Olympus Has Fallen was one of two attempts to tell pretty much the exact same story this year, the other being White House Down, turning it into a kind of battle of who could put together the better film involving terrorists taking over the White House and taking the president as a hostage. While this was the first of the two that came out, I actually saw the latter first, and while it had its fair share of problems, I found it hard to lower the hammer down on it completely. Having seen both now, I can even easily say that it did a much better job of conveying the story for some very obvious reasons. However, before we delve into all of that, let’s take a somewhat closer look at what we’re dealing with in terms of plot.
Olympus Has Fallen begins with the tragic death of President Asher’s wife while on their way to an event near Camp David. Several months later, we find the man who was in charge of the Secret Service at the time, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), now working in The Treasury, while the President (Aaron Eckhart) carries on the best he can with his son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). An important meeting is to take place between the President and the Prime Minister of South Korea, but shortly after it begins, an unknown plane flies into D.C. airspace and begins attacking, causing all attendees of the meeting to be swept into the bunker for their own safety.
Even after the plane is shot down, the attack continues as armed assailants open fire on the white house. It is revealed that a member of the Prime Minister’s party is actually a wanted terrorist by the name of Kang (Rick Yune), who demands that US troops be pulled out of the Korean DMZ. While waiting for this demand to be fulfilled, he also attempts to retrieve the codes to a top secret program called “Cerberus,” which acts as a safeguard for nuclear launches. Upon the very start of the attack, Mike threw himself into the line of fire, eventually slipping into the white house where he suddenly finds himself the only chance the President and his staff have of getting out alive.
As you can see, on the surface it’s pretty much the same story. However, the key differences in tone are what end up making all the difference in the overall impact. For White House Down, director Roland Emmerich quickly realized the silliness of the material and didn’t even attempt to hide it. He saw how ludicrous such events were and ergo appropriately sprinkled humor throughout the story, which not only helped it be self-referential in its absurdity, but also helped keep the film from collapsing completely by keeping the audience entertained.
For Olympus Has Fallen, director Antoine Fuqua has opted to make this the “serious version” of these events by leaving out the humor and instead trying to make it as realistic as possible, at least, according to the “experts” he acquired for background research. Unfortunately, he didn’t notice, as Emmerich had, that this kind of take on this material just doesn’t work because the absurdity is all too apparent. As you can probably imagine, as it did before, believability becomes a major factor in trying to play this material off convincingly.
For starters, we’re to believe that the White House could be taken this incredibly easily, that an unknown plane flying into D.C. airspace wouldn’t have hundreds of jets swarming it within seconds to take it down, that the security at the white house is so dumb that they’ll come flying out the wide open door where their comrades have been shot seconds before. One of the biggest insults on the audience’s intelligence has them trying to convince us that it takes 15 minutes for the armed forces to get to the white house. Tanks, maybe. Troops, what’s the holdup?
One of the funnier parts of its streak of unbelievability actually seemed like a correction to a glaring error in White House Down. In that film, the main plot had terrorists trying to activate nukes using the President’s authorization codes, when in reality the codes would have been cancelled the second the President was believed to be killed. Here, they realize this fact, and yet “Cerberus” still allows for the nukes to be activated, but, shockingly, there’s no way to deactivate the codes. Their attempt to cover up this loophole merely comes off as desperate and half-baked.
What it all comes down to is the hurdle that even White House Down couldn’t overcome, that being that these films can’t help being what they are: big, dumb actions films. You can try to make it serious, you can try it dress it up with an impressive cast (Aaron Eckhart, Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, etc.), but that hurdle is one that these films just can’t get over. Given the premise, I suppose you could consider it amazing that anyone even tried in the first place.
Now let’s take a look at the specs. The film is presented in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of very high quality. This being a special effects-based film, clarity can be a concern, but even the scenes that take place in nearly-complete darkness are clear and sharp. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also top-notch. Every explosion and gunshot comes through loud and clear, so there’s no need to worry about missing a single one.
Special features on the disc include the following:
- Under Surveillance: The Making of Olympus Has Fallen
- Creating the Action: Special Effects & Design
- The Epic Ensemble
- Deconstructing the Black Hawk Sequence
- Ground Combat: Fighting the Terrorists
For the most part, these are short featurettes that take you through the making of the film, with major focuses on all of the CGI work that went into it. It’s rather amusing to hear that Fuqua didn’t see this as a special effects-driven film, while at the same time, we’re seeing that the film was packed with them given that they had to recreate the white house and surrounding areas digitally for several of the shots. These aren’t terrible special features, but they really only scratch the surface on the making of the film. I guess there just wasn’t a whole lot to say about how a film like this got made. It basically boils down to “We blew stuff up and did the other half with a computer.”
If for some reason you still find yourself wanting to try one of these two attempts at telling the same story, I would hope you realize which direction you should be heading by now. While neither of them fully hit the mark, at least one of the filmmakers realized just what kind of material they were dealing with. Unfortunately, Fuqua took a different path with Olympus Has Fallen and ended up with an action film just like any other. The idea may have been original at the time, but an explosion is still just an explosion. Without anything more behind it, its destiny of obscurity was sealed long before cameras started rolling.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.