Anniversary Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca DeMornay, Donald Sutherland, Robert De Niro
Director: Ron Howard
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: September 19, 2006

“How do we know if the floor’s gonna be on fire on one of these?”

“Well, when the doors open, if it’s hot…don’t get out!”

Film ***1/2

When it comes to movies about firefighters, no other film can measure to Ron Howard’s technical marvel, Backdraft. I remember seeing the film not long after it came out in theaters. As a young teen, I was blown away by the visual pyrotechnics, which pretty much help place the viewer in the middle of the fire. Now that I’ve seen it years later, it still stands as an amazing film experience.

The film, I think, was a revealing breakthrough for Ron Howard. Until this point in his career, Howard had mainly specialized in comedies and dramas. He had done nothing close to a special effects-driven thriller. The switching of gears resulted in one of the best films of the director’s career.

The movie has two parts to it. One part involves the intense rivalry of two brothers in a Chicago firehouse. The other is a murder mystery surrounding a series of killings by fire that might be the work of a serial arsonist. Both stories are given the right level of attention and never overshadow one another.

At the heart of the story is Brain McCaffery (William Baldwin), who is about to become a fireman after going from countless dead end jobs, as well as dropping out the first time around. As he puts it, it’s in the family blood. But Brian’s determination to make a difference is to be sorely challenged by his new boss, older brother Stephen (Kurt Russell).

The two brothers have been pretty much estranged ever since a fire claimed the life of their father 20 years ago, something that young Brian witnessed. Though he’s put the past behind him, it’s Stephen who is still at odds with him. On just about every job they go to, Brian never seems to get his brother’s approval as a true fireman.

So when he is offered a job to work alongside Fire Inspector Rimgale (Robert De Niro), he accepts it. The job offer comes directly from a city Alderman (J.T. Walsh), who isn’t too popular with the fire department since he’s cut their budget extremely low. At any rate, Brain helps Rimgale solve the series of related deaths by fire, which he a believes is the work of a serial arsonist. The technique is that of a “backdraft”, which can kill its victims right on the spot.

The real heart of Backdraft is the scenes where the firemen are battling intense blazes. Howard and his technical team clearly worked hard to make every fire sequence look as real as it could be. As a result, no CGI effects were used. The explosions and bursts of flames you see are a hundred percent real.

And the film does manage to pack an emotional wallop of a finale. I won’t give away what happens, but believe me when I say you won’t have a dry eye by the film’s end.

Credit Ron Howard, a phenomenal cast, and a amazing effects team with helping to make one of the most surefire pieces of cinematic entertainment of the past decade. Backdraft remains a powerful and thrilling film. One of the best examples I can think of in the marriage of action and dramatic storytelling.

Video ****

I was waiting the day this movie would get a re-release on DVD. It was first released when the format was new, and it was a non-anamorphic release as well. Now Universal has gone back and touched up the flaws for this strikingly new and outstanding video presentation. All tones are extremely well rendered, with the fire looking as authentic as ever! A most terrific job!

Audio ****

WOW! Looks like the audio got a nice re-working as well. The 5.1 mix is nothing short of astonishing and will give a nice hell of a working to your sound system. The effects, dialogue and music are all extremely well heard and given an amazing level of detail. It’s so strong, in fact, that you might just think a fire is about to burst in your living room.

Features ***1/2

Universal has loaded up a knockout of a 2-Disc set with this new Anniversary Edition.

Disc One includes a nice introduction from Ron Howard as well as Deleted Scenes.

Disc Two features an endless array of behind the scenes material. Included are the documentaries “Igniting the Story”, “Bringing Together the Team”, “The Explosive Stunts”, “Creating the Villain: The Fire” and “Real-Life Firemen, Real-Life Stories”.


The power and entertainment value of Backdraft has not aged a bit in the 15 years since its release. This terrific new Anniversary Edition marks a grand opportunity to rediscover a film of true firepower.

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