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.
- posted 17 years ago