Cameron Crowe leads Bradley Cooper and others in a romantic dud

The takeaway of Aloha is contrasting elements. Below is untouched, traditional Hawaii. Above is a privatization of space – if someone cannot own the mountains, they will own the literal space over them.

Aloha is a happy, often chipper film, with the identifiable warm coat of Cameron Crowe. However it is also leery, ferociously so, about modern space exploration. Again with the contrasting elements.

Bradley Cooper is the go-between, a military contractor lured away by the checks written by a flamboyant billionaire, played by Bill Murray. If anyone deserves to be a billionaire – even if it is fictional – it’s Bill Murray. A prevailing sense of uneasiness inhibits this low key story, which appears to exist as a commentary as much as it does to feature good looking people in good looking locations.

Astounding as it is photographed (although making Hawaii ugly would be an alarming case of missed potential), Aloha appears to be developed to confuse. Scenes feel missing even though exposition is out in force. Cooper’s Brian Gilcrest spies on himself so we as an audience can learn about… himself. Weird.

The central romance is a bouncy one. Low key housewife Rachel McAdams and perky military watch dog Emma Stone vie for Gilcrest’s attention, McAdams holding the benefit of some relationship history with Cooper. Then Aloha interrupts the smooching for rockets and missiles, owned by the private sector. Boom, boom. Explosions in space. Maybe they’re meant to be metaphorical, either in reference to the expectantly faltering romance – dead center at the hour mark, on cue for the genre – or the film itself.

Probably the film itself.

Aloha carried controversy into release, the film using Hawaii without any native Hawaiians in the main cast. It superficially makes Stone “one quarter Hawaiian.” That doesn’t help. Even still, the land being used as a backdrop for this ultimately crummy militaristic romance saga is arguably the greater offense, if no excuse for ignoring the culture.

Hawaii is saved because Bradley Cooper has a crush. What luck.

Maybe scenes were cut. Developments concerning the side of the satellites feel too punctual or truncated. Cooper is less employed than he is fumbling around in relationship gray areas. Either way, Aloha uses space as an unclear narrative wrapping. Plot devices are skimpy and characters more so (often reduced to being defined by their quirks), crushing Crowe’s position on modern space travel to the needs of one man’s five day fling. Hawaii is saved because Bradley Cooper has a crush. What luck.

Even that aside, what a strange place for a developing romance, against a backdrop of unregulated militarization. Maybe the contemporary romantic comedy has finally extinguished itself of ideas. If the current form of the genre ended here, few would mourn its passing, only how it went out in flames.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

McAdams defined @ 1:08:51

Crowe continues to shoot on film exclusively, giving his feature a beautiful grain structure. Sony’s Blu-ray encode is capable enough to resolve the source. Compression artifacts are nill.

Behind the grain is a well detailed, heavily lit movie which milks the natural Hawaiian sunlight. Much of Aloha carries a touch of haze. Rarely does it blot out fine detail. Some of the cinematography naturally veers soft. That will have an impact, although it remains a pleasing one. Sharply defined fidelity is not far off.

Highlights are not close-ups but the astonishing firmness of the locales. In forested areas, from above, in towns; whatever the situation may be, it will be flawless. This vision of Hawaii ranks highly among films shot there. The level of contrast and heft of the color saturation – skewing warm – are beautiful when they come together. That’s often.

At nightfall, black levels can show off. Depth is wonderful and crush is avoided. Sony appears to have corrected their issues which made the earlier part of 2015 a concern with Fury and The Interview. Aloha is a fine return to form.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Until the final act, Aloha is barely supported by its audio. Light ambiance inside a cockpit and some wildlife chirping in the rears fills the soundstage. Some music is lively too. Directionality is rare, reserved for a car door closing off camera and little else.

Things turn frisky in space, rumbling in the low-end as engines fire up or when an explosion is needed. It’s nothing booming, but leaves an imprint in an otherwise dry audio mix. Surrounds carry a little weight as well while some signals are sent to the satellite.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Cameron Crowe spends a lot of time with his work beginning with a commentary track, continuing to speak over the alternate opening/ending, and 11 more minutes of deleted scenes. The major bonus is Untitled Hawaii Project, an 83-minute documentary following the production which while a little long, is better than the film itself. Nothing else on the disc will compare.

For instance, The Awe of Space which has Crowe narrating footage of ’60s era NASA and wishing for its return. At three minutes, there is nothing to be excited over. Uncle Bumpy is an extended scene which got away from the other deleted ones. Mitchell’s Film is a collection of footage shot on set, and a fairly long six minute gag reel is fun. Music is Everything is at least interesting, diving into the culture of Hawaii from the side of its distinctive rhythms. A photo gallery is left.

Extras ★★★★☆ 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.