Flight of the Phoenix
Flight of the Phoenix wasn't exactly a Phoenix at the box office last year. It was an odd choice for a remake, particularly since the original 1965 film, with a stellar cast including, among others, James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Krüger, Ernest Borgnine, Dan Duryea, and George Kennedy, has become something of a minor—if quirky—classic.
The new film follows the original closely. While flying home, the motley staff and crew of a closed-down oil-drilling operation and runs into a sandstorm and crash lands in the desert—in this film, the Gobi. Far from civilization, out of touch, and running short of food and water, they hatch a desperate plan. One of the passengers claims to be an airplane designer and proposes that they build a new plane out of the salvaged parts of the old one. How they do it, and, more importantly, the interaction between the characters, is what the film is about.
I haven't seen the original in years, but it is a good film (directed by Robert Aldrich) and available on a more-than-serviceable anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) DVD. As I recall, the picture quality is good, the sound is adequate, and the extras are rather skimpy.
This remake received few accolades, and it's more than a little uneven. The premise remains as far-fetched as before, abetted by some plot developments that are never really resolved; for example, the plane gets buried twice by sandstorms, and in both cases, the next scene shows the plane to have been miraculously uncovered by our water-deprived heroes. The survivors also run into an army of gun-runners. The last encounter with these adversaries is designed to add excitement to the film's climax, but it merely challenges logic as the villains, charging on horseback across the desert (where did they get water for all those ponies?), nearly catch up to the plane in its takeoff run. Fortunately, the filmmakers left one element in this attack on the cutting-room floor: the charging brigade originally included motorcycles! Motorcycles would make it more logical that they could catch the plane, but motorcycles in the middle of the Gobi desert? The extended scene is included in the extra features. It's definitely exciting, and very well choreographed and edited, but dramatically ridiculous.
So I hated the film, right? Actually, no; I enjoyed it. The cast is good, though certainly not up to that of the original. Taken for what it is, it's a solid action-adventure piece. I was never bored, but never blown away, either.
With one exception: the sandstorm and subsequent crash landing are among the best action sequences I've ever seen. It makes the plane crash in The Aviatorlook like something out of Howard's End. (Actually, that crash was very nearly Howard's end!). Yes, perhaps the CGI of the sandstorm could have been better, but how many of us have been in such a huge sandstorm as a basis for comparison? This one will do nicely as a stand-in for the real thing, thank you.
The picture and sound quality here are spectacular. In fact, the film deserved an Oscar nomination for sound. The bass and surround activity in that crash sequence will terrify both you and your neighbors. According to the commentary track, the recording engineers put in extra effort creating the bass for the sandstorm, and it paid off big-time. It's a stunner of a sound mix.
The picture holds up its part of the bargain completely. From the opening scenes of the plane traveling across the desert (flying enthusiasts will eat this up) accompanied by Johnny Cash singing "I've Been Everywhere" in the background, to the final credits, it's a four-star transfer all the way—one of the best-looking DVDs of the year.
The extras include a full length commentary by director John Moore, producers John Davies and Wyck Godfrey, and production designer Patrick Lumb; 15 minutes of deleted scenes; and a rather random but interesting "Making of" feature. Caution: the director has quite a colorful vocabulary, with a particular fondness for words beginning with f. Consider the "Making of" feature R-rated, though there's no such problem with either the film itself or the full-length commentary.
The new Flight of the Phoenix may not be the classic its predecessor was, but it's still a fun ride and a great-looking and -sounding DVD.