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Amelia (2009)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/2/2010

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/10/2010

In my recent review for Walk the Line, I wrote about the enduring popularity of bio-pics. Whether they focus on a truly famous person, or someone relatively obscure, there's something fascinating about watching a life-story. A superlative film in this genre should do several things; it should make the characters interesting, it should give us insight into their lives, and if the person is well-known, it should tell us thing that we don't already know. If a bio-pic is missing most of those elements, can it still be watchable? Let's look at Amelia and see.

Hilary Swank stars as Amelia Earhart in Amelia. Following a brief introduction, the story opens in 1928, when Amelia is already 31 years old. She has amassed a reputation as a pilot (which is very rare for females) and she's been summoned to see book publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere). Now that Charles Lindbergh has flown across the Atlantic, Putnam is part of a group who is looking for a female to do the same thing. Amelia agrees to this (despite the fact that she won't actually be piloting the plane) and thus begins a relationship with Putnam which starts as professional and soon becomes romantic. Taking charge of her career, Putnam turns Amelia into a cause celebre, as she makes public appearances and promotes products. However, Amelia only wants to fly. After a meeting with Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), she begins work on short shuttle flights. However, the dream of flying around the world calls to her.

Multiple Oscar winner Hilary Swank has made quite a name for herself when it comes to dramatic films. And when you consider the fact that one of her Oscar wins came in a bio-pic (Boys Don't Cry), a film where she portrayed Amelia Earhart seemed like a slam-dunk. Even those who don't much about Earhart (like me) know that she disappeared on her flight around the world, and to this day, that mystery is still intriguing. However, when the film was released, it received a critical drubbing (it has a 21% at Rottentomatoes.com) and did nothing at the box-office. Is it really that bad?

Yes, it is. This movie makes so many mistakes that it's difficult to believe that so many seasoned professionals were involved. First of all, we have the story. Again, the story opens when Earhart is 31-years old and tells us next to nothing about her earlier accomplishments. Movie, we can't just take your word for it that Earhart has carved a reputation for herself -- give us some details, show a montage...something. Following this, the movie falls into a chapter-like mode, as it shows us various stages of Earhart's remaining years. We see her doing things and hear her and the other characters talking about them, but we never have a good idea of why these things are happening. For example, Amelia doesn't look comfortable while endorsing products, but there's never an inside view of how she feels about this. The narrative structure is also an issue. The movie intercuts the action with scenes from Earhart's flight around the world. We know that this is going to happen eventually, so why didn't the movie flesh out the "present" as opposed to giving us a glimpse of the "future"?

And then there's the acting. We've got Academy Award winner Swank and Golden Globe winner Gere, both of whom are film veterans and both of whom who look very uncomfortable here. I don't know, perhaps Earhart was the kind of person who wasn't comfortable in her own skin -- if so, bravo to Swank on a great performance. If not, something is really off here. There's a lot of pausing between lines and nothing has any flow to it. In addition, instead of speaking as if they are living in the late 20s and early 30s, they talk like they are in a movie from that era. There's a lot of patter with odd cadences which simply rings hollow. The supporting cast fares somewhat better, but not by much. For example, McGregor seems to be playing that exact same character which he always does.

As usual, I try to say something nice about every movie, and I must say that I did learn things from Amelia. Like most in my generation, I knew of her disappearance, but little more, so there were some factoids here that were interesting. But, given the fact that she was a trendsetting pilot, I have to assume that her life was much more exciting than what is portrayed in this film. Along with all of its other flaws, Amelia is just plain boring, and it takes the life of one of the most courageous women of the 20th century and turns it into a lifeless character study. This flight should be grounded.

Amelia taxis down the runway onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc holds an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 38 Mbps. Why is it that bad movies always have the best transfers? The image here is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors here are fantastic -- they are bold and leap off of the screen. The image is never too dark or bright. The level of detail is very impressive. Someone went through the trouble of putting freckles on Hilary Swank and we can see every one. The picture's depth is impressive as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. One doesn't always expect great sound from a bio-pic, but the flying scenes sound great here. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and show good separation -- just check out the parade scene. Again, any scene with flying sounds fine and the surround sound and subwoofer effects are impressive.

The Amelia Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. The Disc offers ten DELETED SCENES which run about 14 minutes. These scenes reveal some of the information which is missing from the movie. There are at least two new subplots here and several new characters. This is one of those examples where we feel the hand of someone telling the director to cut the film...and the film suffered for it. "Making Amelia" (23 minutes) is a nicely detailed featurette which offers comments from the cast and filmmakers along with some on-set footage. "The Power of Amelia Earhart" (11 minutes) contains interviews with those involved in the film who discuss Earhart's life and her position as a female role model. "The Plane Behind the Legend" (5 minutes) examines the airplane which Earhart attempted to fly around the world, and the search for the one used in the film. "Re-Constructing the Planes of Amelia" (7 minutes) looks at how the antique planes were created for the film. "Movietone News" (7 minutes) offers seven actual news-reels from the era which explore Earhart's story.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long