I have to bite my tongue here. I love it anytime a low-budget movie gets made, because it's an accomplishment, even though a large number of them are terrible. And anytime a director, in this case Kaare Andrews, can make a film look and sound this good for only a few million dollars, I have the utmost respect for him or her. Unfortunately, the script is holier than Christ. Meaning there are holes in it, not prayers; Altitude doesn't have a prayer, just a grudge against physics and sensible storytelling. Even with "science fiction" as cause for benefit of the doubt, this is bullshit.
Altitude wears its influences on its sleeve, or in this case, its wing cover. There's a bit of Lovecraft hidden in the clouds, The Twilight Zone inspires all of the surreal "twists," and both are handled with enough skill to save them from the chopping block. Unfortunately, the "group of emotionally retarded young people in survivor mode" genre that informs every other second is interpreted the same way as any other film, and I abhor those kinds of movies. I don't recall teenagers having much place in classic horrors on television or in the theater. They sure don't belong here.
It begins with a female pilot flying a couple and their son through the air. After a few seconds of odd behavior from the boy, another plane cuts through the air and smashes into them. It almost isn't worth mentioning, since its reappearance is spoiler-heavy, but suffice to say, the pilot's daughter is our main character here.
Sara (Jessica Lowndes), Bruce (Landon Liboiron), Cory (Ryan Donowho), Sal (Jake Weary), and Mel (Julianna Guill) are all pumped about a Coldplay concert that Sara is flying them to, thanks to her newly acquired pilot's license. She and Bruce are a couple, though it's hard to see why, since she's hot and he's a twerp with a fear of flying. Whiny Mel and aggro-man Sal are also a couple. Cory might be a fifth wheel, or might factor into someone else's relationship. It doesn't affect the story much.
Hold on to your hats, because the thought-provoking mechanics of Altitude are about to blow your mind. Upon taking off, a screw loosens somewhere in the plane. Later, the screw comes out completely and falls against the one part of the plane that controls steering and speed, which means our airborne imbeciles (Coldplay fans) are constantly climbing in...altitude. Soon, normal cloud cover and Earthy skies are left behind as the plane heads into a purple and black stormy abyss, where screeches and squeals echo all around. If you think this is where things get interesting, save that for another movie.
Let me break things down to exemplify the thought process behind Altitude. As the plane stalls out, Sara calls for knowledge from the manual about the plane's weight, and the weight limit it can handle, the difference between which is around 1,500 pounds. With 1,000 pounds of fuel (which she says will only give them another hour in the air), luggage and passengers combined, the added weight comes out to 1,800 pounds. Characters then throw things like a guitar and other light luggage from the plane, as if this will accomplish anything. Let's go back though. The plane has six or seven seats, and a full tank of gas would presumably weigh quite a bit more than 1,000 pounds. So what kind of anorexic children were meant to be riding on this plane? Who fucks up this kind of simple mathematics and attempts to draw conflict out of it?
This is only one of a handful of blatantly incorrect sequences. There's another where Sal puts Bruce in a sleeper hold, and Bruce is asleep for about a half hour. Are things like this really going to stick out so much that it pulls you out of the movie? Absolutely, because anything that does not involve the tentacled creature outside the plane is completely unrealistic and succeeds in nothing. How can a movie involve a scene, such as one where a character overdoses and is revived less than five minutes after even ingesting pills, that is less realistic than a gigantic flying fucking monster from a netherworld? I suppose all of the plane mechanics that go wrong can be chalked up to them flying in an altered universe or something, but that doesn't explain all the shit dialogue and overreacting. Also, characters are randomly covered in sweat, even when they're supposed to be really cold.
So yeah, some characters die, and some really ridiculous shit happens before the credits finally roll. The good parts of the fiction of this film aren't worth a mention. It's like saying someone dying is good because you get to see family at the funeral. So forget all that. The only thing to take away from Altitude is the obvious talent of director Andrews, previously known for short films and writing for Marvel Comics. Using a limited set and loads of visual effects, Andrews surrounds these so-so actors with atmosphere and decent camera work. As fake as some of the exterior shots of the plane look, they're still very interesting looking. It is because of him that certain scenes are exciting, not because of what the story is presenting. I'll stand in a short line for his next feature, so long as it isn't Alti2de: Even Higher, or something similar. Stay grounded and avoid this one, unless you've got a group of MST3K fans who enjoy ripping movies to shreds.
As this is a Blu-ray release, the video and audio are spot on. The grain of the 35 mm is always present, adding a shade of warmth to the movie, even though all of the actors are well lit and made-up throughout. The sound mix also sounds great, as almost no time is spent on quiet dialogue. I wish what I was hearing mattered more.
The feature commentary with director Kaare Andrews is as enjoyable as I thought it would be. Andrews is an intelligent guy, and will direct some meaningful films in the future. It was nice that he didn't pretend this was an amazing movie. He was proud of his work, plain and simple. I can live with that.
There's the 50-minute "Altitude: Behind the Scenes," which takes you from concept to visual effects. Andrews, with writer Paul A. Birkett and producer Ian Birkett, do their best to sell this film as having some kind of important subtext. The actors talk about the challenges of a small set and aren't annoying in doing so; you can't blame them for screaming too much in the film when the script asks them to scream too much. You get to see the green-screen-centered set with the broken plane they used, and many of the action sequences are shown. Quite impressive for only three weeks of shooting. The third part has a lot of people sitting at computers, but is more interesting than that.
Andrews takes viewers inside the magic (as it were) for "Green Screen," a feature that displays 10 minutes of scenes without any computer effects as Andrews commentates on how things were accomplished. I'll admit that while the outside sky and certain exterior shots were fake looking, there were other things inside the plane that I had no idea were added in post-production. It's an intriguing extra, all in all. Lastly, besides a trailer, there's the "Original Concepts Gallery," which has loads of storyboards and concept drawings that Andrews did for the film. The single pictures are more interesting than the storyboards.
While my copy is collecting dust, maybe you'll find it in yourself to watch anything but this movie in the next few years. Maybe after Kaare Andrews wins awards in later years, and you want to find out just how far he's gone, then you can watch it. But until then, Loose Change is a similarly realistic film about planes that you can watch, because at least that one draws out some kind of emotion.
Reviewed By: Nick Venable
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