Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta star in Ladder 49, "a smouldering slagheap of a movie" following the lives of Baltimore firefighters. Echoes of 9/11 prompted mixed reviews, but those who slated the film also made mention of its tedious storyline. Audiences were similarly divided with Americans turning out in fairly large numbers and British moviegoers hardly giving it a look.
Three featurettes throw some light on the making of Ladder 49, but they all feel hurriedly cobbled together. Fire Academy provides an introduction to fireman's boot camp, which the actors recall with little fondness. They're particularly "freaked out" by The Maze, a claustrophobic box that's almost impossible to escape because of zero visibility. Travolta reveals that, "It's not something I would ever want to do again." But sadly we don't get to see him experience full mental meltdown. Elsewhere a bitty breakdown of the warehouse fire sequence comes under the rather misleading heading Anatomy Of A Scene. Other than exposing a set rigged with hydraulics and notes on sound effects, there's not much to it.
On Location affords a few glimpses of behind-the-scenes action, otherwise it's mostly made up of talking heads. Travolta maintains that, "To me, it's about capturing the humanity of the firefighter," while director Jay Russell talks about wanting to "strip away the bologna and make it real". Unfortunately it's difficult to take either man seriously when the firefighters in the story are portrayed as simple-minded saints.
Putting the focus on real-life firemen is Everyday Heroes. It's a worthy tribute but don't expect any searing insights into the psychology of a firefighter. Like the film, it avoids the machismo that often goes with the job in favour of glorifying its subject.
The Hot Topic
Five deleted scenes offer more banal moments from the life of Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix), including his first date with Linda (Jacinda Barrett) and a flimsy subplot involving buddy Ray (Balthazar Getty) and his efforts to beat alcoholism. Most grating of all is a scene that directly - and very inadequately - addresses the tragedy of 9/11.
It's a matter that Jay Russell also mentions in his feature commentary. "Because of all the emotion involved with 9/11, I wasn't sure how I felt about making this film," he says. Apparently the story was originally set in New York, but Russell felt that relocating it to Baltimore would make it less of an issue. Judging by reaction to the film, he was badly mistaken. Still, if you can get past Russell's lack of credibility, there are a few interesting technical notes. The same applies for this DVD as a whole; whatever you felt about the movie first time around, this batch of extras will only add more fuel to that fire.