The Flight of the Phoenix
Robert Aldrich's The Flight of the Phoenix comes to DVD in one of the finest transfers of any mid-'60s 20th Century Fox film. Letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in keeping with its non-anamorphic photography, the image is not only brighter and sharper than this reviewer remembers it, even in showings on American Movie Classics (where the movie turned up regularly from the late '90s onward), but significantly crisper and more vivid, and "closer." You can see every pore on James Stewart's face and every bead of sweat on Richard Attenborough's face, and not just in the tight close-ups; the sandstorms have an almost tactile quality about them; and the heat seems to shimmer. The crystal-clear sound also brings out the best nuances of Frank De Vol's unfairly overlooked score. Joseph Biroc's cinematography and the Deluxe Color film stock haven't looked this good since the day the movie opened, and the letterboxing provides a focus for Aldrich's sense of dramatic tension that is partly lost when the image is opened up to full-screen. The movie has been given 36 chapter breaks, which is appropriate, though the 149-minute running time almost defies simple outlining. The special features are a bit unusual -- in addition to the original English-language trailer, we get to see the Spanish and Portuguese trailers, all accessible on a two-layer menu that opens automatically on the start-up of the disc.