Wolfgang Petersen | Air Force One

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Wolfgang Petersen

Wolfgang Petersen is a film director.

Air Force One

Air Force One (1997) is an excellent thriller in the Die Hard tradition.

Frontal Composition - and Renaissance Perspective

Its superb compositions tend to be frontal, with the set and the actors receding to the depths in full Renaissance perspective. Such an approach is suitable for the deep corridors of an airplane, but it is also used by Peterson for the outdoor shots and the White House.

Camera Movement

The camera often moves forward with great propulsion down these deep perspective depths, straight to the rear, with a character often making an entrance or a climactic dramatic moment when the camera reaches the far end of the shot. This film shows the power of camera movement.

There are also many lateral camera movements straight along the side of a long corridor, or a table full of White House staffers. Sometimes these lateral movements end with a turn, giving a more frontal look at a group of characters.

The circular camera movement around the White House staff room towards the end is also effective, using a device that has often been a trap for less gifted directors.

Side Views/Inauthentic vs. Front Views/Good Guys

The shots tend to be dead on frontal in the film, giving a series of rectangular compositions on the screen. On fairly rare occasions, Peterson employs a forty five degree angle instead, to look at things. These shots tend to be of things that are "inauthentic" somehow: By contrast, the heroes of the film tend to be shown front on.

Petersen also shows a gift with his groupings of people. The hostages on the plane, and the White House staffers, are continually placed in patterns that are both visually pleasing, and dramatically interesting.

Teams of Soldiers

The soldiers in the films tend to come in groups, all dressed in similar uniforms: All of these groups work effectively as teams. Petersen clearly has great respect for all of them. By contrast, there are a few solitary soldiers, notably the young Marine officer in the White House.

The Individuals

Most of these teams tend to be all young, white males. There are several sympathetic black characters in the film, but they are all individuals, not part of any group, such as the general at the White House, and the Future Postmaster General of the United States. The black people in the film tend to use their brains, and be the source of positive ideas. The teams, on the other hand, tend to do their duty, and have members that show little individuality or real intelligence.

The Air Force Officer played by William Macy also works as a thinking individual in the film; although a white male, he functions in a manner similar to the black characters in the movie.

The character played by Harrison Ford also is a source of ideas, and the film shows him repeatedly cut off from teams, and functioning on his own. At the beginning, he violates the safe ideas of his staff to give a speech showing personal moral commitment. Of course, through much of the film he has the Bruce Willis Die Hard role of solitary fighter against the terrorists. Symbolically, at the start he keeps trying to watch a football game, America's symbol of team immersion, and keeps getting frustrated in the event. He will be an individual whether he wants to or not.

Ford has a personal contact with most of the black characters in the film, and with Macy: the General commanded him in Vietnam, the Postmaster will work with him directly on the plane, the only person to do so, and he will be in phone contact with black men on the ground. Ford, the blacks, and Macy form a network of individuals, people who all make a difference when the tides of history put the world to the crunch.