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Ladder 49
DVD disk
Mar 10, 2005 By: Quigles
Ladder 49 order
Director:
Jay Russell

Actors:
Joaquin Phoenix
John Travolta
Jacinda Barrett

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Inexperienced rookie fireman Jack Morrison (Phoenix) has just joined the Baltimore fire station, and with the help of his captain, Mike Kennedy (Travolta), he matures into a seasoned veteran. Through this process we learn of his life outside of firefighting, where he becomes a loving father and husband. But when things get out of hand, and Morrison gets trapped inside a burning building, its up to him and his fellow firefighting team to find a way out alive.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
LADDER 49 starts out on the right note, hooking us line-and-sinker by bringing the fire right to our doorstep within seconds. Its a great opening scene, and really gives you high hopes for the rest of the movie. Unfortunately though, the result isnt as great as it should be. Thats not to say it isnt a good movie, but rather a flawed one. While continuing to watch, we realize that the first ten minutes actually explain the entire movies plot set-up. Its basically one big action scene where Morrison is trapped inside a building, and interspersed between it is a series of flashbacks reflecting on his life and some of his previous firefights. This idea may sound cool on paper, but the effect actually makes time feel like its zooming by way too fast. Before we know it, hes already married and has kids, when it actually feels like hes only been on two dates. The outcome is a movie with awesome firefight sequences, plenty of character development scenes with Phoenix (which somehow feel underdeveloped), and a strong message (which well get to later). One redeeming aspect to the development issues is Phoenix, who really helps the audience connect with the good-hearted and life-saving Jack Morrison.

For the most part, the movie is intensely entertaining. All the firefights are directed with care and style, and they create a sense that makes the viewers feel as though theyre in the situations presented as well. That said, theres a crucial element left out of the mix: all the costars are barely explored. We learn hardly anything about them, and what remains is a lack of feeling for them when their lives are at stake. In fact, most of the scenes with them (outside of fighting fires) consist of playing pranks, ragging on each other, and doing a lot of drinking (and Im talking a LOT). These scenes are as old, clich, and predictable as the majority of the other flashback scenes. Its the most basic outline a movie like this could follow; they start out by messing with the rookie, and then he makes some friends, meets a girl, gets married, has kids, and then reminisces on his what he has to lose in his life. The structure of it may be boring and expected, but fortunately the acting and direction is strong enough to prevent from it getting overly sappy. Then again, the main idea driving this movie is honoring firemen, so I guess it has good reason to let your emotions run high (or at least try to). *Semi-Spoilers Ahead* With that in mind, I think its vital to take note of how quick and unpleasant the film finishes. Instead of a feeling of sadness, I felt more confusion as I sat there going, Wait, what happened? Thats it? What the hell! Im not bashing the ending itself, which certainly did a good job of portraying the movies theme, but the way it was delivered could have been better.
THE EXTRAS
A surprisingly great collection of special features are here for your viewing pleasure. Almost all of them are worth a look, so be sure to check them out. In the case of these extras, its quality and not quantity.

Commentary (Featuring director Jay Russell and editor Bud Smith): There are only two problems with this: theres a lot of long pauses, and their voices are kind of annoying. Other than that, this is a must listen for big fans of the flick. They go in depth and explain plenty of interesting stories and details.

The Making of Ladder 49 (21:09): Three featurettes are presented with a play-all feature, including On Location (5:25), Fire Academy (7:11), and Anatomy of a Scene (8:33). They go through various aspects of the movies process including being on the set, the training the actors endured, and showing how they made one of the larger movie scenes. They give some interesting facts and let you take a look at what they went through. I have to say I appreciated the movie a lot more after watching this.

Everyday Heroes (13:38): A strong salute and tribute to firemen that perfectly complements this movie. There are stories, interviews, and various histories discussed by different real-life firefighters. Check it out.

5 Deleted Scenes (13:59): The scenes average to about 3 minutes each, and theyre not bad at all. It makes sense why they were cut, but theyre still worth watching (some of them are very interesting and show minor subplots).

These extras are rounded off with a Robbie Robertson Shine Your Light Music Video and a bunch of Trailer Previews for movies and TV shows.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Despite being predictable and melodramatic, theres enough about this movie that easily makes it worth a rental. Theres an important message in it, plus the firefighting sequences are kick-ass. Overall, the entertainment level ranks pretty high, so many action-fans should be pleased with it. Thats not to say there wasnt room for improvement, especially concerning the side characters and ending. Thankfully though, the special features on the disc boost the movie up a bit, and assist in placing this on the rent now list.
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