with a DVD and UV Digital Copy. The debossed slipcase is barely appealing, and no steelbook packaging was offered Stateside. At the time of this review, Best Buy and Target were the only ones offering supplemental interviews.
White House Down could have been so much more – a truly epic invasion film with a powerful human story to tell – had our creative team actually came to the dance ready to match that character development with the ferocity of the action. Instead, we’re left with a silly, ridiculous flick that’s missing any semblance of a soul, making it easily one of the most disappointing films of 2013. The video and audio are excellent, but the supplements falter as much as the film. In a Summer season that saw it trail behind even The Lone Ranger in box office receipts, White House Down proves that audiences won’t see a poor film, regardless of who’s in it. Let’s hope that resonates throughout Hollywood, because this one is a dud. It’s rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 131 minutes.