DVD Picks & Passes 06.14.2009

Arriving on Blu-ray in time for Father’s Day, a pair of recent Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases offer valentines to American heroism and manly virtues in solid genre pieces — one a war movie, the other an action flick. Both movies are also available on standard DVD.

The popular, rousing Civil War movie Glory has the distinction of being the first major Hollywood film to focus on the role of black soldiers in the war between the States.

Nearly two decades before Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna gave similar attention to the all-black Buffalo Soldiers of WWII, Glory highlighted the travails of the all-black 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Denzel Washington won his first Oscar as a runaway slave who serves under Col. Robert Shaw (miscast Matthew Broderick), a white abolitionist who commands the 54th.

While battlefield conditions are excruciatingly realized, it’s still Hollywood formula, but director Edward Zwick wraps that formula in glowing images and heartfelt sentiment.

Air Force One is a sort of last hurrah for Harrison Ford, action hero. Ford plays a Clancyesque can-do American president who finds himself in a mind-boggling worst-case scenario: hijacked by terrorists aboard his own presidential jet. (Ford’s Jack Ryan never made it to the White House, like the character did in Clancy’s Executive Orders, but AF1 offers a taste of what he would have been like.)

After Speed, AF1 is probably the most watchable of the Die Hard clones, in part because it’s the only film in the genre to offer a hero who, like John McClane, is overwhelmed and out of his league. With Gary Oldman as a Russian terrorist, AF1 has the grace never to take itself too seriously.

Ford also appears in the new Blu-ray release Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance, albeit only as narrator. A 40-minute Imax documentary from Razor Entertainment, Lost Worlds (also available on standard DVD) makes a worthwhile companion piece to Pixar’s current hit Up.

That’s because Up is set in the “Lost World” of Venezuela, the tepui (tabletop mountain) highlands of the Guiana Shield. Lost Worlds takes you to the real Venezuelan Lost World, among other destinations — a journey that the Pixar team took in person in preparation for Up.

Trading on Ford’s iconic image, Lost Worlds initially evokes Raiders with images of the Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. It’s a bit of bait and switch, though, since Lost Worlds’ real interest is not ancient civilizations, but the balance of the biosphere and the loss of natural habitats.

Though preachy, the environmentalist message is basically sound, but the spectacular photography and the harsh beauty of the mesui highlands celebrated in Up are the real draws.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Glory: Much graphic wartime violence; some profanity. Mature viewing. Air Force One: Frequent graphic action violence; recurring profanity and some crass language. Could be okay for teens. Lost Worlds: Nothing problematic. Fine family viewing.