Flight Of The Phoenix

6 out of 10

Revenge of the Geek

They say great minds think alike and with this current fad of "Do-It-Yourself" handyman programmes on TV like "Changing Rooms', only recently I had been wondering wouldn't it be wonderful if they redid one of my all time movie classics, "Flight of the Phoenix"...and they did!

You're trapped in the desert after your plane crashes with no hope of rescue. What do you do? Simple, build a new one out of the wreckage of the first. The plot is uncomplicated enough, but it was in the interplay of the characters and their behaviour towards the idea that gave so much to the 1965 original where the initially dismissive passengers become increasingly attentive to the brilliant aircraft designer as the water runs out. Nearly 40 years on, the advent of computerised special effects has added tremendously to much of the action and the remake is quite stunning in it cinematography. Although set in Mongolia, the remake was filmed in awesome beauty of the Namibian desert - the brilliant C119 cargo plane flying across the ochre coloured sand dunes and the CGI spectaculars, not only of the flight through the sand storm that brings it down in the first place, but also the live anuimation of some of the technical stuff of why they are so trapped, eg the compass spinning like a top because of the surrounding iron-rich mountains..

Sadly, the movie crashes shortly after the plane does. To speed things up, all the smaller nuances of the plot, such as the cowardly army Sergeant (a memorable Ronald Fraser!), the business man who always wears his raincoat and so on has been deleted, and with disaterous results. For it was the slow pace that was at the core of the 1965 version that packed the punch as the survivors find it an increasingly impossible task to complete the construction through exhaustion, hunger and thirst as all they have to drink is what they can distill from the anti-freeze while the wretched machine always requires more work before it will fly. Indeed, in the original, you could almost feel the sand under your nails, smell the sweat and and taste the despair as they work like Egyptian slaves. Iin the remake, all the actors always look as if they've just stepped out of their on-location campers and into a beach party with nothing much to say other than "we must go on" monologues. They just pull one wing over the top of the superstructural, aided by the very best in tool technology and ...Bob's your uncle!

And with less to say, the increase in characters in hopeless. Roles like that of the oil executive, played by the well loved and renown British comedian Hugh Lawrie are drowned out by lame and phoney insertions like the go-getting woman oil driller. Sadly, the casting people seem to have sent the falling piano Giovanni Ribisi's way as the aircraft designer. One of the true powers of the original film was in how neccessity can overrule normal prejudice. Iin the original 1965 version, Hardy Kruger's character, played with such humanity, has an uphill struggle, not only because he is a dreamer but also as he is a German aircraft designer trying to convince a simplistic bigoted pilot (James Stewart) who flew in the War against the Luftwaffe. In many ways, it had been a constructive role putting the audience on the side of the dreamer from Germany at a time when they were still barely regarded as part of the human race. In 2005, Ribisi now plays a manipulative geek who you really have to despise and the scene with the man shot in the head destroys any sympathy anyone could have for him. And, for the lead role as the disasterous Captain Towns, as so many films do now, where you can't afford Harrison Ford, you hire his lookalike, Dennis Quaid.

With nothing much to worry about, to do or to say, the writers have tried to pad out the gaps they created in the first place by adding some really useless pieces of plot that look laughably artificial, mainly involving nomadic smugglers. Laughably out of place in the film, it all creates a bunch of dead ends that go nowhere. Even so, many of the classic scenes are reproduced, although again, foolishly, the cartridge scene has been slimmed down when it's sheer length had audiences sweating blood the first time around.

Having so much against it, it would seem to be a deep disappointment, yet, curiously, I didn't find it so and was glad to have seem it. Whilst no patch on the original, the sheer magnificence of the cinematography, the CGI of the action scenes and above all the sheer determination of the crew and cast to make this poorly written script fly shows through by the end and it really is still a film that is certainly worth seeing.

A Hollywood turkey that DOES ACTUALLY FLY!

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett