Altitude is confined to a single location, at least once into the air. It’s a small two-engine plane, housing five people crammed inside with little breathing room. It’s hard to keep something like that visually interesting, the possibility of repetition dangerously high.
Kaare Andrews first feature-length effort deserves some credit for coming up with some dizzying angles to keep this interesting, spinning and twisting the camera, at one point a full 90 degrees, before bringing it (and the audience) upright. It works too, not just to keep this exciting to look at, but disorient the viewer, creating the sensation they are with this small crew. Dramamine just isn’t enough these days.
Visually unique as it may be (and quite technical for such a small film), Altitude’s narrative is awfully familiar. Take Michael Crichton’s Sphere, move it out of the water into the sky, and this movie happens. It’s far too close to home, the brief opening sequence a tell-tale sign of what is going to occur, lessening all of the shocks to come.
A lot rides on Altitude’s ending too, which doesn’t work when you have it figured out. For all of the tension derived from the plane going awry, instruments failing, and pretty far-fetched fix on the tail of the vehicle, there is not much else to go on. The actors, led by an excellent Jessica Lowndes, fit the high school stereotypes dead on… except they are in college (or just leaving it).
Creating a legitimate thriller forces you to rely on the emotional impact, the fear that your favorite character might not make it, and the drunken jerk gets his comeuppance worse than anyone else. That’s not the case here, the characters far too thinly developed, and in the end, you’re rooting for the tentacled monstrosity that shows up towards the end, oddly enough which is exactly what happened in Sphere. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Movie]
Altitude opens in flashback, the scene given an exaggerated contrast, some bloom, and slightly elevated colors. Pushing into current day, that all disappears, replaced by incredibly cold blues and somewhat garish orange flesh tones. The contrast is hefty too, leading to some harsh high contrast edges. Despite the quirks, detail is evident, helped by the generally high sharpness.
Most of this stays the same for a bit inside the plane, this AVC encode resolving some excellent facial detail in close, and taking on the grain structure full bore. It’s looks like film, a fairly heavily grained stock at that, with no issues from the start. Some exteriors are wonderful too, one at 19:02 over a small hillside full of trees that is quite beautiful.
Once into the storm clouds, things change. In fact, things change quite a bit, the black levels barely holding onto a smidgen of depth, and some banding visible in numerous exterior shots, the first at 26:15 (right side of the screen). In close, the facial detail holds, increasingly so as the stress levels rise and sweat begins pouring off the actor’s faces. There are moments of grain spikes that obscure that otherwise crisp detail, Jessica Lowndes overwhelmed by noise at 56:09. Noise is inconsistent, although definitely there in part, likely an issue with the special effects constantly in view outside of the windows.
It’s not the end of the world. The film stock still renders enough detail to be pleasing to the eye, and the encode typically holds on where it needs too. Nothing seems to be technically wrong here, the mass of low-budget effects (likely the cause of the banding, not the encode) and limited lighting doing nothing to help the eye candy here. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]
Altitude hits the subwoofer hard from the start, establishing some dread right as the opening titles hit with a powerful thud from the score. A couple of moments during the film do the same, the plane’s engines resonating on the low-end, while a stream of thunder is evident throughout most of the film, producing a slight bump each time.
The monster’s roar is more a squeal, but it is an effective squeal. It appears where and when it wants to, catching a specific channel dependent on where it’s supposed to be. There is a great example of this at 56:30. Most of the channels are regularly pulling their own weight, the storm outside sending a stream of rain down on the plane, and the engines are nicely placed as well.
Action scenes are aggressive, an attempted fix to the tail carrying plenty of surround work and split stereos. It’s easily the film’s most impressive aural moment. Regardless of the action, dialogue is always firm in the center, easily heard over anything. It may actually hinder the realism slightly, the rush of air, precipitation, and thunder doing nothing to dilute conversations in some extreme scenarios. So be it. It’s more important to hear what is being said anyway. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
A solo commentary from director Kaare Andrews is the first extra, followed by a 49-minute making-of that carries its weight, if coming off a little too promotional. Green Storm looks at the mountain of visual effects shots while a commentary explains how they were handled. An extensive concept gallery is followed by the trailer. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]
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