Review for Air Borne - Flügel aus Stahl
I’ve been on this eternal journey of upgrade and double-dip ever since I started collecting entertainment on home media, focusing of course on my personal favourites. It does raise the question as to just why it took so long for me to move on from my VHS copy (subsequently backed up to DVD-R) of Wings of the Apache. It boils down to the film industry’s occasional habit of renaming films for various territories. This was released as Wings of the Apache in the UK, but I never got around to getting it on DVD, and by the time the Blu-ray age came around I couldn’t find it. As so often happens with these things, you need a little spare time to do the research, and it was only recently that I learned that the US release title of this film was Fire Birds, and it did have a Blu-ray release. That was through Kino Lorber, and before that Mill Creek, who tend to lock their Blu-rays to Region A. I had to do even more research to find a European Blu-ray, and that turned out to be called Air Borne: Flugel Aus Stahl (Wings of Steel) from HanseSound in Germany, and that’s what I’m reviewing today. Personally I prefer Wings of the Apache as a title...
What is it with the Bush family and their wars? You expect wars to be between nations. George W declared war on terror of all things. In 1989 his dad, George Bush Sr. at least declared war on something tangible, drugs, committing the US military and intelligence services to dealing with the drug cartels in South America, source of many of the narcotics then plaguing US communities. That’s where we find Cobra pilot Jake Preston, sole survivor of a mission against the cartels where he and his team fell afoul of mercenary Eric Stoller and his Scorpion attack helicopter. Naturally Preston wants payback.
The only helicopter that is fit for the job is the AH64A Apache, but the problem is that the pilots are trained for ground attack, not air to air combat. So it’s back to flight school under ace pilot Brad Little. But Preston’s thirst for vengeance may be thwarted by a quirk of vision.
The film, whatever it’s called, gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and German. There are no subtitles with this release. The image is adequate, with the sense that it probably uses the same source master that was used for the DVD. The image is clear and sharp for the most part, aside from a few moments of softness. Colours are somewhat muted, but consistent, and at least the print is free of noticeable damage or signs of age. Certainly there has been no restoration for this release, and the film lacks the expected 3D pop of Blu-ray. The audio is fine, the dialogue clear, and you get some nice surround effects with a little Prologic applied. The military music is so clichéd that it’s laughable, while the film comes from an era where having Phil Collins on the soundtrack was practically compulsory.
You get one disc in a thin BD Amaray style case with a reversible sleeve if you want to ditch the big German ratings logo. The disc boots to an animated menu where you will find...
The 4:3 trailer for Fire Birds
Further trailers for Sayonara, Flying Leathernecks, and They Were Expendable
They call this Top Gun with helicopters. I always thought Top Gun was Wings of the Apache with planes. I could only stand one viewing of Tom Cruise’s two hour pop video, but I wore out one copy of Wings of the Apache on VHS, and was well into wearing out the second before the DVD era took over. Of course I was never as excited by Tomcats as I was with the Apache. That calls back to my gaming days. I bought plenty of flight sims, and I sucked at any of them with planes. But I could fly simulated helicopters with ease, and my games of choice were Gunship on the Spectrum, and Gunship 2000 on the Amiga, both featuring the AH64-A Apache, a badass flying tank of a helicopter. Of course I was going to love any film that featured this aircraft. It doesn’t hurt that Wings of the Apache is great fun.
It’s short and sweet too at just under ninety minutes, taking enough time to tell its story without unnecessary padding. It comes in, sets the scene, develops the characters, throws in some romance, and concludes in a satisfying action sequence. This is also a film where you get Tommy Lee Jones giving full Tommy Lee Jones, and Nic Cage at maximum Nic Cage, two actors that are like a couple of pitbulls battling over a piece of meat when it comes to chewing scenery.
The romance is pretty good too, with Preston reunited with Billie Guthrie (Sean Young) at helicopter flight school. He was in the mind of a stay at home girlfriend. She wanted to be a combat pilot. She won, and that playful tension makes their resumed relationship interesting.
Wings of the Apache isn’t a massive budget movie, and that tells in the interiors and sets, which seem a little mundane, verging on the TV Movie. It’s obvious that the money has gone on the flying sequences, which are spectacular and thrilling. It helps that helicopters are comparatively slow, and can hover. Fast jets can’t, and depend on contrivance to inject thrills into dogfights which in reality are over before they begin, usually fought electronically at distance with guided missiles. Helicopters are slow enough to look good on camera without looking fake, and you can see the tactics unfold and understand them through the cinematography and editing. Also in 1990, there was no CGI cheating. These are real aircraft really flying around canyons and the like.
Wings of the Apache is still great fun. The Blu-ray isn’t great, a barebones single-layer disc put out cheap and cheerful, but expecting this film to get a decent presentation and worthy extras at this point would be a little too much. Even still, Wings of the Apache, a.k.a. Fire Birds, a.k.a. Air Borne Flugel Aus Stahl is well worth some time.