Flight of the Phoenix redux

Well guys, went to see the remake of "Flight of the Phoenix" yesterday. The
short version of this report is: don't throw away your copies of the
original. Hollywood, once again, has opted for snazzy, highly improbable,
special effects to cover-up totally gutted character development and plot.
About the only two things not wrong with this film is the restaging in the
Gobi desert and the additional of a female character -- but no romantic
interest. If I had never seen the original film, I might rate this as a
two-star Hollywood potboiler.. as it is, give it 1.25 stars.
Our first problem is with the first sandstorm. How winds of, say
75mph, in a sandstorm can rip-off antenas, engine cowlings, and most amazing
of all, a huge cargo door on an aircraft built to fly at 200+ mph is beyond
me. But this flimsily built cargo plane loses bits and pieces of itself all
over the place. But never mind, because before it loses the cargo hatch, it
engages in aerobatic maneuvers that would make a 1920's barnstormer proud.
Engulfed in a huge sandstorm that looks like left over footage from "A
Perfect Storm" tinted orange, this big bellied cargo plane spirals, twists,
spins, stalls, barrel rolls, inverted flight, Immelman turns, and just about
every aerobatic maneuver known to man except an outside loop. No wonder
the cargo door came off. but again, that's okay because the opening footage
of the film has this crazed crop-duster of a pilot hedge-hopping a few
hundred feet above the sand dunes and doing 4g banking turns between the
hills. No wonder he loses the cargo door later.
When they're about to take off, our hero (the nerd engineer)
exclaims, from just looking around, that the aircraft is overweight. One
hell of an engineer who can estimate weights and balance of an unfamiliar
aircraft to a nicety just by watching the cargo being loaded. What's a
talent like that doing at a failed oil exploration rig in the middle of the
Gobi desert? At least the Hardy Kruger character was visiting his brother.
This guy is just "hitch hiking around the world and landed up here." Of
course, they had to get the nerdiest looking stereotype of an actor to play
the role. I'm surprized that they didn't try to ressurect Wally Cox for the
part. But for all the animation this hack portrayed, maybe they did use the
late Wally Cox for the part.
So they crash. Spend a lot of time pissing and moaning over water,
food, etc. etc., as in the original film, but with nowheres near the same
conviction or urgency. These characters have no soul .. actually, these
characters don't have much in the way of characters. They're just a bunch
of losers lost in the Gobi desert sand dunes with no interactions beyond
"pass the canned peaches." Finally, after the mandatory fights, the aborted
walk-out attempt, the rescue by captain Townes, etc. they agree to try to
build the Phoenix. They don't have a very tough job of it. They have all
the pipes and clamps needed to build a-frames, scaffolds, braces, etc. They
have a generator, power tools, (none of that gruesome bloody-handed sawing
with a bent hacksaw blade as in the original) welding gear -- I was
disappointed because I expected someone to trot out a Bridgeport mill and a
14" lathe .. they seemed to have everything else. But they're very slow at
it and very ineffective. There's a spectacular fuel explosion (caused by
negligence and gross incompetence) that leaves them without lights or fuel
to waste on the generator.
If the one storm that downed the plane wasn't enough, we get two
more. One a thunderstorm and the other yet another sandstorm that buries
the Phoenix when it is all done. Anyhow, here's this fat pig of an aluminum
aircraft half-buried in the sand and the sagacious captain realizes that the
thunderstorm is "electrical" and in a panic gets the crew to throw a loop of
cable around the tail of the aircraft and run the cable out a few hundred
feet and bury the winch in the sand in order to "ground the plane. "Got to
ground the Phoenix .. those wings are full of fuel...." I don't know how
much more "grounded" the addition of a cable and winch could have made that
buried aluminum airframe.. but it seemed to work. I don't know why they
didn't just stick some of those long pieces of pipe they had lying around to
attract the lightning. I guess physics works differently in the Gobi desert
and in Hollywood.
There is the wonderful "toy airplane" scene. In the original our
hero say's "A toy airplane is a thing that you wind up a spring and it rolls
along the ground." In this version "A toy airplane is thing that you wind a
rubber band... " Wow! an insult to all the old farts like me who flew
competitive rubber-powered models. And what about Stringfellow and his
rubber-powered model of 1886 or so? Anyone who has ever wound up and
handled a big rubber powered model knows that it is no "toy." And one of
the most important lines of all, as to how a model has to be more stable
than a full-sized aircraft because it doesn't have a pilot is totally
garbled. And doesn't make any sense .. who builds free-flight models
without radio control these days?
I really have to admire our nerdy here. He does all his
calculations long-hand, without the help of a calculator, or even a slide
rule. But he isn't very consistent in his design. Early on, he points out
that the tail is fried. There's a reasonable rudder and an intact, outboard
stub of the horizontal stabilizer. But the inboard portion, with the
elevator is wrecked .. "we'll have to do something about that.." he muses.
And he does, later on in the picture, the Phoenix has a V-tail -- great
solution -- but he changes his mind again, because on take off, it is back
to a standard empennage. He's not that good an engineer, though, because
he never managed to give the pilot rudder pedals. That means that nerd has
to sit in the cockpit, facing backwards, and work the rudder for the pilot.
This guy is not only a great engineer, but he manages to establish
instantaneous telepathic communications with the pilot. And he does this
without ever once over-correcting .. doesn't even have a pilot's tickets..
but he can do that kind of coordination just by feel. Any of you guys who
have taken flying lessons know just how ridiculous the two-man pilotage
scenario in a jury-rigged monster is likely to be. But we have to have this
weird control system because otherwise, he wouldn't have had to crawl out on
the boom to re-attach the rudder cables that had been shot off by hostile
nomads (lucky shot) on take off.
At the (thankful) end, we have yet another sandstorm. And in that
storm, all doubt is dispelled. The Phoenix will fly. We can see it. The
wind blows so hard that the plane is bouncing up and down, gear off the
ground. It will fly. IT WILL FLY! This guy is one hell of an engineer.
And he is visibly impressed by his design.. by the proof that "IT WILL
FLY!!!!" There they are, standing straight up in a 45mph gale (their
clothing barely fluttering and they are not leaning very hard), but the wind
is lifting the aircraft off the ground. And it is that bouncing up and
down that convinces them that the Phoenix will fly. It wants to fly.. It is
straining to fly. Even the pilot is impressed ... as if stability and
control weren't ever an issue and that only lift mattered. Can't figure out
how this jerk ever got his wings.. no wonder he's a wreck of a has been
pilot flying freight out of the Gobi desert in a 50 year-old beat-up cargo
plane that loses cargo doors.
The sandstorm buries the Phoenix so that only its V-tail is
sticking out -- either that, or it has been turned to a 45 degree bank, but
one wing is mysteriously not sticking out. We get the pep talk and in the
next, in a matter of hours, they have completely cleared ten feet of sand
from the plane, dug a ditch to get the plane out of the sand, cleaned and
serviced the engine, and now they're hauling in harnesses to get the plane
moving. This Phoenix, by the way, has an intact landing gear, so it isn't
that tough a haul.
The only real drama is at the end, the bit with the Kaufman
starters and "wasting" the penultimate cartridge to clear the cylinders. In
the original, Jimmy Steward was visibly shaken and conflicted. This guy
just goes to it with alacrity and no hint of conflict. Steward was an
experience pilot and knew what was what and probably contributed to
believability of the film and to preventing the copious Hollywood goofs that
plagues this sorry rerun.
Reply to
Boris Beizer
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I kind of figured FotP would suck- so I talked the wife into "The Aviator" instead. She'll only put up with about 1 airplane movie a year so I try to pick my spots. I won't even wait for the video.
Reply to
Jim Atkins
There's a "Behind the Scenes" item in the January issue of Popular Mechanics magazine on the movie. The plane crashing in the film are radio controlled models, as is the flying Phoenix.
They did make a full sized Phoenix for the film, and it had an operational radial engine. To get it up to flying speed for the cameras, there was a '70's era dragster underneath the fuselage, behind the main wheels. The dragster was removed later, hidden behind digital dust. The mockup could reach 50mph the item states, with the actors on the wings. The flying model had miniature passengers on its wings for the flying sequences.
I'm now looking forward to seeing the movie. I did see the original many years ago but only vaguely remember it.
Bob Boudreau Canada
Reply to
Nice move! Does she know that she's in for an almost three hour move? You definately picked the one per year.
Seriously, though, she'll probably enjoy it. Lynne really liked it. Especially since I kept quiet during the airplane scenes and wated until we were in the car to comment.
Reply to
Throw away my Jimmy Stewart original NO WAY! That is classic cinema and a finely acted movie!
Stewart was an experienced pilot but so is Dennis Quaid. I saw a show about him on Discovery Wings on Saturday. The problem with Quaid is that no matter what, that guy always looks like he hes a mile long smile on his kisser!
Cheers, Max Bryant
Reply to
M Bryant
We went Saturday afternoon to the nicest theater in the area (down to Rancho Mirage) to see Aviator- She doesn't ask for much but comfy seats, good popcorn and plush bathrooms when it comes to moviegoing. We both really enjoyed it.
Reply to
Jim Atkins
This was the guy that beat himself silly in "The Fight Club". And quit badmouthing Mr. Peepers, he had class!
-- John The history of things that didn't happen has never been written. . - - - Henry Kissinger
Reply to
The Old Timer
Well, he did not have any actual lines, other than some East-German-ish grunts and "hmmphs"; but it sure looks like him. Other "soon-to-be-famous" people had similar small parts with little or no dialogue, such as Red Buttons as a U.S. MP Sargeant; and I do not recall he being listed in the credits either. This movie was from the early 60's, back when movies had the credits at the *beginning* of the film (as opposed to today's end credits featuring cast and crew of 1000's); and listed only the primary and secondary characters. Other notable appearances included Leon Askin (who became Gen. Burkhalter on "Hogan's Heroes"), as a Soviet diplomat.
Reply to
Greg Heilers
Wally Cox and Red Buttons both had ~large~ careers and television shows of their own in the early 1950s; I can't see them doing uncredited cameos in B-grade (or less) movies.
-- John The history of things that didn't happen has never been written. . - - - Henry Kissinger
Reply to
The Old Timer
I don't specifically remember seeing the original, but from the descriptions, I think I have. One I remember (vaguely) with Jimmy Stewart and an airplane was out in the desert, they were stranded, and oddly, the part I remember most was they had to use a shotgun shell (or something similar) to get the engine to turn over. Never could understand what that was all about. They were down to the last cartridge, do or die, got it running, then everyone piled on the wings and away they went. Am I remembering the right movie? I can't find the original around here, so I can't watch it to verify. I saw the one I described at about age 7, so it's been a few(?!) years.
When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. --Leonardo Da Vinci EAA # 729686 delete the word spam from email addy
Reply to
Actors do uncredited cameos all the time...always have. And it really isn't a "B-grade" movie. Directed by Billy Wilder, it is considered to be James Cagney's finest comedic performance; and the movie was an Oscar nominee. And after googling, it definitely was Red Buttons in an uncredited role, though I have not confirmed Wally Cox yet.
Reply to
Greg Heilers
x=no archive: yes
normally yes, but people have done uncredited cameos for favors, fun or just to be in a "prestigious" film. i read a book about bit players and unsung villans that had a list of films/actors. while you ae probably correct, it is still possible.
Reply to
James Earl Jones was uncreditted in the initial release for one of the all time blockbuster movies.....Star Wars. It was at his request in case it flopped.
Reply to
formatting link
for the details on how it worked. They were pretty common in large-capacity piston engines.
That's the one. Apparently it's still better than the new one...
Reply to
Jeff C
were pretty common in large-capacity piston engines>
Seems like a very odd way to get an engine started, but if it worked, so be it.
When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. --Leonardo Da Vinci EAA # 729686 delete the word spam from email addy
Reply to
Time traveler noted in reply to:
A Koffman starter similar to the cartridge starter system on later jets as the B-57. Gas expansion from the charge intiiates the spinning of the crankshaft in the piston engine. In a piston engine setup the cadtridge is about 1.5" (IIRC) in diameter. In the B-57 the starter cartridge is about 6 to 8" in diameter. Permits operation without an electric starter cart.
Reply to
The explosive charge of shell works by releasing a vast amount of gas in a very short time. I'm not sure about the chemistry of it, but I believe that the starter shells use the same smokeless powder as in bullets and artillery shells. Ditto for ejection seats. On the F-105 (for one) it was theoretically possible to drop a bomb while in supersonic flight. The aircraft had a twenty-foot long bombay. The regime for dropping a nuclear bomb was called "toss bombing." You pull up into a vertical climb and at the right moment, you release the bomb -- straight up. There was either a forward toss or an "over-the-shoulder" toss. Both maneuvers were designed to give the aircraft enough time to get away from the blast. Getting the bomb out fast enough was a real problem. The original design (never produced) used a big hydraulic ram for the job. It was too heavy and too slow. That was replaced by a 40mm blank shell for a fraction of the cost and weight and much faster ejection.
Reply to
Boris Beizer
That was going to be the first example I provided, but since OldTimer mentioned "B movies" I figured it was not a good enough example. Another noteworthy "A movie" example is the cameo by Dan Akroyd in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". He played "Weber", a German-accented contact of Indy's at an airfield, early in the film. And was Akroyd's brief role in "Pearl Harbor" (as an intelligence officer) credited?
Now, I don't know if this is an "A movie" or a "B movie", but "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" had a *lot* of uncredited cameos, such as Jerry Lewis, and the Three Stooges, among others.
Oh...and Hitchcock was pretty famous for his cameos...lol.
Reply to
Greg Heilers
IIRC this was a British invention. My Cousin told the story of a flight of R.A.F. deHavilland Vampires visiting his base in the early 50s. When they started one up for a demo flight the plane spit out this huge cloud of black smoke and some of the U.S. people who had never seen this before really hit the panic button. Fire crew rushed the A/C and tried to squirt foam in the intakes. :-) He has a picture of a squadron line up of deHavilland Venoms doing a mass start on Cyprus in the early 60s and there is quite a cloud. Looks like black powder, definitely not smokeless.
Bill Shuey
Reply to
William H. Shuey

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