Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Flight of the Phoenix, 2004

It’s Tuesday and here’s an entertaining desert film to back up Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Last week, I set out to watch Robert Aldrich's The Flight of the Phoenix, 1965, starring James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, George Kennedy, and Ernest Borgnine.

Instead, I ended up watching its remake, John Moore's Flight of the Phoenix, 2004, starring Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Giovanni Ribisi, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Otto, and Tony Curran.

Both films are based on the novel by Elleston Trevor (born Trevor Dudley Smith). I have not read the book.

Stewart and Quaid play the lead character, Frank Towns, the captain of the ill-fated cargo plane that crash lands during a storm in the Sahara Desert in Africa and in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, depending on which version you've seen.

Frank Towns (Quaid) and his co-pilot A.J. (Tyrese Gibson) are on their way back to civilisation after picking up crew and cargo at an immobilised oil well when a mighty dust storm forces Towns to crash his C-119 Flying Boxcar in the Gobi, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The plane is at least two hundred miles off course and there are immediate casualties.


Towns is initially indifferent and is reluctant to take charge of the situation, the meagre rations of food and water, and the rudderless passengers, but relents when Kelly Johnson (Miranda Otto), one of the oil workers, pricks his conscience. 

What follows next is a lesson in team motivation and management as Towns strives to keep the spirits of his despairing passengers alive on one hand and struggles to protect his restless flock from the vagaries of the desert weather and ruthless smugglers on the other.

How they manage to get out of the desert, which can well be described as last place god made, is what makes this special effects film worth watching even though the plot is so-so. Of particular note is the way Towns brings down the plane through swirling storm and sand, in brief but terrifying moments that an artist or a photographer would capture perfectly on canvas or through a lens. The brilliant tan of the desert sand, caught on camera by cinematographer Brendan Galvin, seems to stretch forever and forms an immense backdrop throughout the nearly two-hour film.

In terms of individual performance, Dennis Quaid’s acting is along expected lines, only his films change. The actor to watch, if at all, is the reclusive Elliott (Giovanni Ribisi), a slightly eccentric design engineer who builds model airplanes. He’s the guy who plays Phoebe’s crazy half-brother in Friends.

8 comments:

  1. I remember watching this movie but don't recall a lot about it. I know they crashed in the desert. As I recall, I liked it well enough.

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    1. Charles, a fairly entertaining movie for the odd Sunday though I wouldn't go to the theatre to see it.

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  2. I'm so out of the loop, I didn't know there had been a remake. Group survival stories fascinate me. There's a compelling example in the current NEW YORKER about the Chilean miners who spent a couple of months in a collapsed mine before being rescued. The group dynamics are surprising, way different from the movies.

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    1. Ron, I followed the Chilean miners' story from start till end. I was astounded that the Chilean government did not give up and, in fact, rescued all the miners after nearly two months. I read about how rescuers managed to reach the trapped miners and passed on food, water, and even music to keep their hopes alive. It was an amazing event and is testament to the human spirit.

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  3. Sounds like an interesting movie. I haven't seen either version. I will admit to being more drawn to the earlier cast.

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    1. Tracy, I'd like to see the original version and compare the two and then try and read the book as well.

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  4. I don't think I've seen either version of these myself. I have like Hugh Laurie's comedy acting - typically on the UK small screen, pre his spectacular success with HOUSE.

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    1. Col, HOUSE M.D. is currently running on Indian cable though I have only watched the trailers. Much as I dislike medical dramas, I'm going to catch some of the episodes. I've enjoyed Huge Laurie's roles in British sitcoms like BLACKADDER alongside Stephen Fry and Rowan Atkinson as well as in a few lighter films. He looks out of sorts in this particular film, perhaps because Dennis Quaid hogs the screen.

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