Film Reviews 2017 - #5 Flight of the Phoenix

Flight of the Phoenix (2005)

On the cover of the ‘Flight of the Phoenix’ DVD the guidance to viewers is very clear:


(It really is in upper case; and there really is an exclamation mark.)

It’s a Disaster Movie! Woo hoo!

What a strange genre – the Disaster Movie.  Wikipedia is helpful: “A disaster film is a film genre that has an impending or ongoing disaster as its subject and primary plot device… The films usually feature some degree of build-up, the disaster itself and sometimes the aftermath, usually from the point of view of specific individual characters or their families.”

Looking over Wikipedia’s list of such movies, however, I found myself disagreeing somewhat with the definition.  Many of the films listed seem, to me at least, simply to be horror films, or war films, or sci-fi adventures with a monster.   The distinctive feature of a Disaster Movie is, surely, that the protagonists are trapped, either in or by the disaster.

The 1970s were the heyday of the Disaster Movie, indeed peak Disaster Movie year seems to have been 1974 – Earthquake, Trapped Beneath the Sea, Where have All the People Gone, Heatwave, The Day the Earth Moved, The Towering Inferno… (The Towering Inferno!  Steve McQueen! Paul Newman! William Holden! Faye Dunaway! Fred Astaire!) (Fred Astaire?) (Yup, Fred Astaire – he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor…)

Anyway, the End of the Disaster Movie (disaster!) occurred in 1980 with the release of Airplane, the pitch-perfect parody of all Disaster Movies to date and after which no Disaster Movie could really function.  Before Airplane, Disaster Movies had to take themselves seriously: the peril was real, and all the characters/actors had to perform as if the peril was real, no matter how ridiculous or contrived.  Since Airplane, no Disaster Movie could take itself seriously, because the premise was so obviously contrived for the purposes of the movie, and everyone in the audience knew this, and everyone making the film knew the audience knew this, so the only way around the problem was to adopt a knowing and/or ironic tone.  (Just think Bruce Willis.)

So – Flight of the Phoenix!  It says on the cover it was made in 2005.  It doesn’t say on the cover that it is a remake.  The original ‘The Flight of the Phoenix’ starred – wait for it – James Stewart!  And Richard Attenborough!  And Peter Finch and Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy!  Phew!  It was made in 1965, so ought probably to be seen as an Early Disaster Movie, and should therefore be Taking Itself Seriously.   Indeed, I remember watching it when I was young and being taken in by its verisimilitude (despite the massive suspension of disbelief required to accept that a bunch of people can crash land in the middle of nowhere and then try to build an entirely new plane from the wreckage of the one they crashed in.)  So, a post-Airplane remake of an early, possibly even classic Disaster Movie.  This is going to be great!

It’s not.  It’s awful.

As far as I can tell, no-one involved in this film – not the director, not the script-writer, none of the actors (with the possible exception of Hugh Laurie) (Hugh Laurie?) (Yes, Hugh Laurie!  Pre-House Hugh Laurie, buttering up the American market…) – appear to have any idea of irony, nor possibly any understanding of the post-War history of Disaster Movies.  They try to play this straight, and consequently deliver a sustained onslaught of misplaced pyrotechnics, over-wrought emotional haemorrhage, needlessly extended mini-catastrophes and, worst of all, hackneyed and embarrassing dialogue that induces squirming discomfort in the viewer.

I tried hard through the first few scenes to believe that those responsible for this Disastrous Movie really were self-aware and that the film was deliberately bad as a comic device.

But no.  It simply is just terrible.

Some terrible films, as we know, can be so terrible that they are entertaining.  And what else can we want from a movie than it be entertaining?

Sadly I cannot recommend this film to you on that basis.  It is really, really bad; but not so awful that you might enjoy it.

If I had my way, all copies of this Disastrous Disaster Movie would be loaded onto a small turbo-prop aeroplane, flown into the middle of the Gobi Desert and then forced to crash.  Unlike the protagonists in ‘Flight of the Phoenix’, there would be (spoiler alert) no escape.

[If there's a photo down here it was added August 2017 as part of blog refresh.  Photo is either mine or is linked to where I found it. Make of either what you will.]


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