Plot: What’s it about?
Some thirty years ago, a group of rugby players were crossing the Andes to play in Chile. Little did they know what lay ahead of them. Based on the book by Pierce Paul Read, Alive will be instantly recognizable as the movie “where they ate each other”. Released back in 1993, the cover art is a bit misleading as it proudly exclaims “30th Anniversary Edition”. Well, this is true and it’s not. It’s the thirtieth anniversary of the actual event (it took place in 1972), but only the 9th Anniversary of the film. Still, all pettiness aside, it’s one of my favorite movies. Alive wastes no time in building the plot, it focuses on the main group of people “the survivors” obviously and the excitement and tension build from there. Showing the sheer desire to survive of the human spirit, I can’t think of many other movies that are this suspenseful. The cast isn’t as star-studded as most, featuring Ethan Hawke (who, at the time, was essentially known for his role in Dead Poets Society) at the helm.
As the story opens, we find the members of the rugby team on the way across the Andes to Chile. Some text states this as well as if wanting to get directly to the action. Entering a storm, the plane is disoriented and crashes into a mountain, killing half of the passengers instantly. The story of Alive focuses on those who lived. Those who survived the crash are under the impression that there will be help on the way, but the phrase “needle in a haystack” starts to enter their minds. As the weaker and more injured start to die off, the food supply runs short. The group faces one way out or else die on the mountain like their fallen comrades. This is, of course, resorting to cannibalism. As an un-credited John Malkovich states in the opening scene, “you can’t picture yourself in that position until it happens…”. We see the group bond, try to escape and eventually turn to eating the deceased to try and stay alive.
Working with a minimal budget and relatively unknown cast, Frank Marshall has put together a film that really intrigues me. This proves that a story can still steal the show without any fancy CGI effects or $20 million dollar actors. Rather, this shows the struggle of the human spirit in a time of crisis and how different people deal with the same situation. Alive, for what it’s worth, tells this and illustrates the point precisely. Naturally, if you’ve read the book, you know what happens at the end, but it’s almost anti-climatic. For we get so involved in the lives of the survivors that the end, though it has to come, isn’t welcome. Personally, I’ve been waiting for this on DVD for some time now and its finally here. I can’t recommend this disc enough and can see repeated viewings in my immediate future.
Video: How does it look?
Whoever does the cover art for Disney should be fired. Most all of their titles do state the approximate aspect ratio (1.85:1) in this case; and if the disc is anamorphic it usually says “Enhanced for 16 x 9 Televisions”. Alive makes no such statement on the box as it just says “Widescreen (1.85:1)”. Now this might not make a bit of difference to some, but to buy or not to buy a disc based on anamorphic enhancement is something that has affected my decision-making process several times in the past. Let me tell you that the image is indeed anamorphic! The transfer used here is good, but I’ve seen plenty of movies from this time period (less than ten years old) look a lot better. Some artifacts do plague the opening titles and as you might expect, the color palette is very washed out (a lot of snow in the Andes mountains). Flesh tones do vary as well, as the characters get sunburned throughout the movie. While these complaints seem minor, they will be; as with a movie this good will have the audience lost in the plot. It’s not a superb transfer, but then again it’s not bad either.
Audio: How does it sound?
Again with the box stuff…labeled on the box is “Dolby Digital Surround Sound”. Now that could mean a whole slew of things, but there is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the disc! The track, admittedly, doesn’t have many chances to shine. The opening scene with the plane crash sounds good, but is overshadowed by many of today’s soundtracks. I seem to remember that it won “Best Action Sequence” at the then cool MTV movie awards. Dialogue is clear and the depth of the track is felt in only a few situations. While there’s not a lot here to praise, there’s not a lot to whine about either. This serves its purpose here, plain and simple.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Containing a few supplements, Alive has not received the treatment I feel it deserves (but who said life was fair). Director Frank Marshall took time out to create a new introduction for the movie, and he seems to really admire it…so why couldn’t he take a few more hours and record a commentary? In any case, the introduction is heartfelt and leads us nicely into the film. A documentary entitled “Alive: 20 years later” is obviously dated since the box touts the “30th Anniversary Edition”, but it runs almost an hour and has interviews with the real life survivors of the plane crash. Shorter is the “Return to the Andes” segment that only runs 8 minutes. While these are interesting I could have used more; but for folks who have never seen the film, this is the way to see it. I recommend it.