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Sony gives Petersen’s “Air Force One” new 4K wings

Updated: Mar 10, 2023


Harrison Ford plays President James Marshall in “Air Force One” the No. 4 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 profanity; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), DirecTV (4K), Microsoft Movies (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Verizon (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

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

TWENTY-FIVE years ago and change, Wolfgang Petersen’s (“Das Boot,” “In the Line of Fire”) summer action thriller starring Harrison Ford as U.S. President James Marshall hit American theaters. Domestically, “Air Force One” finished the year at No. 4 behind another Sony Pictures blockbuster “Men In Black,” which topped the list. Next were Spielberg’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and Jim Carrey’s comedy, “Liar Liar.”

In 2018, Sony remastered “Air Force One” for its first 4K Ultra HD release, encoded onto a 60-gigabit disc with standard HDR10 – which at the time was the norm with the new 4K format. A top-notch 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative had already been applied. The onscreen results were night and day compared to the old, soft 2K video master, used for the original DVD, Blu-ray, and the enclosed 1080p disc in the 2018 edition, and this latest Sony release.

(1) American actor Alan Woolf plays Russian President Petrov, who introduces U.S. President James Marshall during a state dinner in Moscow. (2) 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) Liesel Matthews known for her role in Alfonso Cuarón’s “The Little Princess” (1995), gave up acting after playing President Marshall’s daughter Alice. (5) Wendy Crewson plays First Lady Grace Marshall.


For its new Limited Steelbook Anniversary Edition, Sony Pictures has upgraded the 4K with new HDR10 encoding and the addition of the more advanced Dolby Vision – all onto a 100-gigabit disc. This has given the video more breathing room from start to finish, with a higher bitrate per second – in the range of 60 megabits to 95 megabits per second – which runs 10-Mbps to 25-Mbps more than the previous 4K disc. And, the HDR10 peak brightness levels have been dialed up slightly from 1452 to 1501 nits, and the average light level from 519 to 535 nits. It all sounds so techy, but the numbers never lie.

So, can you see a real difference on the screen? We sampled a super tight view of one frame on our nine-foot screen, comparing the original 4K disc to the new 4K, examining the military patch of a U.S. Airborne Ranger during a state dinner in Moscow between Russia and the U.S. Standing two feet away, we could read “Airborne” easier. Plus, the film grain structure from the Super 35 format (2.39:1 aspect ratio) – known to be larger than films captured on an anamorphic lens – the grain is tighter and more defined. It took some amount of time to see the difference but to the smallest degree, it’s better.

The HDR toning and color palette is natural and balanced, with excellent black levels and controlled highlights. Sony’s work is comparable to their 4K remastering of Oscar winner “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” one of the best 4K discs in 2016 upgraded with Dolby Vision last year, and the recently reviewed “The Remains of the Day.” Both were captured on Super 35 and feature a good dose of natural film grain – which Sony knows how to keep intact.

(1) Donna Bullock plays Press Secretary Melanie Mitchell, who gives Ivan Korshunov played by Gary Oldman a brief tour of Air Force One. (2&3) The terrorist take control of the presidential aircraft. (4) The Secret Service escorts the president to the lower level of Air Force One for a possible escape. (5) Elya Baskin plays terrorist Andrei Kolchak, who's now piloting the 747 aircraft. (6&7) Air Force One touches down at Rickenbacker Airport in Columbus, Ohio subbing for the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

SIDE NOTE: During the late 1980s thru the 2000s, Super 35 had become the go-to 35mm format for many of Hollywood’s top filmmakers including Wolfgang Petersen, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese, Roland Emmerich, Roger Donaldson, The Coen Brothers, Sam Mendes and Steven Spielberg. The format was more forgiving with its vertical open matte and super widescreen horizon framing – without the pan and scan cropping that plagued anamorphic films – when transferred for home video before 16:9 widescreen TVs. Plus, the cameras could be smaller and less expensive to rent than the larger Panavision cameras and lenses. The onscreen compromise was slightly less resolution and larger film grain.


On the sonic front, the same eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack is provided, which is extremely active, from guns firing to the Air Force F-15 fighters scrambling 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 a half weeks – a rush job. The original score by Randy Newman was rejected by Petersen.

BEFORE “Air Force One,” the likable and convincing Harrison Ford had been the king of the action flick for two decades. He played everything from outer space smuggler to archaeologist to CIA agent, lawyer and doctor, before he portrayed the Commander and Chief in Petersen’s big-budget thriller.

The premise is pure Hollywood: After Russian neo-nationalists hijack the presidential 747 jet and demand the release of a military general, only President (and Vietnam Medal of Honor winner) Marshall can save the day. His wife 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.

Gary Oldman is at his evil best playing terrorist leader Ivan Korshunov, who poses as a Russian TV journalist. The terrorist ringleader 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.

(1) Glenn Close as Vice President Kathryn Bennet. (2-5) Korshunov threatens to kill the First Lady and a hostage every 30 minutes as he communicates the message to the Vice President. (6) President Marshall plots his next move. (7) The president’s daughter tells Korshunov, “My father is a great man.” (8&9) President Marshall is finally discovered by one of Korshunov’s men.


The commentary included on the Blu-ray and on the previous 4K disc was recorded 25 years ago for its original DVD release. It’s informative and funny as 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,” Petersen says. 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 a replica of the presidential plane. 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.

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.

If you already have “Air Force One” in your 4K collection and don’t have Dolby Vision in viewing setup you’re good, but for first-timers and steelbook collectors, it’s a no-brainer – especially if you view your movies in Dolby Vision.

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1) The composite effect shots have less sharpness as the U.S. Air Force fuel tanker explodes. (2) Ivan Korshunov threatens to kill President Marshall’s family unless he calls the Russian President and has General Ivan Radek the dictator of rogue terrorists in Kazakhstan released from prison. (3) German actor Jürgen Prochnow plays Gen. Radek. (4) Most of the flying shots are a combination of real imagery, inter-cut with models, and computer-generated effects. (5) Military personal rescue the First Family. (6&7) Welcome aboard Mr. President.


1 Comment

Mar 09, 2023

Refreshingly honest review. The first 4K release received rave reviews, and if this was my first purchase it would be day one. No doubt it IS slightly better, as Dolby Vision rules. But considering what you went through to see that difference no double dip for me….but I think the grain improvement might really stand out. I love this movie, but the dated special effects at the end (of the 747) really don’t hold up. That’s here nor there.

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