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The Terminal Blu-ray Review

The Terminal (2004) movie poster The Terminal

Theatrical Release: June 18, 2004 / Running Time: 129 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg / Writers: Sacha Gervasi (screenplay & story), Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Andrew Niccol (story)

Cast: Tom Hanks (Viktor Navorski), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Amelia Jane Warren), Stanley Tucci (Frank Dixon), Chi McBride (Joe Mulroy), Diego Luna (Enrique Cruz), Barry Shabaka Henley (Thurman), Kumar Pallana (Gupta Rajan), Zoë Saldana (CBP Officer Dolores Torres), Eddie Jones (Richard Salchak), Jude Ciccolella (Karl Iverson), Corey Reynolds (Waylin), Guillermo Diaz (Bobby Alima), Rini Bell (Nadia), Stephen Mendel (First Class Steward), Valera Nikolaev (Milodragovich), Michael Nouri (Max), Benny Golson (Himself)

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America's most popular director and actor working together felt like a match made in movie heaven. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks first teamed up on Saving Private Ryan, which became the top-grossing film of 1998 and only lost the Best Picture Oscar by upset. Their second collaboration,
Catch Me If You Can, was also successful and acclaimed. Then came The Terminal, a summer 2004 release that cooled off both men's enduring winning streaks.

The Terminal is an uncharacteristic effort for both. It is the rare Spielberg movie to embrace comedy and romance, forgoing his more usual fascinations of fantasy, sci-fi, adventure, historical drama and general wonderment. For Hanks, it provided an unusual opportunity to play something other than an identifiable all-American everyman.

Hanks is Viktor Navorski, a citizen of Eastern Europe's fictional Republic of Krakozhia. While Viktor was up in the air on his transatlantic flight, his nation underwent a military coup. He is informed as much at New York's JFK International Airport by authorities. The airport's acting field commissioner Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) explains that Viktor is in an unusual predicament, unable to fly back to Krakozhia but also prohibited from leaving the airport and stepping on American soil. His passport and ticket confiscated, Viktor is given some food vouchers, a 15-minute calling card, and a pager on which to let him know if anything changes.

Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) tries to make a passable bed out of two rows of airport chairs in "The Terminal."

Traveling by himself and speaking next to no English, Viktor doesn't really understand why he's being declared "unacceptable", but he takes the news in stride. He makes himself at home, pulling seats together and dismantling them to form a makeshift bed at an out of service gate. He eats Saltines with mustard and ketchup.

Dixon is surprised that Viktor doesn't try to leave the airport. Even given a push in that direction with a 5-minute window of unsupervised doors, Viktor vows to wait for legal clearance.

He's not just sitting around reading paperbacks, either. Industriously, he discovers that he can get a quarter for every Smarte Carte he returns, money he puts towards Burger King meals. Viktor learns English by comparing Fodor's guides in both that language and his native tongue. He makes friends with a janitor (Wes Anderson favorite Kumar Pallana), a food cart driver (Diego Luna), and a baggage handler (Chi McBride). He routinely submits paperwork for a pretty customs officer (Zoe Saldana) to sympathetically but systematically deny. He walks right into a job as a building contractor working on airport renovations. He even catches the eye of Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a stewardess unlucky in love.

Acting field commissioner Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) grows increasingly annoyed by Viktor's willingness to accept being stuck in the airport.

The Terminal is astonishingly stupid, representing a career low point for arguably the most accomplished and unquestionably the most successful filmmaker alive today. As usual, Spielberg cannot be faulted for the writing. Blame for that lies at the feet of Hitchcock director Sacha Gervasi, Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can, Rush Hour 2, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), and Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show). Gervasi shares story credit with Niccol and screenplay credit with Nathanson.
Evidently inspired by the real plight of Mehran Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who spent nearly twenty straight years inside France's Charles de Gaulle Airport, the concept actually holds promise. Airports are places the vast majority of us see only in passing, at the start and finish of vacations and business trips. The prospect of actually living in one sounds like a fun challenge. JFK is always open and alive, taking people from one place to another, and it's got just about everything you could need at an inflated price.

The execution of that concept is where The Terminal flounders. Adopting a persona somewhere between Balki Bartokomous and Borat, Hanks immediately renders Viktor Navorski a caricature. People like him do not exist in our world. And yet, this happy-go-lucky idiot makes friends, becomes an airport hero, and never questions authority or tries to circumvent his legal limbo. Hanks is considered one of the greatest actors of our time and is the only one to win back-to-back Oscars in the past thirty-five years. I am a fan and would gladly acknowledge ten of his movies as all-time favorites (especially when counting all three Toy Story movies separately). But, my goodness, this performance is embarrassing.

Eastern Europeans should be offended, while fellow actors should be disappointed that someone offered many of Hollywood's best roles would pick this one and play it so ludicrously. 2004 was actually the year Hanks came down to earth after a long, impressive run of hits and instant classics. Making this in between The Ladykillers (the rare Coen brothers misfire) and the motion capture atrocity The Polar Express, Hanks shed his can't-miss status that year and he's only recently started to recover. Since then, he's made movies almost as bad and maybe even worse (The Da Vinci Code, Larry Crowne). While he's also made some very good films in that time, he just does not command the same reverence or hold the same appeal he once did.

In light of Hanks' recent struggles, The Terminal seems like an even bigger blight on the mostly golden résumé of Spielberg. It's tough to make sense of why he would make this film in the midst of a string of intelligent blockbusters or ever really. Comedy is not the director's forte and sequences meant to be cute, like Viktor playing go-between for two airport employees, make you cringe rather than smile. Insulting your intelligence on a regular basis, the film repeatedly defies logic and tries to divert attention from its failings with some old-fashioned schmaltz. One of the more puzzling head-scratchers is the seemingly decent and hardworking Dixon's desire to make Viktor's airport existence even more hellish than it already is. Dixon is downright sadistic at times, yet he's also receiving promotions and played to maintain some sympathy.

Poor United Airlines flight attendant Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones) befriends Viktor over a few chance encounters.

At over two hours, the whole thing runs far too long and plays like a comedic secondary storyline you might encounter on a rerun airing on TNT in the morning. I am at a loss to figure out what these talented veterans saw in this project. Perhaps it was just Spielberg liking a script and everyone else believing in it based on his stellar track record. I am shocked that the film maintains a respectable 7.3 user rating on IMDb (higher than the likes of Amistad and War of the Worlds) and even a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (albeit by the skin of its teeth with a middling 61% all-critics approval and a very mediocre average rating of 6.2/10). I don't even think my low opinion is colored by my appreciation for Spielberg and Hanks (and Niccol, for that matter, who seems unlikely to live up to the promise of his late '90s debuts). Anyone making this movie as is would have infuriated me with their miscalculation.

Becoming only Spielberg's second summer box office underperformer as director (following A.I.), The Terminal grossed $78 million domestically. It added another $142 million overseas for a rather respectable global total considering the $60 M production budget. Still, there's no doubt that The Terminal doesn't rank among Spielberg's most popular films. It came to Blu-ray from Paramount this week alongside Amistad without much in the way of fanfare.

The Terminal Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; Film only: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Featurette Subtitled
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $22.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Still available on Widescreen DVD and Full Screen DVD ($9.98 SRP; November 23, 2004)
Previously released as Three-Disc Limited Edition DVD + CD (November 23, 2004)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Between Paramount's virtually unblemished track record and Spielberg's virtually unrivaled technical prowess, you don't expect anything less than perfection from this Blu-ray. Surprisingly, The Terminal falls short. The 1.85:1 transfer inexplicably features quite a bit of grain most of the time. That might be understandable if this was a 1970s or 1980s film instead of one celebrating its tenth anniversary next month. By and large, most should be satisfied or unbothered by this presentation, which otherwise succeeds with its vivid colors and apt level of detail. But with so many exemplary discs setting the bar so high, the picture quality here disappoints slightly.

No fault is to be found in the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, which does a standout job of enveloping you with ambient airport noise throughout. Dialogue also has the weight and clarity of a 2014 production, while the score, only sometimes recognizable as the obvious work of Spielberg's inseparable collaborator John Williams, also maintains a nice presence.

"Waiting for the Flight" shows us the enormous airport terminal constructed for the film. The late, great Kumar Pallana gives a little speech in front of his castmates and director.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Typical for a Steven Spielberg film, The Terminal is joined by no commentary or deleted scenes,
but a number of making-of featurettes, all of them still presented in standard definition.

"Booking the Flight: The Script, The Story" (8:06) addresses the project's foundation. Spielberg recalls has the script caught his eye over five others he read one weekend, while screenwriter Sacha Gervasi explaining how he slept in airports as research

"Waiting for the Flight: Building The Terminal" (12:19) covers production design, namely the construction of a giant stand-in for JFK. In this regard, the film is certainly an impressive achievement.

"Boarding: The People of The Terminal" (31:48) consists of three featurettes that consider the casting and characterization of Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and supporting players.

"Take Off: Making The Terminal" (17:13) provides a relatively technical overview of production, discussing the film's color tones, costumes, and pacing.

Steven Spielberg directs a young Diego Luna in this photo gallery image. In its first trailer appearance, The Terminal's title is designed like an old-fashioned arrivals board.

"In Flight Service: The Music of The Terminal" (5:53) briefly turns our attention to John Williams' score, with Spielberg and him discussing the "ethnic" feel to it,
as well as the plot's use of "A Great Day in Harlem", a photograph of 1958 jazz musicians.

The featurettes close with "Landing: Airport Stories" (5:41), which collects somewhat amusing anecdotes from cast and crew about their personal travel experiences.

A 58-image manually-operated HD photo gallery is comprised predominantly of ordinary film stills, though a few behind-the-scenes shots are thrown in as well.

The extras conclude with two similar trailers (2:31 & 1:24), presented in HD and Dolby Digital 5.1.

The menu plays clips in wide rectangles, while John Williams' score is excerpted. The disc lets you set bookmarks but does not give you an option to resume unfinished playback.

No inserts or slipcover accompany the eco-friendly keepcase and its plainly blue-labeled disc.

Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) approaches the customs counter as usual, but this time confident he'll get that elusive approved stamp.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Having seen nearly every film directed by Steven Spielberg, I can easily declare The Terminal one of his worst. This airport dramedy is never humorous, smart or believable. Any interest in the single setting design fades quickly with unfunny, cloying, and sentimental material all managing to insult and disappoint the viewer.

Paramount's Blu-ray doesn't even look as nice as you assume it would from the studio's high standards and this film's relative newness. While it does nicely retain all of the film's DVD extras, this disc isn't something I can recommend to anyone but Spielberg or Hanks completists.

Buy The Terminal from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / Widescreen DVD / Full Screen DVD

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Related Reviews:
New: Amistad • Used Cars • Million Dollar Baby • The Art of the Steal • All the King's Men
Directed by Steven Spielberg: Catch Me If You Can • War Horse • Lincoln • Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures
Tom Hanks: Captain Phillips • Saving Mr. Banks • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close • A League of Their Own • Forrest Gump
Catherine Zeta-Jones: Traffic • Chicago • Lay the Favorite • Rock of Ages
Stanley Tucci: Julie & Julia • The Hunger Games • Easy A • The Hoax • Swing Vote | Diego Luna: Casa De Mi Padre
2000s on Blu-ray: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy • Spider-Man 2 • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Written by Andrew Niccol: In Time | Written by Jeff Nathanson: Rush Hour 3

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Reviewed May 8, 2014.



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