Every once in a while a release comes along that shatters my expectations. I mistakenly assumed the aviation documentary 'One Six Right' would be a techno-babble examination of flight that would only appeal to pilots and hobbyists. Instead, it's a look at the history and challenges of Southern California's Van Nuys Airport, one of the busiest airports in the U.S. today.
Never heard of Van Nuys Airport? Neither had I, but Amelia Earhart flew its skies, 'Casablanca' was shot on its runways, and Marilyn Monroe was discovered in its hangars. And despite the fact that no commercial airlines currently use its services, the airport handles a half million smaller aircraft takeoffs and landings per year.
But as popular as it is, like many local airports, Van Nuys faces a series of challenges unique to general aviation airports in the 21st century. Facing community backlash and struggling to remain relevant in a world of Jet Blue, more and more small airports are closing each year -- and now, even Van Nuys is feeling the looming strain themselves.
After a fascinating look at the history of the airport, the documentary shifts gears and explores the modern challenges of the aviation industry. The film includes plenty of famous faces, but it's the unknown participants that add real passion to this documentary. Historians, veterans, pilots, and tower controllers are the ones who demonstrate the real "romance of flying" and their presence adds a significant weight to the film.
But while 'One Six Right' opened my eyes to a whole new world I'd never considered, ultimately its short runtime (76 minutes) and limited focus left me a bit wanting. While one of the film's most powerful themes is the local backlash against Van Nuys, no members of the community are interviewed to provide any perspective. Nor does the film touch on the after-effects of September 11th on general aviation airports like this one.
To be fair, neither of these aspects appear to fit into the filmmakers intentions. Instead, their aim seems to increase public education on general aviation and they certainly accomplish this goal three times over.
All things considered, I'm glad I was asked to review 'One Six Right' because I doubt I would've seen it otherwise. A rare glimpse into a world that many of us don't give a seconds thought, 'One Six Right' is an eye-opening and often fascinating documentary that's well worth your time.
Presented in 1080p using the MPEG-2 codec, 'One Six Right' boasts a very impressive three dimensional picture. Shot mostly in High-Definition, planes and clouds pop against the bright skies and color fidelity is outstanding. It's also great to see naturally warm skintones with soft shadowing bringing a welcome level of depth to the interviews. The details are sharp, background elements are crisp, and textures are clearly rendered. Documentaries have a tendency to look flat and washed out, but 'One Six Right' is the polar opposite. To be honest, I wasn't expecting the transfer on this independent HD DVD release to be as impressive as it is. Compared to the standard DVD (which is softer and blockier), this high-def release is astounding.
I did catch some minor instances of light artifacting, but it only occurred three times and each moment only lasted a few seconds (watch for moments when a plane peaks near the harsh light of the sun to catch the noise). There was also a bit of haloing around occasional planes and the entire documentary had slightly inconsistent contrast levels. That being said, the picture is still wonderful and aviation fans in particular will be enthralled by the visuals.
This HD DVD release features a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround mix (1.5 Mbps) that's almost identical to the track on the standard DVD. Technically, there aren't any problems -- voices are stable, airplane engines sound realistic, and the narration is smooth and languid. The music even adds some layering to the soundfield while showcasing sharp-sounding piano and guitar. Channel movement is subtle and the documentary creates a convincing soundscape for its planes to inhabit.
The only downside is that dynamics tend to be limited by the scope of the documentary and the film ends up centering on participant narration rather than the flying itself. Since a large part of the film focuses on the history of the airport itself, the beginning and end are the only scenes that really bring every speaker to life. Still, there isn't much to complain about technically -- the mix handles its material well.
Kicking off the supplements ported over from the standard-def DVD, this HD DVD edition of 'One Six Right' includes four aviation footage montages set to music. "Childhood Dreams" (3 minutes) has fly-by shots, "Flight" (5 minutes) includes in-flight footage of planes, "Joyride II" (1 minute) features a stunt plane, and "They Call Em Clouds" (3 minutes) is a dry, literal exercise in staring at the sky.
A deleted segment called "Old Helmet and Goggles" (2 minutes) features an interview with retired pilot Ben Harper. I'm not sure why this wasn't included in the documentary itself, but it's worth a quick watch.
Rounding out the package is an all-too-brief collection of additional "Deleted Scenes" (4 minutes) that are mildly repetitive, a series of "Historical Photographs" (3 minutes), and a set of "Production Shots" (8 minutes).
Each of the above segments are presented in 480i/p.
(Note that a second standard-def DVD entitled 'One Six Left -- The Companion DVD' was released following the original DVD release of 'One Six Right.' That disc boasts several additional features not included on this HD DVD release, including a featurette documenting the six years it took to bring 'One Six Right' to its release, a continuous shot of a plane from take off to landing, and a featurette on composer Nathan Wang's music studio.)
'One Six Right' took me by surprise. I assumed it would only be of interest a narrow band of aviation buffs, but instead, it's a solid documentary about a thriving airport that's survived a number of societal changes over the decades. The supplements are on the light side and the sound package is simply above average, but the video transfer on this disc is simply spectacular. Regardless of whether you're an aviation fans or not, this one's certainly worth checking out.