Amelia [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (6th June 2010).
The Film

I had high hopes for “Amelia” when I first heard about it. So much about the film just seemed right – Hilary Swank as the daring aviatrix, Mira Nair signed on as director, and of course, Earhart herself is a fascinating case study, ripe for motion picture adaptation. Her disappearance alone has spawned hundreds of books, television specials, documentaries and just plain crackpot theories that you could fill a two-hour film a hundred times over. Let’s not forget to mention Earhart’s life outside of her flying victories (and the victories themselves; sans her one failure): the affairs, the speeches, everything else that she did before that fateful day on which she disappeared, could also have filled the runtime for a compelling film many, many times over. Add in the fact that Nair let slip early in the production that she wasn’t going to use CG unless absolutely necessary, and instead shoot as much practical footage as was possible, and I was giddy with excitement, waiting in anticipation for what was sure to be a great film. And then it was released.

I don’t want to say that “Amelia” is a terrible movie – it’s not. But it is terribly pedestrian. It’s a safe picture that adds nothing to the Earhart legacy and in fact overlooks many of her more interesting qualities. It’s a film that could have been something special – hell, it should have been something special, based purely on the source material – but, despite having nearly all the crucial elements for a well-made, Oscar worthy movie on the life of Amelia Earhart, we got this film. How that happened, I don’t exactly know – we had an actress that not only has the chops to do the historical figure justice, but at the right angles, even creepily looks like her, and a director that is talented enough to have a film in the Criterion Collection (and a good film too, not like Michael Bay). The supporting cast includes people who can give capable performances, and yet for some reason don’t here, and the film was written by two people who have been nominated for Academy Awards (one was nominated for “Gorilla’s in the Mist” (1988) and the other actually won for “Rain Man” (1988)).

Unfortunately the film just has a whole mess of problems. I don’t know, maybe part of it is that I expected too much given the people involved? Still, few seem at the top of their game here and it hurts the picture immensely. Sure, the film was written by two Oscar nominated writers, Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan, and is based on a pair of well received books, but the story couldn’t be more dull, and the characters – outside of Earhart herself – less interesting. The film struggles to find meaning, jumping from plot point to plot point without much semblance of coherency, or relevant connectedness. Instead, the film plays out like a hurried outline of notable events in the life of someone who’s quite interesting, but we don’t know why, or how she is so. Viewers only get a passing glimpse into her life, and are left wondering why, exactly, the name Amelia Earhart means anything today. Well, again, no that’s not entirely true, the film paints her as important because she died trying to fly around the world, and, yes, that’s partly why people know the woman – but, it breezes past most of her other accomplishments, and neglects a great deal of the good she did for women’s rights.

Then of course, there’s the main issue I take with the film: the oddly neutered love triangle between Earhart, her husband George Putnam (Richard Gere) and Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). First of all, why must the filmmakers reduce the mighty tale of Amelia Earhart to a simple tale of a woman torn between two lovers? What purpose does that serve to a film, or the woman’s legacy, in the long run, especially when her life was full of far more interesting, and much less gossipy triumphs? I had similar reservations about “Coco Before Chanel” (2009), another biopic focused on an important female figure in history, and I’m beginning to wonder if Hollywood producers think so lowly of these types of films, that they insist on shoehorning what is essentially daytime drivel into their products storylines, in a hope to appeal to a broad base of female moviegoers? It seems like it, and that’s a shame, as you can do both; there are many, many other movies that balance historical figures bedtime affairs with their more important, less trivial achievements. The films that do just that can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone interested in the subject at hand. Take, as an example another film that deals with similar subject matter, Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” (2004). That film balances Howard Hughes’ Hollywood successes, his personal failures, and his dangerous obsession with aviation perfectly. It hits just the right notes to make a pretty decent movie about an incredibly interesting man, which balances personal intrigue with mostly accurate history.

In that regard “Amelia” falls short. It doesn’t balance any of its elements properly, and comes out like a readers digest fluff piece. It focuses too much on the love triangle, but doesn’t fully devote itself to that aspect of her life. Yet, the moments that deal with her importance to aviation, are never, not once, fully realized either. That brings me to another issue I have with this film: if you're going to make a movie about Amelia Earhart, and focus on her scandalous love life, why do so within the limitations of a 'PG' rating. Sure, it doesn’t need to be hard 'R' graphic – I’m not asking for porn – but what’s the point of a 'PG' rated romance exactly? They make reference to her supposed bisexuality – but only in passing – and they infer her numerous extramarital affairs, especially with Gene Vidal, but at it’s most suggestive it’s a kiss in an elevator. Again, I’m not looking for graphic depictions of sex, or an exposé that reveals all of Earhart’s dirty secrets, but the 'PG' rating all comes back to the “playing it safe” comment I made earlier. The film does nothing unexpected, goes nowhere exciting and is truly mediocre in it’s scripting. Worse, it doesn’t seem like the studio forced the 'PG' rating, and this film was the product of inference. No, someone actually decided that they wanted to write a movie that was so neutral and inoffensive, and that’s ridiculous for a biography; there’s no life, nothing of interest in the final product.

But “Amelia’s” scripting issues don’t stop with the lame, safe story. Nope, the characterization is pretty dry too. Ewan McGregor and Richard Gere give adequate performances – great ones, considering – but, their characters are so completely one-dimensional it’s mind-boggling. Nair had competent actors to work with, and yet she lets them flounder onscreen, as they’re very obviously grasping for something to do with their parts. Christopher Eccleston is less disappointing all around compared to the other supporting men, in the part of Fred Noonan, Earhart’s drunkard of a navigator, but even he should have had more to do with his paper-thin role. The only reason he even moderately succeeds where the other two largely failed (i.e. he’s able to imbue some sort of personality into his fictional persona) is that a) he’s a better actor b) is less important overall to the story. If that doesn’t get to the crux of the issue with this film – that a secondary, near tertiary, character has more depth than the two male “leads” – I don’t know what else does.

Now, I admit, there are things that I liked about “Amelia.” For one, Swank is absolutely superb. If nothing else works in this film – and that’s basically the case – Swank in the one thing that does, and her portrayal goes a long way. Also remarkable is the aerial cinematography – which greatly benefits from the use of those real planes. It is just gorgeous, as is the production design and period costuming. Many of Nair’s shots look nice too, in fact most of the movie does, and that’s the films one saving grace. But it’s also it’s biggest problem – “Amelia” is pretty much all flash, and no substance. Well, no, that’s not exactly true. It has substance... barely. It’s just that it has so little of it, and could have easily had more, that the whole thing smacks of “why bother.” “Amelia” is not an unwatchable film, and if you go in looking for little more than technical competence (and not a strong story), you’ll be satisfied, and I guess that counts for something.


20th Century Fox’s 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps high definition widescreen rendering of “Amelia” is truly a beautiful thing. The AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer sports an average bitrate of 31 Mbps (quite a bit more than the 19 Mbps advertised on the rear artwork), and it looks as good as you’d hope for a brand-new feature. The film is swathed in striking colors – reds, baby-blues, greens and crisp, stark whites – and has an overall amber tone, evoking a vintage look that is also warm and inviting. The disc is just about flawless, and there are plenty of intricate patterns and tiny particulars, like rivets in the plane bodies and the freckles on Swank’s face, to do the film justice in HD. A layer of fine grain is barely noticeable, contrast is pitch perfect (blacks are inky and deep), and the image shows no signs of unwanted manipulation, such as DNR or edge enhancement. As a film “Amelia” may be both hit and miss, but the Blu-ray itself, visually speaking, is a total winner. In fact, the Blu-ray is so clear that the occasional rear projection (or CG) effect looks even less convincing, and diffusion filters used on certain shots of Swank, are all the more noticeable. Perhaps the Blu-ray does the film a slight wrong in that regard, but those moments are few and far between. Of note, Nair and DP Stuart Dryburgh shot certain sequences to look like vintage newsreels to better integrate that footage with actual material from the 1930's. Not only is the footage black and white – and at times pillar-boxed in the center of the frame – but also intentional scratches and damage have been added. Overall, the effect works well.


“Amelia” arrives with a single audio option: an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit/3.5Mbps) soundtrack. The lossless rendering is kind of surprising in all honesty. I went expecting a timid, front focused track, because, while it’s not always true, dramatic period pieces are usually on the duller end of the audio spectrum (while simultaneously being at the forefront for visual delights). To say that I expected a mundane experience wouldn’t entirely be correct – just, if “Amelia” ended up delivering a limp, half-decent one, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Fortunately, “Amelia” defies genre conventions, and features a robust, at times, rousing mix. Dialogue, and smaller, more intimate moments litter the runtime, but always make use of the full soundfield. Building acoustics are presented believably, and crowd chatter at a few of the galas is pushed rearward to create more reasoned, and weighty atmosphere. The real surprise thought is the mixes authority and power; it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, but any moment concerned with aircraft sounds great. The film particularly shines around the 45-minute mark when Earhart flies into a huge thunderstorm – thunderclaps have a nice balance between the rumble of low frequency (pushed down into the dedicated LFE channel) and less forceful crashes into the left and right fronts, and surrounds. Wind is funneled through your room in full 360-degree array, and bumps, clanks and creaks all populate the soundtrack. Overall there are perhaps less moments of pure envelopment than I would have liked, but “Amelia” still sounds great. It has a nice balance between power and subtlety. There’s warmth to the films sound and while I wasn’t a fan of Gabriel Yared’s score (it was a bit too overdramatic for my tastes) it fills the speakers nicely, with a great fidelity and clarity.
Subtitles are included in English, Spanish and French.


Aside from an audio commentary (which is sorely, sorely missed) and a more factual retrospective documentary on Earhart’s life and career (which they could have just pulled from the History Channel for god-sakes) there isn’t a whole lot else missing from this decent-sized, but ultimately average batch of extras, which includes a selection of deleted scenes, around 40-minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and some interesting vintage news reels. A collection of bonus trailers and a digital copy of the film rounds off the package. Nearly all of the bonus content is presented in 1080i/p high definition. Details below.


10 deleted scenes (1080p, 13 minutes 51 seconds) kick off the package. It’s standard stuff, mostly filling in details and/or consisting of listless sub-plots and meager nothings. I’m certain every single one of these scenes was rightfully excised from the final print. These deleted scenes are the only bonuses presented in full 2.40:1 1080p 24/fps widescreen. They include:

- "A Social Worker in Boston"
- "Amelia’s Fiancé Before the Friendship Flight"
- "The Queen of Diamonds, Mabel Boll"
- "Arrival in Wales"
- "Dorothy Putnam"
- "Dorothy’s Departure"
- "George and Gene"
- "Rose Garden Press Conference"
- "Going Cameling"
- "Additional Around the World Montage"

“Making ‘Amelia’” (1080i, 23 minutes 6 seconds) is a featurette with director Mira Nair, stars Hilary Swank, Ewan McGregor, Richard Gere, among others, who talk about the film in this somewhat wasted EPK, which chronicles the making of the film. Disappointingly light on historical context, but surprisingly strong in the b-roll and cast/crew interview department, this piece is decent but (kind of, unfortunately) overshadowed by a few of the shorter extras in this set.

Curiously this next featurette – “The Power of Amelia Earhart” (1080i, 10 minutes 46 seconds) – looks like it was originally part of “Making…” but for some reason it has been edited into it’s own piece, probably just so that the marketing department could add another bullet-point on the rear of the box. This mini-doc discusses Earhart’s lasting legacy and talks, briefly, about her historical importance, but then strangely shifts direction to talk about the film’s costuming and production design.

In “The Planes Behind The Legend” (1080i, 4 minutes 33 seconds), another featurette, Nair talks about how she didn’t want to rely on CG and effects-work for the film’s many aerial sequences, and thus worked hard to find a pristine Lockheed Electra (albeit one slightly newer than the model Earhart flew in real life) and shoot as much practical footage as was possible with that plane.

Lastly, we get a closer look at the four planes featured in the film, with a featurette titled “Re-“Constructing the Planes of ‘Amelia’” (1080i, 6 minutes 38 seconds). I found it interesting, but I doubt many who aren’t interested in the subject of aviation will find this worth their time.

One of the more intriguing supplements included on the Blu-ray are 7 vintage newsreels, found under the header “Fox Movietone News” (480p, 6 minutes 41 seconds). The only downside is that they’re presented in standard definition (the only supplement here at that resolution) but as most of the footage is dirty b&w 16mm film, I’m a little more forgiving. Segments include:

- "Mrs. Putman flies the Atlantic again… this time alone"
- "Amelia Earhart flies over the U.S in 17 hours"
- "Miss Earhart flies from Hawaii to U.S to win solo crown"
- "Aviation: introducing the Electra"
- "Aviation: Amelia testing her place"
- "Names in the news: Amelia Earhart"
- "Race to rescue Amelia Earhart"

Also a few Pre-Menu bonus trailers (HD) are included:

- “Whip It!” 2 minutes 17 seconds.
- AFI promo. 1 minute 3 seconds, in 1080i.

Finally, Fox includes their now standard Java-based bookmarks feature. Use the red button on your Blu-ray remote to bookmark your favorite scene, or simply stop the film and when you return the menu will ask if you would like to resume the film.


A digital copy of the film is included on the second platter – a DVD-5 – for playback on iPod, iTunes and WMV-enabled devices.


This is a tough one. “Amelia” has superb cinematography and gorgeous production design, but is so terribly, terribly bland, lacking both purpose and soul in it’s script and story, that Mira Nair’s “Amelia” is awfully close to becoming a cinematic misfire. I won’t say that it’s terrible, in fact it’s not truly horrific in the slightest, but, outside of a few good performances and looking nice, “Amelia” is not nearly as good as it could (and should) have been. The Blu-ray edition sports reference quality video, great audio and a nice array of (admittedly typical) supplements. I’d relegate this one to the rental pile first before considering a purchase.

The Film: C Video: A Audio: A- Extras: C Overall: C+


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