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4K salute for Sony’s remastered “Air Force One”

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


Harrison Ford plays President James Marshall in "Air Force One" the No. 5 box office film of 1997.

(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1997, R for violence and language; Streaming via Amazon Video Prime (4K), Apple (4K), Google Play 4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: The only bonus is a commentary with director Wolfgang Petersen

FOR TWO decades the likable and convincing Harrison Ford was king of the action flick. Ford played everything from outer space smuggler, to archaeologist, to CIA agent, to lawyer and doctor. And then he portrayed the president of the United States, in “Air Force One,” Wolfgang Petersen’s (“Das Boot,” “In the Line of Fire”) 1990s big-budget summer thriller.

The premise is pure Hollywood: After Russian neo-nationalists hijack the presidential 747 jet, demanding the release of a military general, only President (and Vietnam Medal of Honor winner) James Marshall can save the day. His wife Grace (Wendy Crewson) and 12-year-old daughter Alice (Liesel Matthews) are among the hijackers’ hostages, while Marshall vows to continue the hardline U.S. policy to never negotiate with terrorists.

(1) American actor Alan Woolf plays Russian President Petrov, who introduces U.S. President James Marshall during a state dinner in Moscow. (2) The new 4K master provides clarity missing from the previous Blu-ray. President Marshall abandons his original speech to Russian leaders from two teleprompters. (3) President Marshall leaves Moscow for his return trip to Washington D.C. (4) Wendy Crewson plays First Lady Grace Marshall. (5) Liesel Matthews known for her role in Alfonso Cuarón's "The Little Princess" (1995), gave up acting after playing President Marshall's daughter Alice.


Gary Oldman is at his evil best, playing terrorist leader Ivan Korshunov, who poses as a Russian TV journalist. Korshunov slips through a Secret Service security checkpoint with his TV crew, thanks to bogus papers and fingerprints, after President Marshall addresses Russian leaders during a state dinner.

Petersen orchestrates the mayhem with German directorial cleverness, from fight sequences to the White House war room, where Vice President Kathryn Bennett (Glenn Close) learns from the attorney general (Philip Baker Hall) that the president may be “incapacitated,” which would give her the power to take over.


The commentary, recorded 20 years ago for its original DVD release, is informative and funny. Petersen praises Ford for doing his own stunts and getting President Bill Clinton to ask Close to play the vice president. “We knew she wouldn’t turn down the president,” says Petersen. Clinton also cleared the way for the director, Ford, and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (“Gangs of New York”; “The Fabulous Baker Boys”) to take a scouting tour on the real Air Force One. The production ended up renting a 747 airliner, which included a $300,000 paint job to transform it into the presidential plane. The interiors were assembled on the largest soundstage in Hollywood at Sony Pictures; the hull and cockpit were leftovers from Warner Brothers’ 30,000-foot thriller “Executive Decision” (1996), starring Kurt Russell. Petersen says the estate room they created was nearly identical to the real one, like a four-star hotel, while the communications area near the cockpit was enlarged to maneuver cameras and cast.

(1) Donna Bullock plays Press Secretary Melanie Mitchell, who gives Ivan Korshunov played by Gary Oldman a brief tour on Air Force One. (2) The terrorist take control of the presidential aircraft. (3) The Secret Service escort the president to the lower level of Air Force One for a possible escape. (4) Elya Baskin plays terrorist Andrei Kolchak, who's now piloting the 747 aircraft. (5&6) Air Force One touches down at Rickenbacker Airport in Columbus, Ohio subbing for the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.


Another interesting factoid is that Andrew W. Marlowe’s script was originally written for Kevin Costner to play the lead, but Costner backed out, so he could direct and star in “The Postman” (which bombed). He recommended Harrison Ford, who Costner said would make a perfect president. The shooting production lasted for 75 days, not including the second unit work in Moscow and special effects shots, which involved a 40-plus-foot model of Air Force One.

Petersen jokes about how he seemed to have lost favor with the Secret Service because of “Air Force One,” compared to his relationship with the agency during the filming of “In the Line of Fire.” Clint Eastwood starred in that thriller as a Secret Service agent whose job was to defuse an assassination plot against the president. In “Air Force One,” an agent is a bad guy, involved in the Russian hijacking.

Peterson also mentions that they had to stop shooting tight shots of Ford, because his left cheek was badly bruised, because Oldman slapped him so hard during a dozen takes for their first onscreen confrontation.


Sony Pictures should be saluted for another grand 35mm 4K restoration job with “Air Force One.” For years, the Blu-ray was soft and the contrast was unbalanced, but here the clarity is superb, with just the right amount of natural film grain. Mastered in 4K from the Super 35 format picture (2.39:1 aspect ratio), wide shots are detailed, such as with actors in the distant background during the opening Moscow dinner scene, as well as in tight facial close-ups of Ford and Oldman.

The HDR toning and color palette is natural and balanced, with excellent black levels and strong highlights. Sony’s work is comparable to their 4K remastering of the Oscar winner “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” one of the best 4K discs from 2016.


On the sonic front, the new Dolby Atmos track is extremely active, from guns firing, to the Air Force F-15 fighters scrambled from the Ramstein Air Base in Germany to aid Air Force One. And you can’t ignore Jerry Goldsmith’s rousing theme, considered one of his best, which sounds dynamic and full. Goldsmith created the score and recorded it in just four and half weeks — a rush job. The original score, by Randy Newman, was rejected by Petersen.

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1) Glenn Close as Vice President Kathryn Bennet. (2) Korshunov threatens to kill the First Lady. (3) President Marshall plots his next move. (4&5) President Marshall is finally discovered by one of Korshunov's men.


(1&2) The composite effect shots have less sharpness. (3) Most of the flying shots are a combination of real imagery, inter-cut with models, and computer-generated effects. (4) Military personal rescue the First Family. (5&6) Welcome aboard Mr. President.

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